Football/Soccer

Darren Murray finally leaves Portadown for Cliftonville

Darren Murray is delighted to have finally signed for Cliftonville

IT TOOK more than a few phone calls between Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor and Portadown boss Ronnie McFall to reach agreement over Darren 'Doozle' Murray's transfer to the north Belfast club.

The 24-year-old striker finally realised his dream move to Solitude for an undisclosed fee and is available for selection against Glenavon at Mourneview Park on Saturday afternoon. 

Throughout the week, Lawlor and McFall engaged in a bit of hard-ball negotiations. Lawlor hung up the phone on McFall. And then McFall hung up the phone on Lawlor. But the pair continued talking and a deal between the clubs was finally struck for the New Lodge Road man to move to his local club.

On Thursday night, though, Murray wasn’t hopeful about a successful outcome: “The way negotiations were going, I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he said.

“Gerard and Ronnie discussed the deal over the phone… I was in the dumps last night [Thursday], it was like getting your heart pulled out of you and then, the next minute, Gerard was at my door saying: ‘It’s sorted’.”

On Friday morning, though, the Reds chairman played a mischievous joke on the club’s new striker, pretending to Murray the deal had suffered a last-minute hitch: “Gerard phoned me this morning and said: ‘Sorry mate, I’ve got bad news.’ I couldn’t believe it, but then he said he was only joking. I was going crazy at that point. But I’m glad it’s done. It’s something I’ve always wanted,” he added.

Murray, who had spells with Donegal Celtic and Newry, handed in a transfer request in the summer and expressed his desire to leave Portadown for boyhood team Cliftonville. But no deal could be reached between the clubs and Murray was forced to withdraw his transfer request. The prolific goal-getter endured a miserable time at Shamrock Park this season before the Ports agreed to place him on the transfer list last week. 

Since he was five-years-of-age, ‘Dozzle’ always wanted to wear the red jersey of Cliftonville: “Cliftonville is a tight-knit club. I remember my da taking me to Cliftonville matches when I was five or six and going to places like the Oval. I remember thinking: ‘I’d love to play for them'," he added.

“I had a chance to go to Cliftonville years ago, but it didn’t happen. They always wanted me to sign for them, but it just didn’t happen.”

Despite McFall’s perceived intransigence, Murray had only good words to say about the Portadown manager: “Ronnie looked after me. People said I was his blue-eye or like his son," he said.

“When everyone was wanting me to go in the summer, he wanted me to stay. But I just wasn’t happy. He rang me last night and he said, ‘If you’re going to be happy somewhere else, we’re more than happy to let you go and I wish you all the best'."

Murray added: “He did everything for me. He took me off the scrapheap and I’ll thank him for that whenever I see him, but he knows I’m grateful anyway. He’s done an awful lot for my career.”

Murray started out with junior side Ardoyne Working Men’s Club, where he played up front with Peterborough United striker Joe Gormley for two seasons. He moved to Amateur League outfit Newington and later went to Swindon Town. He returned home several months later and played a season apiece for Newry City and Donegal Celtic. He notched 23 goals for a struggling DC team and that’s when McFall made his move for the young striker.

He made 120 appearances for Portadown, scoring over 70 goals, but was frustrated over not getting a move to the Reds last summer. Now that he’s arrived at Solitude, Murray says he wants to “win everything” with his new club and still feels a league challenge is not out of the question, despite the Reds suffering a dip in form in recent weeks.

“I want to win everything, I want to win as much as I can as many times as I can. I want to score a lot of goals and make people happy who come and watch Cliftonville," he said.

"As far as the league goes this season, Cliftonville are still there. Crusaders obviously have to play a lot hard games. The league’s not over until nobody can catch them. I’ve said to Gerard and ‘Skin’ [Gerard Lyttle] that I’m here to win stuff, I want to win the league and the Irish Cup and play in Europe and I’ll do whatever I can to try and achieve those things.”

Strikers Davy McDaid and new signing Daniel Hughes are injured, so there’s a strong chance Murray could start against Glenavon on Saturday. Former Cliftonville strikers Rory Donnelly, Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley have earned cross-channel moves in recent seasons, and Murray harbours similar ambitions.

“If the chance ever comes about, I’d take it. If I scored 20 or 30 goals, obviously [cross-channel] clubs would be interested. I said that to Gerard and he understands that. It’s something I’d like to do.”

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