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Monday monthly: March

With less than three weeks until the new Danske Bank Premiership season kicks off, continues a weekly mini-series reflecting on the good, the bad and the in-betweens of the 2017/18 campaign.

Every Monday, we’re taking a chronological look back on a new month from Barry Gray’s first year at the helm – with a highly productive March falling under our spotlight today.

After heavy snow forced the postponement of Cliftonville’s Irish Cup Quarter Final date with Linfield, the Reds’ bid to bounce back from a frustrating February was prolonged for another week when Crusaders visited Solitude on North Belfast Derby duty.

Things got off to a perfect start when both Joe Gormley and Rory Donnelly netted within 60 seconds of one another and, following Crues keeper Brian Jensen’s comical trip on Jamie Harney, a firmly-struck Gormley penalty put the hosts in firm control, with Jordan Owens’ late consolation barely registering.

A few days later, Gormley took centre stage again when he bagged the only goal of the rearranged Cup date with the Blues before striking to earn all three points against Carrick Rangers at the Belfast Loughshore Hotel Arena.

Cliftonville’s run of fine performances continued when Ballymena United arrived at Solitude but, unfortunately, the team’s winning sequence didn’t. Originally abandoned due to high winds back in January, the contest saw the Reds dominate proceedings only to somehow find themselves 2-0 down. Jamie Harney scored late on to offer hope of a late comeback but, try as they might, Gray’s charges simply couldn’t force the draw their efforts merited.

There were no such problems the following weekend, however, thanks to Jay Donnelly’s hat-trick seeing off Ards before Cliftonville travelled to The Oval for a Tennent’s Irish Cup Semi Final date with Loughgall.

Overwhelming favourites from the moment the draw was made, the Reds settled what fears there might have been of an upset when Gormley broke the deadlock after just 21 seconds.

Rory Donnelly made it 2-0 soon later before Gormley added a third with an outrageous chipped effort from distance. Loughgall, who had already ousted Premiership sides Ards and Glenavon from the competition, pulled one back but Donnelly’s second of the afternoon restored Cliftonville’s three-goal advantage and completed the scoring before half-time.

Such had been his goalscoring exploits, it was no surprise to see Gormley nominated as Sean Graham’s Player of the Month by Cliftonville fans, with the NI Football Writers’ Association following suit by also naming the Reds’ striker as their star man for March.

March 2018
Cliftonville 3-1 Crusaders
Gormley [2], R Donnelly

Linfield 0-1 Cliftonville

Carrick Rangers 0-1 Cliftonville

Cliftonville 1-2 Ballymena United

Cliftonville 3-0 Ards
J Donnelly [3]

Cliftonville 4-1 Loughgall
Gormley [2], R Donnelly [2]