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McDonald still has a big role to play at Solitude, says boss Gray

 

By Conor McLaughlin

Barry Gray has moved to quell speculation that Conor McDonald is set to depart Cliftonville.

The midfielder's absence from the Reds' line-up for Thursday's Europa League clash with Nordsjælland further fuelled rumours of a return to the League of Ireland, with St Patrick's Athletic understood to be interested in the former Dundalk man.

Gray, however, insists that McDonald - who was instrumental in the second half of last season after arriving during the January transfer window - is staying put.

"I don't know where the St Pat's thing has come from, the club knows nothing about it and the player knows nothing about it," he explained.

"I know people will see that he was an unused sub and think they're putting two and two together but the fact is he missed a lot of our pre-season because he was over in America for a long patch.

"If you put in a player who's missed a lot of the preparation and whose fitness isn't at the level of everyone else, you're almost forcing a substitution on yourself at some point."

Two players who did start the game, which the Reds lost 1-0 to their Danish counterparts, were debutants Conor McMenamin and Ryan Curran, with Gray more than satisfied with both.

"There's always a bit of a transition when you come into a new club but it was probably even more difficult for them because of the way we've been training over the last few weeks," added the Solitude chief.

"We've been working on shape and being more defensive than we would usually be and they've had to take a lot of information on board from me but I thought they both did very well."

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