Cliftonville ace Rory Hale says it's too far too early for title challenge talk
Danske Bank Irish Premiership: Dungannon Swifts v Cliftonville (today, Stangmore Park, 3pm)
CLIFTONVILLE ace Rory Hale says it’s far too early to consider the Reds as championship contenders after their unbeaten start to the campaign and says ‘Come back to me in January or February’.
With Linfield, Glentoran and Larne expected to be leading the charge for the coveted Gibson Cup this season, the Reds and Crusaders are fancied to be in the chasing pack.
Paddy McLaughlin’s side sit top of the pile after four games – taking full points off Coleraine, Glentoran and Carrick Rangers before stealing a share of the spoils against Crusaders.
“I’ll let you know in January or February,” Hale said of Cliftonville’s title credentials.
“I’m young enough but I’ve been playing football long enough to know that you can’t get ahead of yourself. Once you start thinking you’re up there and challenging you’re already beat.
“When you’ve been around players like Rory Patterson and Colin Coates who have been there and won stuff you learn a thing or two off them and you just keep trying to get better.”
Hale suffered ankle ligament damage against his former club last weekend and is expected to be out of action for “four to six weeks”.
Speaking ahead of Cliftonville’s trip to Dungannon Swifts this afternoon, Hale feels it’s the best assembled squad the club has had in quite a few years.
“I like the togetherness of this team. I like the way everyone is playing for each other and playing for the club,” said the former Aston Villa player.
“There have been a lot of boys that came back from pre-season and have been absolutely flying.
“It’s just the togetherness. The training is 100 per cent every night, there are no light sessions, everyone wants to train. I think it’s down to competition for places as it’s probably the best squad Cliftonville has had in a lot of years. If you don’t play well you mightn’t get your place back.
“And when players aren’t getting the game-time that they like they are still getting behind the lads; they are still training 100 per cent. There are no sulks – and that’s what I’ve admired most about the lads.”
Hale, who had spells at Galway United, Derry City and Crusaders, has been a revelation since joining his boyhood club.
Played in a deep-lying midfield role at the Crues, McLaughlin has pushed him into the number 10 position at Solitude where he’s thrived.
“I don’t think I’ve enjoyed my football as much since I was at Derry City,” said the Newington native.
“I’d a tough time at the Crues the two years I was there – I was in and out, I had injuries, it was stop-start. I just think Paddy has given me the buzz back and the confidence. When you’ve got a manager saying: ‘You’ve got the best player in the league – give him the ball’ and stuff like that, how can you not go out and feel 10-foot tall?
“And he’s given me the captain’s armband at times too - captaining my boyhood club, how can you not go out and give 100 per cent?”
Fresh from their 2-0 League Cup win over H&W Welder on Tuesday night, the Reds manager successfully trialled defender Levi Ives in a midfield role while Aaron Donnelly, Kris Lowe and Odhran Casey are other midfield options.
Elsewhere, Linfield and Coleraine clash at Windsor Park this afternoon with the Blues having only played two league games. Glentoran travel to Warrenpoint while second-place Larne face a tricky tie at Crusaders.