New Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin says 'relax and play'

New man on the block Paddy McLaughlin last night at Solitude home of Cliftonville Football Club Picture by Hugh Russell.
From Brendan Crossan at Solitude

NEW Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin wants his players to “relax and play” - and hasn’t ruled out putting the Reds back in the frame for a European place.

McLaughlin was prised away from Premiership new boys Institute and unveiled as successor to Barry Gray who was sacked last month after a poor run of results.

Former reserve team coach Michael Press had taken temporary charge of first team affairs.

The 39-year-old former Derry City defender is regarded as one of the bright lights on the managerial circuit, who pipped the more experienced Kenny Shiels to the Solitude hotseat.

After getting Institute promoted from the Championship last season, McLaughlin’s side have won rave reviews for the way in which they’ve adapted to senior football.

With an emphasis on possession and a strong work ethic, ’Stute sit in seventh place - a comfortable distance away from the relegation zone.

“I was at Institute for 18 months and we’d taken to the Premiership really well and our brand of football has been there from more or less day one," McLaughlin explained at last night’s press briefing.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight here, we understand that. But some of the talent in that Cliftonville changing room it probably won’t take as long. If the talent is there, it’s about encouraging that talent.

“The tools are already here. It’s about trying to get those boys back playing on top of their game and getting the club back to where it should be.”

McLaughlin has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the north Belfast club and brings his two assistants at Institute with him – former Reds player and coach Brian Donaghy and goalkeeping coach Conleith McCrudden.

Explaining his philosophy, he said: “You want to be enjoying your football and the teams who go long I don’t how many players actually enjoy that. Supporters don’t enjoy watching it. Our style of play is to try to entertain. Relax and play. Sometimes managers are afraid of losing the ball in bad areas or fear getting beaten. I think if you take away that fear of losing you will have a better player for it.”

While many questions revolved around McLaughlin’s lauded playing style, club chairman Gerard Lawlor was a bit more pragmatic about what is achievable in the short term.

“The board have been an admirer of Paddy for a long time,” said Lawlor.

“Three points on a Saturday is what matters in the meantime. We’re not putting pressure on Paddy having to go out and win 6-0 and play like Barcelona.

“I’d give my right arm for a clean sheet right now, never mind anything else. If we’re winning 1-0 every Saturday and the goal comes off somebody’s backside from a hoof up the pitch, the chairman will always be happy if that’s what gets us into Europe.

“It’s about getting the basics right and I think that’s Paddy’s first priority because we have a group of players who aren’t high in confidence at the minute. So let’s get three points and a winning mentality and the brand of football will grow from there.”

Since the heady days of Tommy Breslin’s league-winning sides of 2012/13 and 2013/14, sustaining that gold standard has been a challenge.

Gerard ‘Skin’ Lyttle, Breslin’s successor, delivered European football and another League Cup the following season before moving to a full-time post at Sligo Rovers.

Barry Gray, who made his name with local club Warrenpoint Town, was next in the hot-seat and, against the odds, secured European football for the Reds as well as reaching an Irish Cup final.

But a terrible run of results over Christmas and the New Year left the Cliftonville board with no alternative but to seek a new manager in a bid to breath new life into their flagging European challenge.

The Reds currently sit in sixth place, a massive 14 points off third place currently occupied by neighbours Crusaders.

McLaughlin, already enlisted for his Pro Licence coaching course starting in May, insisted he didn’t move to Solitude to “fulfil fixtures” between now and the end of the season and hoped the team still had something to play for.

Expectations are high at Cliftonville, but McLaughlin is undaunted by the challenge.

“When you work at a club like Cliftonville there are always going to be high expectations,” he said. “They should be demanding success. There’s nobody puts me under pressure more than myself. You set yourself high standards - it’s up to you to keep hitting those targets and that’s what I’ve been doing all my career.”

He name-checked Stephen Kenny and Paul Kee as influences on his career and says making the commute from his Derry home was not an obstacle in taking over at Cliftonville.

“When you take a look at some of the players coming in the door it’s definitely going to be worth it.”

After his press commitments last night, McLaughlin met the Cliftonville players before training and is looking forward to Saturday's home game against Newry City.

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