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Late bloomers

Barry Gray admits he thought Cliftonville’s equaliser came too late to inspire a winning end to yesterday’s Danske Bank Premiership opener against Glentoran.

Joe Gormley struck on 72 minutes to cancel out John McGuigan’s first-half opener but, despite being ravaged by injury and suspension, the Reds rallied to secure victory courtesy of Jay Donnelly’s injury-time strike – and Gray paid full credit to his squad’s positive mentality.

“I thought our first goal possibly came a little bit too late but credit to the boys because it would have been easy to take the point and go up the road,” he explains.

“They didn’t do that, they really pushed on for the winner. It showed what it meant to the players.

“I was really impressed with our second-half showing. We had lots of enforced changes to the team, but every one of the players stepped up to the mark.”

Having started brightly at The Oval, Cliftonville’s intensity levels dropped as the first-half wore on but, following a half-time talk with the boss, the visitors began translating their possession into efforts on goal, which brought late rewards.

“I’m delighted with the response I got at half-time,” adds Gray.

“We were far too safe in the first half. We were under no major pressure, but we failed to create anything tangible. I can’t fault the character and the attitude the boys showed in the second half.”

The Manager was also thrilled to hand Ryan Catney his first Premiership appearance in some 560 days and hailed the midfielder’s contribution following more than a year-and-a-half on the casualty list.

“Ryan’s only getting going, we can’t expect too much of him too early,” he insists.

“He has been fantastic on and off the pitch over our pre-season programme. His organisation on the pitch was outstanding, especially during the times when it was a little bit tough for us.

“He plays with his heart on his sleeve and I’m thrilled to have in back again.”