Fit-again Catney could boost Reds' Euro drive: Gray
Barry Gray is looking forward to his first taste of European action as a manager tonight but he accepts his Cliftonville side have a mountain to climb.
The Reds, who beat Glentoran in the play-off at Solitude to secure continental action, take on Danish side Nordsjælland in a Europa League first qualifying round first leg clash at the north Belfast venue.
Ryan Catney could make his first competitive appearance since suffering an horrific double leg fracture against Crusaders in January last year.
The visitors finished third in their league last season and will be looking to catch the Reds cold, but Gray wants his men to rise to the occasion.
"It's been a tough pre-season for everyone in the heat we have experienced," said the Solitude chief. "The form is good and everyone is in good spirits.
"Ryan is back into full training. He played 45 minutes against Derry City and in terms of the injury he seems to be past that and just focused on building up his match fitness.
"You can only do that by playing and he seems to be loving back playing. He has the bit between the teeth and fingers crossed hopefully he can stay fit and healthy for us.
"We didn't rule the European game in or out for Ryan. He will be in contention like everyone else.
"It's going to be a very difficult game. In football quality terms, they wouldn't have been high on our wishlist but we have to deal with it.
"They are very competitive and a few levels above what we are.
"These sides are professional, and even the so called weaker teams are tough opponents.
"This Danish team are better than that, they are top quality, but we are delighted to be here and you want to put in a good performance. If we don't win this tie no-one will panic about it. I look at it as two extremely difficult and competitive games which should be priceless for us in the bigger picture.
"It's the first time I have been involved in a European scenario. It brings an extra element to your game because it breaks up your preparations for the league campaign.
"In pre-season, games can be meaningless and non-competitive with nothing at stake. These games require focus and motivation."
Cliftonville's number one target is to find more consistency next season to sustain a title challenge.
Last year's Irish Cup Cup final loss to Coleraine may have been a bitter pill to swallow but, after the Bannsiders fought back from a similar disappointment 12 months earlier to put in a title challenge and win the top knockout prize in domestic football, Gray would love to write a similar script.
"It would be nice to replicate what Coleraine achieved, but only if it was that easy!" added th Reds chief.
"There's no magic formula that says if you lose a Cup final you will emerge stronger from it, but you should take something from the experience.
"Coleraine didn't feel sorry for themselves, they didn't dwell on what could have been. It motivated them to make sure there wouldn't be a similar scenario again. We'll just have to see how we react."
Cliftonville vs Nordsjælland
Europa League 1st Qual Round, 1st Leg
Solitude, Tonight, 7.45pm