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Tommy Breslin's all set for Cliftonville lift-off

It's not quite a step into the unknown but Tommy Breslin is nevertheless apprehensive about his first game in charge of his beloved Cliftonville tomorrow night.

The Belfast man has a long association with the Solitude side, scoring 16 goals in 279 appearances during an eight-year playing spell which began in 1985.

A fans' favourite, he formed one-third of the Reds' 'Holy Trinity' of midfield talents alongside Jim Fadden and great friend Peter Murray, who is part of the new-look backroom staff at the club.

Appointed as assistant manager to Eddie Patterson in October 2005, Breslin has played an integral role in Cliftonville's meteoric rise from perennial relegation battlers to European regulars.

He stepped into the breach on a temporary basis at the end of last season when Patterson controversially became the first manager in Cliftonville's 133-year history to be sacked from his job.

After guiding the team through the final month of the campaign and securing a return to continental competition - during a phase which Breslin himself described as a "fire fighting exercise"- the 49-year-old was handed the job on a permanent basis last month and will this evening join his players on a short flight to Liverpool ahead of tomorrow's Europa League first qualifying round first leg tie against The New Saints in nearby Oswestry.

Though he retains confidence in his squad's ability, he admits that Cliftonville's defeat of their Welsh opponents in a pre-season friendly 11 days ago has the potential to throw their preparations off course a little bit.

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"We aren't reading anything into that at all because, at the end of the day, friendly matches are all about working on fitness levels," he explains.

"I don't think TNS will be overly worried about having lost to us so recently and I know we certainly don't have any psychological advantage or anything like that.

"The main positives about having played that friendly are that we know what the surroundings will be like, we're reasonably familiar with the ground and we've had a chance to play on their pitch which, like our own, has an artificial surface.

"If anything, beating TNS the other week might work in our opponents' favour because they'll be working extra hard to avoid a repeat and we need to make sure we don't take even the slightest little thing for granted. I know we'll have a decent crowd there supporting us and I'm not sure what their expectation levels will be but my view is that TNS are regulars in Europe and will really fancy their chances of beating us."

Breslin has made five new additions to his playing staff this summer and, while Martin Donnelly (Crusaders), John Convery (Newry City), Peter Steele (Glentoran) and Ryan Brown (Ballymena United) have plenty of Premiership experience, it is the acquisition of Amateur League hotshot Joe Gormley (pictured) which has set most tongues wagging in north Belfast.

The 21-year-old bagged 61 goals for Crumlin Star last season and has already netted six times in four pre-season outings for the Reds - including an outrageous 30-yard injury-time winner against TNS.

"We've taken a chance on Joe Gormley and he's looked good so far but we'll not be expecting too much of him just yet," he adds. "There are plenty of football teams at various levels in north Belfast, but none as big as Cliftonville.

"If there are players out there who have the ability then I believe we should be looking to bring them here. We are a community club and, while I'm in charge, I'll be making it my business to ensure we keep tabs on all of the best players in the local area."


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