How relationship between Cliftonville staff and squad is blossoming, reveals Chris Curran
Cliftonville captain Chris Curran says there's now a strong relationship between the players and manager Barry Gray after a getting-to-know-you period this season.
The Reds players have needed to familiarise themselves with Gray's methods and approach this season following his appointment as Solitude chief in May.
On occasions this season, the man who succeeded Gerard Lyttle has been unable to resist the temptation to blast his players publicly after below-par performances.
An inconsistent Premiership campaign has left the club sweating on a European place but there has been a significant turnover of players and change doesn't happen overnight.
The Irish Cup run has certainly injected fresh confidence into the team and should they win the trophy in the final against Coleraine today, it could be the beginning of another special chapter in the history of a club that won titles in 2013 and 2014 as well as four League Cups in a row since 2013.
Curran, who is dreaming of his first Irish Cup winner's medal, now insists everyone is singing from the same hymn-sheet and Gray has earned the players' respect.
"It took a while for him to get to know us and for us to get used to him, but I think now everyone is really comfortable," said the former Ballinamallard ace.
"You do have to get to know Barry to understand his methods and how he talks to players and things like that, but I think he's developed a really good relationship with all the players.
"We've nothing but respect for him and I'm trying to think of another manager who I've seen work as hard.
"We only see a snapshot of it, but we are aware the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes from Barry and the rest of the staff. It's unbelievable really.
"In that respect, it's no surprise that we're starting to bear the fruit of all that work.
"That relationship is very strong and there's a lot of trust between Barry and us as players and vice versa."
The Coleraine rearguard has been resolute all season and they will certainly be tested this afternoon against a fired up Joe Gormley and Rory Donnelly.
The dynamic and dangerous duo have smashed in 68 goals this season and if the Bannsiders defence drops their guard for a second they will be ruthlessly punished.
"That's one of our big strengths - those attacking players," added Curran.
"They score goals and they're also very exciting on the eye. They get you to the edge of your seat. Not only their goals, but something that has been understated have been Rory's assists and the assists Joe and Jay have brought to the table.
"They have been very productive over the season and they're really hitting form and have been playing with confidence which really helps us going into Saturday. That's one of our strengths, but we know Coleraine are also strong in attacking areas and they have a lot of goals in their team. We'll be trying to keep a clean sheet first of all and hope the rest takes care of itself."
For the Cliftonville players it's been impossible to escape the sense of excitement and anticipation at possibly lifting the prize for the first time since 1979. It's a weight of expectation that can weigh heavily on the shoulders of the players but Curran says they've managed to avoid much of the hype.
"We're aware of it because of all the hype that surrounds the cup final now, but up until last Saturday, there was almost a ban on talking about the final," said the 27-year-old.
"We were concentrating on the league games and giving them the respect they deserve, but this week our focus is on Coleraine and on ourselves.
"It doesn't add any value to your preparation if you're thinking about 1979, the whole hoodoo and all that. We're keeping our heads down and trying to prepare properly for Saturday."
• Cliftonville have signed Ryan Curran from Ballinamallard United.
The versatile attacker, who scored 16 goals for the Ferney Park side this season, began his career with Derry City before a brief spell at Finn Harps and arrives at Solitude following strong interest from a host of Danske Bank Premiership sides.
"When I first came into the Irish League, I always had it in the back of my mind that Cliftonville was the team I wanted to get to," he said.