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Paddy McLaughlin considers himself lucky to have two quality keepers to choose from at Cliftonville

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Ryan mighty: Cliftonville’s Ryan Curran celebrates his winning goal

Ryan mighty: Cliftonville’s Ryan Curran celebrates his winning goal

First class: Declan Dunne is sharing duties with Luke McNicholas this year. Credit: INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

First class: Declan Dunne is sharing duties with Luke McNicholas this year. Credit: INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

©INPHO/Presseye/Lorcan Doherty

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Ryan mighty: Cliftonville’s Ryan Curran celebrates his winning goal

Paddy McLaughlin says Cliftonville are privileged to be able to call upon the services of two international quality goalkeepers in their ranks.

Northern Ireland Under-21 stopper Declan Dunne played a key role in helping the Reds climb to the top of the Danske Bank Premiership, while underage Republic stopper Luke McNicholas ensured they stayed there with a man of the match display in Saturday’s slender victory over Ballymena United.

The Sligo Rovers loanee made what Sky Blues chief David Jeffrey described as “ridiculous” saves to thwart both Kenny Kane and Leroy Millar as United failed in their attempt to become the first visiting side to avoid defeat at Solitude this season.

“We had to grind it out a bit just to stay in the game,” admitted McLaughlin afterwards.

“Ballymena were better than us for long parts of the first-half and big Luke has pulled off a couple of good saves when called upon.”

McNicholas has played second fiddle to Dunne for most of the campaign but has impressed since being handed a starting role in last week’s stalemate at Coleraine.

“Luke’s been excellent and so has Declan,” added the Cliftonville chief.

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“We’re very lucky to have two international keepers and we’re using that as best as we can, keeping the two of them sharp,

“Declan’s done really well for us and, since he’s come in, Luke’s done the same. He’s pulled off a couple of great saves against Ballymena and has kept two clean sheets in his three games this week, so it’s a great return for him but I’m sure Luke will be the first to praise the people in front of him.

“The back four defended really well in the games that he’s played and I’m sure Declan would say the same about the matches he was involved in,

“The work rate of our team to protect our goalkeepers has been immense but fair play to the both of them because we’re very lucky to have two of the top keepers in the league.”

Jeffrey, meanwhile, said that everything about Ryan Curran’s scrambled winning strike was “manky” from a Ballymena perspective but he took great heart from his team’s performance and is keeping his fingers crossed for some rare good luck on the fitness front.

“We’ve been hammered with injuries and it was a case of asking players to hang in there,” he said. “We’ve had some big performances and results and, slowly but surely, we’re getting there. David Parkhouse played for 60 minutes during the week and scored for the reserves so hopefully he’s not too far away. Josh Kelly will be back around Christmas, young Sean Graham has returned from college in America so we should soon start to see a greater degree of competition for places.”

CLIFTONVILLE: McNicholas, Ives, C Curran, R Curran, Lowe, Donnelly (McDermott 46), Addis, Gormley (O’Neill 71), Turner, Gallagher, Kearns (Harney 86).

Unused subs: Dunne, McDonagh, Casey, Coates.

BALLYMENA UNITED: Williamson, Chapman, Douglas, Winchester (Smith 83), McElroy, Waide (Redman 69), McCullough, Kane, Barr, Keeley, Millar.

Unused subs: Johnston, Henderson, Bramall, Graham, Beattie.

Referee: Ross Dunlop (Carrickfergus)

Man of the match: Luke McNicholas

Match rating: 6/10


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