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Cliftonville jubilation at winning Irish League

We’re not finished yet

By Staff Reporter

AS CLIFTONVILLE chairman Gerard Lawlor gave an emotional address to reporters in Solitude’s media room, he stopped mid-sentence as the man who masterminded Saturday’s title triumph arrived.

A smiling Tommy Breslin entered to fulfill his post-match duties and he wore a look of satisfaction that said ‘job done’.

While there could be no doubt that the Gibson Cup would be taking up residence in the Cliftonville trophy room for the next year, ‘Bressy’ said he was more relieved than euphoric following their dramatic late winner to seal the deal against Linfield.

“I’m stunned. It hasn’t really sunk in,” admitted The Reds’ boss.

“At times it was a bit emotional but I suppose that’s because the way it all happened.

“It goes without saying that we would have won the league anyway – it was just a matter of when – but it’s just great to get over the line.

“I wouldn’t put myself down as an emotional person, but I think the feeling now is of relief because we led for so long, we are finally over the line.”

Had the game ended 2-2, Cliftonville could well have finished the job at The Oval on Tuesday but it was at home in front of their adoring fans where they wanted it wrapped up.

“The most pleasing thing is that we won it at home in front of our own supporters,” added Breslin.

“It didn’t matter if it was Linfield or whoever, it was just about repaying the crowd and to give them a game to enjoy.

“You couldn’t have written the script, Linfield in front of a full-house at Solitude and a last-minute penalty.”

It took the cool head of George McMullan to slot home that penalty.

While he admitted he could barely watch McMullan take the kick, striker Liam Boyce said he felt it was meant to be that a man who epitomises everything about the club should win the title for the club.

“There has been a lot of talk his week with people planning for us to win it, but when it went to 2-2, it seemed written in the stars for Georgie to step up and win it,” said Boyce.

“I didn’t want to look so I was peeking through my hands but he has been scoring them all year. He has this stutter step and the goalkeepers don’t know what to do. As soon as it went in – I couldn’t believe it.”

His goals either side of the break brought his tally to 34 for the season, one short of the long-standing record set by Syd Over of 35 for the club in one season.

Despite being on a hat-trick, Boyce said he was in no rush to call for the ball when the penalty was awarded.

“I just found out the record is 35 but no, I couldn’t handle that pressure. I’m just on free-kicks at the minute,” he laughed.

“But yeah, the record is 35 and I’m on 34 now, so I will be asking ‘Bressy’ if I can play in the last few matches to try and break that and write my name in history.

“But if I could trade all my goals, I would do it now to win the Irish Cup.

“I was on the bench when Crusaders beat us and it was hard to watch what it did to people – it really hurt them.”

It is that selflessness and unity that has brought Cliftonville to the brink of an historic first treble.

Indeed, the club has never won a league and cup double so Breslin has said that while everyone would rightly toast league success, they can’t get too carried away with an Irish Cup final on the horizon.

“We have a cup final in a couple of weeks so we can’t just say we are downing tools and will be back on May 4 – there is a lot of work to be done before then,” he said.

“I know that’s a bit of a downer but it’s a reality. The job isn’t done and they [the players] can’t just go through the motions now because that’s not good enough.”

What has been good enough is how Cliftonville applied themselves this year.

While Boyce said that October’s 3-1 defeat to Crusaders gave them the motivation to power on all season, Breslin feels that December’s battling 3-3 draw away to Portadown was the moment he saw his side display the qualities needed to become champions.

The North Belfast club had come close to glory in recent seasons, but Breslin said he was proud of how they stepped up this time and clicked consistently – citing this as the difference between finishing as contenders and champions.

“The last seven or eight years we have been flirting with semi-finals and coming close in the league,” he added.

“We just haven’t been able to be consistent over a full season and that’s probably what the difference is, not just doing it for 10 or 20 matches, but for the full season.

“From the start I knew we could do well. We played well against Kalmar in Europe and I thought that if we could bring that level to an Irish League game then nobody could live with us.”

That was the night Boyce produced a piece of magic to defeat the Swedes at Solitude and just as his manager had hoped, he and his team-mates proved that was the beginning of a year to remember.

 

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