European record-breaker Ronan Scannell is bursting with pride after Cliftonville stunned HNK Cibalia in the Europa League.
Ronan and his brother Chris have set a new club record of nine appearances in Europe and they scribbled their names in the history books in sensational style.
The talented duo have fought for the Reds at home and abroad for 10 years but the 1-0 aggregate win over HNK Cibalia was their finest hour.
It doesn’t get any easier though for Eddie Patterson’s side as a trip to CSKA Sofia for the first leg clash on Tuesday awaits, but the players deserve to bask in the glory of a stunning triumph.
“It’s a special feeling to have broken the club record and what a way to do it,” said Ronan. “You play football for memories like this and to make the next round of the Europa League is a great achievement.
“I’ve been with the club for 10 years and this is the best feeling ever. I feel for the boys who are having to organise time off for the next game but I’ll not have to worry about that.
“This is a small squad but there is a great togetherness, camaraderie and spirit there which Eddie (Patterson) has eluded to. It’s a close knit group of players with youngsters who are learning the game and a never say die attitude which is great to see.”
Football’s unpredictable nature keeps us all captivated — who would have thought Northern Ireland could beat Spain in a World Cup or conquer England and Spain at Windsor Park.
There is also no logical reason why Irish League clubs should defeat full-time sides who are much fitter on the European stage. But Cliftonville, Portadown and Linfield have shown the whipping boys tag can be banished.
Football has always been about attitude as well as ability and if players don’t believe they can realise their dreams, the chances are they will end up disappointed.
“It’s my proudest moment, without a doubt,” added Ronan. “I thought that beating Dinaburg in
the Intertoto Cup was a great achievement but this tops it off.
“In my eyes, this is a different level. No disrespect to Dinaburg in Latvia but football in Croatia is much stronger and when you play full-time sides it is going to be backs against the wall for long periods of the game.
“They had most of the possession but they failed to score and that’s the difference. In fact Liam Boyce and Mark Patterson had chances when we could have won the game.
“We had to keep a good shape and work hard. Having watched Portadown and Linfield do well in Europe, that gave us a lift and we knew that, with a little luck, we could go through. I don’t see why Irish League teams should be sitting ducks in Europe anymore. The players are showing belief and that’s what it’s all about.”
Ciaran Caldwell’s strike at Windsor Park ultimately fired the
Reds into dreamland and earned them a historic clash with CSKA Sofia.
Last year, CSKA earned a place in the Europa League's group stage after defeating Dynamo Moscow in the qualifying round and drew AS Roma, FC Basel, and Fulham in the group stages.
The Bulgarians drew 1-1 with the Cottagers in Sofia but failed to pick up any more points.
“The players will not be giving up now we have got this far,” added Scannell. “CSKA are one of the top clubs in Europe and it’s obviously a huge challenge for us but we will try to keep our shape and keep them out.
“If we can limit them to a few chances then we can bring them to Windsor Park with the tie not over. It would be nice to bring something back to hold onto or build on. The boys have shown tremendous character, kept their discipline and we can be proud of what we have achieved.”
Even local rivals Crusaders would admit that their near-neighbours are the pride of north Belfast this summer!