Joe Gormley is back to his best to lead Cliftonville's Fab Four
Joe Gormley is back and firing on all cylinders.
That's the warning to the rest of the Irish League from Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin.
On Thursday evening's evidence, it's hard to argue. Gormley slammed home a simply unstoppable first half strike, and laid the fourth and final goal on a plate for Rory Donnelly with some sterling work on the left flank.
The 29-year-old bagged an impressive 22 Danske Bank Premiership goals for the Reds last season but only four of those arrived after the turn of the year, three following McLaughlin's appointment on February 1.
For a forward of Gormley's quality, that was unheard-of.
But the signs against Barry Town were that the former Peterborough player is back to his brilliant best.
"Yeah," agreed McLaughlin. "He's come back after his two-week break a different player for it. It's such a short break but Joe is under pressure every week.
"If he has one bad game or one game without scoring a goal it's a crisis. You know the demands that are on him so the two-week break definitely seemed to have an impact on him. If we get that performance from him throughout the season, we'll not be short of goals.
"Joe is what he is; one of the best strikers that the country has seen. Joe justified his selection by putting in probably his best performance since I've been here. What about that strike? Top drawer. That's what he's about - he's a big-game player."
Gormley was only one part of a Fab Four that ripped Barry Town to shreds. While the qualities of former Swansea striker Rory Donnelly and Reds skipper Chris Curran, playing either side of the main marksman, have rarely been doubted, the fourth man has made something of a return to form after being transfer-listed in the closing days of former manager Barry Gray's reign.
After McLaughlin's arrival, Conor McMenamin started nine of the Reds' closing 14 Premiership matches, netting four goals.
Playing against Barry in an attacking midfield role and linking up neatly with the front three, it was a performance that deserved his goal and underlined the quality that had previously shone through when he scored five league goals in a two-month period for Warrenpoint in the 17/18 campaign.
"Conor's one of those players that could put his hand to any position," said McLaughlin of the 23-year-old who has also been utilised at centre-forward and full-back.
"He's technically gifted and makes things look effortless. He's very versatile but he's the kind of player we want to play in behind the striker and get him on the ball in the final third. He showed his quality but he's been doing that since I've been here. He's been excellent - a top player for us.
“Barry Town just didn’t know how to contain us - and that’s no disrespect to them, it’s more to do with what we have in our locker," McLaughlin continued, rightly talking up his side's stunning attacking display that harked back to the devastating performances delivered during the club's recent title wins under Tommy Breslin.
“We cut them open so often because we have some really good players and I just can’t give them enough praise because they were sensational tonight.”
Next up for Cliftonville their attacking Fab Four will be the tougher task of overcoming Norwegian side Haugesund, who visit Solitude on Thursday (July 11) before hosting the Reds a week later in the Europa League first qualifying round.
"We're definitely there to compete and if it's good enough then brilliant," said McLaughlin.
“It’s a difficult task and we don’t have a lot of time to prepare for it, but we will give it everything we have.
“I was fully focused on Barry Town, we haven’t looked beyond them, but now I will trying to find out as much as I possibly can.
“I will try and watch as many videos and read as many reports as I possibly can between now and Saturday’s training session. I want my players to be as well informed as they possibly can be - we’re not going to Norway to make up the numbers.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital