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Drawing focus

Paddy McLaughlin says that today’s Europa League Preliminary Round draw will sharpen his players’ focus as pre-season training continues.

Cliftonville were paired with Barry Town United during this afternoon’s ceremony at UEFA Headquarters in Nyon and, with just 16 days until the Reds travel to Cardiff for the first leg, the Manager is gearing up to fine-tune his own preparations.

“When there were six different teams in the draw, it can be hard to properly focus because you don’t know what exactly it is you’re preparing for,” he explains.

“Now that we know it’ll be Barry Town, we can start our homework on them and they’ll be doing the same on us. It’s all about working as hard as we can on and off the pitch to make sure we’re ready for the games.

“In fairness to the players, their attitude since coming back in has been spot on but I’m sure they’ll be looking to kick on now that we know who we’re playing.”

McLaughlin, whose men begin their warm-up schedule with a clash against Derry City on Friday night, does not see any particular advantage in the fact that Barry will be playing Ballymena United in a Ballyclare friendly five days before they’re due to face Cliftonville – because he and his players will be tackling Connah’s Quay Nomads in Wales at the time!

“It’s ironic that they’ll be over here, playing on our doorstep, when we’re over there playing on theirs!” he adds.

“Obviously any extra research you can carry out is beneficial but we’ll have done our homework on them before that and they’ll have done theirs on us by then too.”

While the decisive leg of the Preliminary Round clash will be played at Solitude on July 4, the Manager believes the Red Army can play a significant role in both games.

“Logistically, it’s a great draw for our fans because we know we’ll be well backed over in Cardiff,” he says.

“Having the second leg at home is something we hope to make the most of and our supporters will play a big part in that. They got us over the line when we were on the ropes in the Play-Offs and we want more of that kind of passion from them.

“I’m not just saying that to get them onside or anything. If you were at the Semi Final against Coleraine, you saw the difference they made. The fans dragged us out of a hole by filling the players with belief and, home or away, I know they’ll be looking forward to getting behind the team in more big games.”