Belfast Telegraph

Conor McMenamin is Cliftonville's man for the big occasion, says McLaughlin

Key man: Conor McMenamin has excelled for Cliftonville
Key man: Conor McMenamin has excelled for Cliftonville

By Conor McLaughlin

Paddy McLaughlin has saluted Conor McMenamin's increasing influence at Cliftonville ahead of tonight's Europa League showdown with Haugesund.

The 23-year-old scored the opener in last week's victory over Barry Town United to make it three goals in as many outings at Solitude having also bagged vital strikes in last season's play-off wins against Coleraine and Glentoran.

McMenamin, who had a brief stint with the Reds in his formative years, was familiarly recognised as a striker during spells with Linfield and Glentoran before assuming defensive responsibilities while at Warrenpoint Town.

Since McLaughlin's appointment as Cliftonville boss in February, he has been encouraged to rediscover and harness his attacking capabilities and has quickly developed a reputation as a dependable performer in the eyes of both the fans and his manager.

"Conor is a quality player who is only getting better," says the Reds chief.

"Since I've come to the club, he's done everything that has been asked of him and really worked hard at his game. He's scored so many important goals in big matches and that's all down to the hard work he's been prepared to put in."

Though versatility can often hamper a player's progress, McLaughlin believes McMenamin's ability to play in a variety of positions only makes him a more valuable commodity.

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"We want Conor to get forward, and you can see from his quality on the ball how dangerous he can be for us at the top end of the pitch," he says.

"He's a very creative player with a good touch and he can pass the ball well, but he also has an eye for goal and he's very calm in those situations.

"He can play at the back, in a wide position or even just off the front men, and it's great to have so many options from just one player."

Having been favourites to dispose of Barry last time out, Cliftonville are huge underdogs for tonight's Solitude showdown with Haugesund.

The Norwegians thumped Coleraine 7-0 on aggregate - with all the goals coming in the first leg in Scandinavia - two years ago and McLaughlin is well aware they present a significant step up in quality from last week's Welsh visitors.

"It will be very tough but I know my players will work hard to do the best they possibly can," he adds.

"We aren't just happy to pat ourselves on the back because we made it through one round in Europe, we want to go as far as we can in the competition.

"These games are going to be very difficult but we're looking forward to really challenging ourselves and seeing what levels we can hit."

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