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Cliftonville drop out of race for former striker Donnelly with Glentoran in prime position to swoop

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Jay Donnelly (right) when he played for Cliftonville

Jay Donnelly (right) when he played for Cliftonville

Philip Magowan

Jay Donnelly (right) when he played for Cliftonville

Cliftonville have pulled out of the race to sign their disgraced former player Jay Donnelly - leaving the path clear for Glentoran to swoop, should they decide to make their move.

Despite being in dialogue in recent weeks with the 25-year-old, the Reds will not be pursuing a deal with the Belfast Celtic striker.

It is understood Donnelly agreed a return to Solitude two weeks ago before Glentoran made a late bid to sign the player, a move which has caused major tension at The Oval.

Now Cliftonville Chairman Gerard Lawlor has told Sunday Life Sport: "Frankly, it was a deal not worth making so we are walking away from it."

The Reds are unwilling to pay a transfer fee and were unhappy about the handling of their interest.

"Our manager, Paddy McLaughlin, was interested in bringing Jay Donnelly back to Cliftonville as he thought he could improve the squad," said Solitude chairman Lawlor.

"We sought and received permission to speak to the player, we spoke to Jay and made a proposal to Belfast Celtic last weekend.

"That offer was left on the table until Friday, when we as a club decided we would be taking the matter no further."

Cliftonville were prepared to offer future friendly fixtures and perhaps loan deals on young players as a sweetner to Belfast Celtic, who signed Donnelly as a professional last season.

But with Glentoran making furtive overtures, Hoops manager Stephen McAlorum declared the Glen Road Heights outfit would not be rushed into a decision.

Sunday Life Sport understands Glentoran's assistant manager Paul Millar was the man tasked with talking to Donnelly and his club. Oval sources confirm Millar met with the 25-year-old and representatives of Belfast Celtic last weekend to discuss a deal, which has exposed fault lines within the Glentoran boardroom.

When businessman Ali Pour took over last July, he and fellow directors Mick McDermott, Millar and Mark Glenfield assumed 85% control of the club and turned the Glens' fortunes around after years of underachievement.

As manager, McDermott and his No.2 Millar steered Glentoran into Europe by winning the Irish Cup in July and was the toast of the supporters.

However, when news got out that the club were intent on wooing Donnelly, whose older brother Ruaidhri signed in January, there was strong opposition in some quarters of the fanbase.

McDermott refused to discuss the matter this week and has his own concerns about the player after he served a three month prison sentence for distributing an indecent image, which has prompted the opposition.

But McDermott is in the market for a goalscorer in a determined attempt to become real title challengers next season and believes Donnelly could help to that end.

However, the pursuit has caused dismay amongst other board members, including Chairman Stephen Henderson, who made it clear such a move would be vetoed by the board.

Talks with Donnelly continued despite this warning which, according to one insider, 'has been an issue of significant and ongoing angst'.

With Cliftonville now out of the running, it is left to Glentoran to make a decision after shadowing the Reds in recent weeks and, should the Oval men sign the player, some board members will be left in a difficult position.

Belfast Telegraph