Harry Fay says Cliftonville’s victory over Ballymena United was reward not only for their never-say-die spirit on the day, but also the hard work they put in on the training ground in the build-up.
The Reds emerged on top from a gripping five-goal thriller that saw Joe Gormley and Chris Curran strike after Ryan Mayse had opened the scoring for the visitors and, though Conor Quigley’s header looked to have secured a share of the spoils for the Sky Blues, Jay Donnelly would have the final say with an inch-perfect finish in the closing minutes.
“The players have had to roll their sleeves up and work very hard in training this week and, to their credit, they’ve done that and they’ve shown a willingess to dig in and fight,” says Fay.
“The attitude was very good. They could have felt sorry for themselves when they went behind early on against Ballymena and they could have allowed the game to peter out to a draw when it went to 2-2, but they weren’t prepared to accept that.
“We actually thought both of Ballymena’s goals should have been disallowed but, once they’re given, you can’t do anything about it but try and react in the right manner and I thought we did that. I think you could see from early on that we were fired up to go out and give a performance and get a result. Maybe the decisions that went against us galvanised us a little bit, but the players didn’t need that – they were already determined to show an improvement and get a win against a good team.”
As has become par for the course this season, the afternoon could not pass without Cliftonville losing a player to injury – and Fay revealed that proactive thinking was behind the decision to replace Jamie Harney with Conor McMenamin and deploy Levi Ives in an unfamiliar central role.
“Jamie picked up a knock towards the end of the first-half and was going to see if he could play through it in the second-half,” adds Fay.
“The problem was it seized up on him when he was in the changing room and, when he came back onto the pitch, he knew he couldn’t play on. We obviously had a few options for the substitution but we wanted to go with experience in terms of space management and holding our shape. We knew Ballymena would bring Johnny McMurray on at some point so, rather than reacting to that when it happened, we wanted to make sure we were already set up for it and able to deal with the different challenges that Ballymena would pose as the game went on.”
As well as being pleased with the team’s display, Fay was also delighted to see the Red Army head home in high spirits.
“It was a tough week for everyone at the Club but, when you’re at a Club like Cliftonville, you can’t shy away from anything – you have to stand up and bounce back,” he concludes.
“The players were determined to do that. We’ve spoken to them about how much of a privilege it is to play for Cliftonville and they’re in agreement with that. This is a first class Club with great people from top to bottom, brilliant facilities and our supporters are second to none.
“When I was a player, I always wished I’d played for Cliftonville because, when you come to Solitude, the fans are always up for it and they can make a big difference the way they get behind their team. It’s an honour to play for them and, if we can keep showing that same attitude and willingness to work as hard as we did against Ballymena, then I’ve no doubt we can keep improving.”