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Fighting fit

After surging through to score vital goals late into Extra Time in both of Cliftonville’s Europa League Play-Off wins last week, Conor McMenamin is perhaps better suited than most to comment on the benefits of Paddy McLaughlin’s new training regime.

The Cliftonville boss introduced extra fitness-based sessions following his appointment in February and, while acknowledging that no player enjoys being pushed hard on the practise pitch, McMenamin admits they helped make the difference as the Reds booked European football courtesy of hard-fought victories over Coleraine and Glentoran.

“I could feel myself cramping up in both games but thankfully I had enough in my legs to put the ball in the net,” explains McMenamin, who ironically remains the last player to score a European goal for the Glens.

“It’s all down to the Manager and the extra work he’s done on fitness. He always told us that could make the difference in the end and that’s how it’s turned out with two wins in Extra Time right at the end of the season.

“It was a really tough week for us with two difficult games but, when I had that chance against the Glens, I knew that taking it would wrap everything up for us. I got the touch in midfield and didn’t think I’d have enough in my legs to win the ball and run through but it was a great feeling to see it go into the net – you forget about all the aches and cramps straight away.”

Having made his Cliftonville debut in last year’s Europa League encounter with Nordsj√¶lland, McMenamin was delighted to play a key role in booking the Reds’ return to continental action.

“Paddy always said that if you were out of the team, it opened up a chance for somebody else so when I was picked to play against Linfield the other week, I knew it was a big opportunity for me,” he adds.

“I think I did well on the night, I managed to score and have stayed in the team ever since. It’s been a great end to the season for me personally and obviously brilliant for the Club to get into Europe.

“It’s an honour to play for Cliftonville and a real privilege to do it for those fans and I’m just delighted we’ll be back in Europe next season.”