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How Paddy McLaughlin harnessed Cliftonville's potential energy to switch on County Antrim Shield electricity

 

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Paddy McLaughlin celebrates winning his first trophy as Cliftonville manager.

Paddy McLaughlin celebrates winning his first trophy as Cliftonville manager.

Paddy McLaughlin celebrates winning his first trophy as Cliftonville manager.

For almost 12 months, Paddy McLaughlin has been building, encouraging and increasing the potential energy locked away inside Cliftonville Football Club.

When it was converted into sound, it should be no surprise that it created quite the cacophony of noise.

McLaughlin lifted his first trophy as Reds boss on Tuesday evening in the most surreal, ridiculous and downright bonkers of circumstances, his side overturning Ballymena United's 1-0 lead with goals in the sixth and seventh minutes of injury time in the County Antrim Shield final.

McLaughlin admits, of course, that he didn't take the job for the sake of a single Shield, rather it was a decision measured out in terms of that potential energy he saw already there, waiting to fire up the steam engine of success.

“I came here to try and establish Cliftonville as a contender for the divison, as a team challenging to win trophies," he said after Tuesday's victory. "If I didn’t see the potential I wouldn’t have come here. I saw the quality in the squad, the support they have here and the club’s hunger for trophies.

"I knew from the early stages that this squad had been under-achieving, and for the talent they have they shouldn’t be in mid table and seeing out the season from February or March.

"They should be challenging right to the last kick of the season. I knew the potential was there and it was just drawing that out of the players. Now we've put them back where they should be, amongst the trophies."

All it needed was a catalyst; McLaughlin himself.

The 40-year-old didn't take long to instil his football philosophy on this squad, but then it was always a perfect fit.

Flowing football was synonymous with the Reds' title-winning teams under the legendary Tommy Breslin and it's that easy-on-the-eye style that has returned under McLaughlin.

But it's at the other end of the pitch, he says, that he had to make the biggest change when he arrived at Solitude in early February last year.

“I remember working a bit with the defensive shape on my first night," he explained.

"We knew the quality of the players going forward, we just had to tighten a few things up at the back.

"We have worked hard with the players. We broke everything down - improve the keepers, improve the defence and the team playing.  The coaches work their socks off but the players deserve credit for buying into what the coaches were telling them.

"One thing that stands out over that year? It's the hard work that the boys have put in over the last year and now it's starting to pay off.”

But there was no predicting how stunningly it would all bear fruit at Windsor Park on Tuesday evening, with substitutes Thomas Maguire, who McLaughlin tips to become one of the league's top strikers, and Ryan Curran scoring the all-important goals.

"I pulled two hamstring running on the pitch celebrating," he smiled.

"Your emotions take over you because you see what it means to the players and supporters. We had an incredible support. There's only one team in the division who has that support and it's Cliftonville."

The Reds had not, truth be told, looked likely to break down a solid Ballymena rearguard, marshaled by the impressive Jonny Addis, until the fourth official showed seven minutes of injury time on the board.

The roar, at that moment, from the away support packed into the upper tier of the North Stand said it all.

"We knew we'd get another chance in that time and the boys didn't give up," said McLaughlin. "They didn't accept defeat. They pushed for the equaliser and then a winner. They've got that never say die attitude and it's been like that since I arrived."

Now the Reds can turn their attention to a tight title race and an Irish Cup campaign with a treble now a possibility.

"That's one trophy but we won't rest on it," reiterated McLaughlin, eager to see that potential explode again in the near future. "We want more. It's a young squad and it's a first senior medal for a lot of the players so hopefully this this gives them the hunger to win more. You never know where this season will go.

"We wanted to give the fans some pride back after the last two games. I felt we had let them down. Hopefully we did that and it will give the players and fans a lift. What a time to do that, going into the final third of the season."

Cliftonville have always had the potential to succeed in spectacular style.

Now Paddy McLaughlin is beginning to convert that energy.

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