Ryan Catney - a Cliftonville foot soldier
Ryan Catney served Cliftonville Football Club with distinction for 12 years. A player who never shirked a 50-50 tackle, the west Belfast man became an integral part of Tommy Breslin's back-to-back league winning teams. On Saturday, he will wear the red jersey of Cliftonville for the last time in his testimonial game. Here, he talks to Brendan Crossan about the highs and lows and the friendships he made at Solitude...
BC: Where did you start out playing football?
RC: Donegal Celtic. I came through the ranks before going over to Reading when I was 16 and I stayed there for almost three years.
BC: What was your experience like at Reading?
RC: It’s every kid’s dream growing up, especially coming from west Belfast. Obviously Brendan Rodgers was there at the time and he was the one that brought me over. I was supposed to sign for a few other clubs but Brendan being there swayed my decision.
It was always my dream, but sometimes your dreams don’t come true and that’s unfortunately what happened. Brendan left and a new guy came in. I was playing reserves and it kind of just fizzled out. I could have stayed over there, the club were going to send me to different teams but I came home.
BC: Did you have much contact with Rodgers when you were at Reading?
RC: Yes. He was the U18 coach. With his sessions you could see then that he was class. He was top notch.
BC: Do you have any regrets about coming home?
RC: No. I don’t think I could live with regrets. I made the decision and I have lived with it. I don’t look back and think: ‘I wish I did this’ or ‘I wish I did that’. I did everything I could and that’s just the way it worked out.
BC: You ended up coming home and signed for Distillery…
RC: I had an agent when I was in England and I came back and was told Paul Kirk wanted to sign me. I was a bit naïve about the Irish League, I didn’t know anything about. I went up to train and Paul signed me straight away. I signed for the Whites around November/December time and I stayed for just short of 18 months.
BC: Do you remember the first Cliftonville contact?
RC: Paul and me had words and I remember [Distillery team-mate] Fra Murphy had signed a pre-contract with Cliftonville and in the weeks after that Fra said to Eddie Patterson [Cliftonville manager] about signing me. I went up and had a look and Cliftonville signed me straight away. It was really all down to Fra Murphy.
BC: What was the best moment at Cliftonville?
RC: Winning our first League Cup title, beating Crusaders 4-0 at Windsor Park. George McMullan always said it that game was the monkey off our backs because that team went on to bigger and better things after that victory.
BC: That out-stripped winning the league title?
RC: Yes, because it was our first major title. We’d obviously won the Co Antrim Shield but the likes of George, Barry Johnston and the Scannells knew how big that first League Cup was to that side. That was the catalyst.
BC: What was your worst moment at the club?
RC: Two moments: Losing two Irish Cup finals against Crusaders (2009) and Glentoran (2013). The 2013 was probably worse because we’d won the league a few weeks earlier and we all did a bit of partying. Had we won that Irish Cup it really would have cemented that team’s legacy. It would have been great had we had won the treble.
BC: What was so great about Tommy Breslin’s team that won back-to-back league titles?
RC: We were all friends. We had a good mix of young and older players. You had the Scannells – Chris and Ronan – you’d ‘Janty’ [Barry Johnston], George [McMullan] was the leader of that team. There was just a great camaraderie about the team and ‘Bressy’ always told us to go out and play, he wanted to see football, he didn’t want long-ball stuff, go out and express yourselves.
BC: Who did you play your best football under?
RC: That’s an easy one: Tommy Breslin. I was playing every week. Between 2011 to 2015, ‘Bressy’ got the best out of me. He knew me as a person. He knew what I was good at and what I wasn’t good at. He didn’t tell me to do anything that I couldn’t do.
BC: Who was the best player you played with?
RC: Liam Boyce. He was ridiculous. He was far too good. If you take Boycie out of it, I would have to say George McMullan.
BC: Your toughest opponent?
RC: Paul McAreavey. In that Linfield team he played in, ‘Mackers’ and ‘Gaulty’ [Michael Gault] were brilliant. ‘Mackers’ was untouchable. He was box-to-box and he had that nasty streak in him. A great player.
BC: Did you mind being an all-year-round Panto villain?
RC: I don’t know what it is. It doesn’t bother me. When they’re shouting at me I’m obviously doing something right. I’ve got it my whole career; I don’t know if it’s a Cliftonville thing or they really don’t like me!
BC: Sum up the Cliftonville fans...
