Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor hopes to bring in 'four or five' new faces after troubled season
Danske Bank Europa League play-off final: Cliftonville 2 Glentoran 0 (after extra-time)
CLIFTONVILLE chairman Gerard Lawlor wants to bring “four or five” new faces to Solitude over the summer as the north Belfast club aims to move on from a season to forget.
Despite difficulties both on and off the field, the Reds’ campaign ended on a high when they defeated Glentoran on Saturday to seal a spot in the Europa League preliminary rounds.
There was a huge financial incentive going into that play-off final, and extra-time goals from Joe Gormley and Conor McMenamin saw Paddy McLaughlin’s men sign off for the summer in impressive fashion.
But after finishing in fifth place, 24 points off champions Linfield, Lawlor insists there will be “a fair amount of transition” over the coming months.
“If you’d asked me last Sunday morning, I’d have said yes definitely, this team isn’t good enough, but we’re now going ‘hold on, some of these players haven’t gone bad all of a sudden’,” he said when asked if big changes were on the horizon.
“There will be a number of changes of personnel this summer in a number of key positions. We’ve already said goodbye to Ryan Catney, that was a very difficult decision to make but it’s the right decision for Ryan, I believe, and the right decision for us.
“I think there would be a fair amount of transition. Definitely we would look to see four or five new faces at Solitude over the summer.”
McLaughlin took on the Reds job at the start of February, replacing Barry Gray following a string of poor results, after which sections of the Solitude support made their displeasure known to both manager and chairman.
The Jay Donnelly court case also cast a shadow over the club, and Lawlor admits there were times when he considered his own position – and suggested his own time as club chairman could be nearing an end.
“We all have lifespans,” he said.
“I’ve been chairman of Cliftonville now for 11 years so I have to be honest and say I constantly question my position. I don’t think people fully understand the commitment of it.
“Being honest, do I have the same enthusiasm I had 11 years ago? Because the challenges are very different nowadays, so I constantly review it.
“I will say very clearly, the Gerard Lawlor era of Cliftonville is in its latter stages at this point. I don’t see Gerard Lawlor being chairman of Cliftonville in two, three, five years time.
“There is a stage coming where someone else will have to take up the baton and drive it on, but we’ll enjoy this moment.”
And Lawlor hopes Saturday’s victory, and the momentous comeback win over Coleraine last Tuesday night, can provide a platform “to bring the club back together”.
“I fully acknowledge that the season gone by, for a number of reasons, has been deeply damaging to the club that people love,” he said.
“Hopefully the performances of the last week, ending on a high, goes some way – it’s not going to cure those ills – to help us regroup as a club.
“This week, the crowd getting behind the team has really driven them on. The fans were amazing. We have to bring the club back together; we have been a broken club and we have to heal those wounds.
“This is a large step in the right direction.”