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Cliftonville set for Coleraine trip to begin new campaign

Conor McMenamin finds the net when Cliftonville overcame Coleraine in last season’s Europa League playoff Conor McMenamin finds the net when Cliftonville overcame Coleraine in last season’s Europa League playoff
By Kevin Herron

CLIFTONVILLE Football Club has been in mourning following the untimely passing of former league-winning manager Tommy Breslin.

It will therefore be a poignant afternoon in Coleraine as the Reds travel to the Showgrounds for their opening game of the new season (Saturday 3pm).

Paddy McLaughlin’s side will face a team they defeated on their way to last season’s European play-off success, but the Cliftonville boss doesn’t believe the Bannsiders will have any extra motivation.

In the aftermath of the defeat, boss Rodney McAree parted company with the Bannsiders and that paved the way for Irish Cup winning boss Oran Kearney to return, less than 12 months after leaving for Scottish Premiership side St Mirren, who Kearney led to survival.

Former Bannsiders defender McLaughlin isn’t worried about any thoughts of revenge from Coleraine and insists they will provide his side with a difficult afternoon on the North Coast.

“They’ll not need any motivation from last year to get off to a good start this year,” McLaughlin said.

“They’ve got a new manager with Oran Kearney coming back. It’s the first game of the season and everybody wants to start off well, so they shouldn’t really need more motivation.

“I wouldn’t be too worried about what they’re thinking about last year’s play-off semi-final. They’re a good side. We know all about them and I know a couple of them from Derry and I’m close to them.

“I always keep an eye out from them every week to see how they’re getting on and I’m aware of how good a side they are. It will be a tough game, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Cliftonville will be hoping to get the new season off to the best possible start with some tough games in their initial set of fixtures, but McLaughlin is mindful there is a long season ahead.

“It’s a target but everybody will be targeting the same thing – getting off to a good start and getting points on the board as early as possible,” he added.

“We know there are tough opponents and a tough start away to Coleraine and then home to Glenavon and Crusaders in the next seven days.

“It’s three of the toughest fixtures we could possibly have took. We’ll target Coleraine first and hopefully get three points on the board but Coleraine will be looking for the same as us.

“The boys are ready to go; they’ve trained hard over the last two months and played in a lot of high profile games in Europe as-well-as friendlies against Sligo Rovers and Derry City, so they’ve had a tough pre-season and the hard work is done so they’re rearing to go.”

“We’ve a strong squad of players and we’ve got players now that are quite capable of stepping in and keeping their places, which is a good thing for us.

“We’d like to have a full squad of players to pick from, but we’re also in the position where if one or two drop out, there are one or two ready to come in without weakening us. We’ll be okay.”

Following on from Saturday’s clash with the Bannsiders, the Reds will return to Solitude under the bright lights to take on Glenavon on Tuesday evening (7.45pm kick-off).

McLaughlin believes that Gary Hamilton’s Lurgan Blues have a squad capable of challenging for the Gibson Cup this season and has called on the Red Army to come out in force and back their side to the hilt.

“Hopefully it will be another big night under the lights at Solitude,” said McLaughlin.

“Like Coleraine, Glenavon are similar. They’re an established and experienced side with a really good manager in Gary Hamilton.

“He’s got a really strong and settled squad, a squad that is more than capable of challenging to win the league. It will be another difficult fixture for us.”

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