Football/Soccer

Paddy McLaughlin excited about Cliftonville season that starts in Slovakia

Cliftonville take on DAC of Slovakia in the first qualifying round of the Europa Conference League tonight Picture by Desmond Loughery/Pacemaker
Pádraig Ó Meiscill

Uefa Europa Conference League first qualifying round, first leg: Dunajská Streda v Cliftonville (tonight, 7.30pm, live on www.247.tv/niprem)

THERE are not many who would debate the claim that, of the four Irish League clubs in action this week, it is Cliftonville who have been given the toughest task of the lot.

While Linfield kicked off their Champions League qualifying campaign against Welsh outfit The New Saints on Tuesday and Crusaders and Larne have been drawn against a pair of Gibraltarian clubs for their Conference League openers, the Reds have made the journey to Slovakia to take on Dunajská Streda.

DAC are a full-time outfit with no less than a dozen full internationals in their squad, but Cliftonville manager Paddy McLaughlin is remaining bullish ahead of a daunting task.

“It was a tough auld draw and the odds are definitely against us, but these boys have been playing under those circumstances for the last one, two years and they have always been up to it and I have no doubt that they’ll prove themselves up for the challenge again,” McLaughlin said before his squad jetted out to central Europe yesterday morning.

“Linfield and Larne and the Crues have their own obstacles to overcome in their ties, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that we got the toughest draw of the lot. But what can you do bar get on with it? It’s going to be really difficult, but we’ve made some good additions to the squad over the summer, which will hopefully help us mount a decent challenge over the two legs.”

With the Slovakian league season beginning this Sunday, DAC would be expected to be ahead of the Reds in terms of fitness, but McLaughlin says his players – and backroom staff – have given up most of their close season to ensure they are ready for their European challenge.

“We’ve been studying away, we’ve one of the best video analysts in the league in Dee McAuley and we know the DAC squad, how they like to line up, how they like to play, so we’re not going in blind by any means,” the Derry man added.

“The Slovakian season starts this Sunday, a month ahead of ours, so DAC will be up to speed. But fair play to our boys, they came in a month early to make sure they’d be ready for this. We’ve tried to give every player the same amount of game time in the friendlies we’ve played and we’ve had some tough games.

“The heat is going to be a big factor, there’s a weather warning in place for Slovakia for this week, they’re asking people to stay indoors, so it’s going to be fierce.

“Our main objective will be to give a good account of ourselves. We’re not going there to put 10 men behind the ball and hope we keep a clean sheet, we’ll be trying to get a goal and hope to have something to bring back for the second leg at Solitude.”

As McLaughlin alluded to, the Reds have been busy in the close season, balancing the departures of Aaron Donnelly, Danny Kearns and Luke McNicholas (who returned to parent club Sligo Rovers) with a raft of arrivals. Probably the most high profile addition has been that of Ronan Hale from Larne to join his brother Rory.

“I suppose, understandably, Ronan Hale from Larne has been our standout signing because you just need to look at what he’s produced while playing for them, but anyone who has seen Stevie Mallon play for Derry City or the Bohs knows what he’s capable of, he’ll light up this league.

“Jamie Robinson has went under the radar a bit, but he’s a real talent and he’s going to be a proper player in defence. Odhrán Casey, who spent last year out on loan at Newry City, has been like a new signing since he came back.

“So, like the fans, I can’t wait for the new season. We’ve definitely got a stronger squad and it’s going to be exciting, I can guarantee that.”

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