RC: Passionate. Their love for the club, it was us-against-the-world. We were living their dreams from the terraces, especially during the ‘Bressy’ era. You had a hard-core of players that knew the Cliftonville morals – the standards that needed to be set. They were Cliftonville men.
BC: If you were to give a young player coming through the ranks a bit of advice what would it be?
RC: Just give every training session and every match everything you have. Play like it’s your last game. I’ve always said if you play for the badge on the front of your jersey people will remember the name on the back of it. So train and play as hard as you can – and play as long as you can.
BC: You strike me as someone who doesn’t get emotional but you seemed to be a bit emotional coming off against Crusaders at the end of the season…
RC: Just going to training over the last couple of weeks and you’re thinking: 'This is near enough my last training session'. Obviously coming off against Crusaders there was no better way to go off than winning 2-0 and you’ve done your job. I think the reception I got was related to all the hard work I’ve done for the club.
I’m not one for showing my emotions on the pitch, but I’ve been there a long time and I’m hurting deep inside because I never wanted to leave. So there will be a twinge of sadness when that really will be the last time I’ll have the Cliftonville shirt on on Saturday.
BC: Which opposition supporters gave you the most abuse?
RC: Linfield and in recent years probably Crusaders. But that’s to be expected. I just took it for what it was.
BC: What’s been the funniest thing that’s happened in your career?
RC: Some of the things that were shouted from the ‘Understand’. Being at that side of the pitch at times you would hear the abuse opposition players got. I just hope I never experience that if I ever go back to play at Solitude.
BC: Who was the biggest characters you played with?
RC: When we were winning leagues, Marty Donnelly and Stevie Garrett were brilliant in the changing room – they just bounced off each other. And big ‘Tull’ [Ciaran Caldwell] as well. ‘Tull’ loved telling stories but we don’t know if they were true half the time. There was a great bond in that changing room.
BC: Who did you learn most from?
RC: The experienced players at Cliftonville. Marc Smyth was great when he came to the club. I played in front of him and did all his work for him! Barry Johnston and George McMullan – just the way they talked on the pitch. I would have run through a brick wall for George after he spoke in the huddle before games.
BC: Do you remember your first tackle back after suffering a double break of your leg?
RC: One of the first I remember was chasing back Ryan Curran in training, I slid in with my bad leg and he kneed me in the pins in my leg. But once I got up I knew I was okay.
BC: How would you like to be remembered by Cliftonville?
RC: Someone who would have put their body on the line. I would break 20 bones just to win a game. Obviously people remember the medals but I'd just like to be remembered as a loyal foot soldier.
BC: What’s the future hold?
RC: Hopefully another team. I want to continue playing in the Irish League. I’m only 32. I feel I have a couple years in me yet. If somebody makes me an offer that I deem acceptable then I’d jump at it because I still feel I’ve something to offer in this league.
BC: What was the best game you played?
RC: The time we beat Linfield 3-1 at Windsor Park in the run-in to the league. It was just a great team performance. Boycie scored two and Joe [Gormley] scored the other one. It was total domination at Windsor Park that afternoon.
BC: Do you remember your worst game?
RC: Too many to remember. I didn’t do myself justice in either of the Irish Cup finals we lost.
BC: Who was the most under-rated player you played with?
RC: Ronan Scannell. It wasn’t that he was under-rated by his team-mates or by the club’s supporters - but maybe outside of the club he didn’t get the plaudits he deserved. He could play anywhere in defence or in midfield. To this day I don’t know if he’s left footed or right footed.
BC: Best XI?
RC: Conor Devlin, George McMullan, Ronan Scannell, Peter Hutton, Marc Smyth, Barry Johnston, Marty Donnelly, Chris Curran, Liam Boyce, Joe Gormley, Chris Scannell.
BC: Best player you played against?
RC: Cesc Fabregas. I played against him at the U17 Euro finals in France when he played for Spain. I couldn’t get near him!
BC: What was the best thing about playing for Cliftonville?
RC: Just playing for the club. Winning games. The people are great and all the volunteers; the things people don’t see going on – people like Imelda and Stevie at every training session and cleaning the changing room. The board members getting things ready for match-days. Everything. It’s just a community club. That’s who I’ll always support and who my kids will always support - and I’ll always be a supporter of Cliftonville.
***Ryan Catney's Testimonial match will take place on Saturday at Solitude at 2pm between the current Cliftonville first team and an Allstars Irish League Select. Admission is £8 and £4 or £10 for an adult and child.