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Shielded from struggle

A Cliftonville side lifting silverware while struggling for League form was not the sole preserve of 1990s teams – as Hugh McAteer’s side of the 1925/26 season demonstrated.

Though they never threatened to make a notable mark in the race for the title, the Reds posted encouraging results in a number of other competitions (excluding the Irish Cup, inevitably) and reached two Finals over the course of the campaign.

Continuing a retrospective series examining noteworthy seasons in the Club’s history, today reflects on the facts and figures behind a term that saw one particular honour take up its last residence at Solitude for more than 50 years.

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The team played just a single friendly throughout the course of the year, however the 1-1 draw with Partick Thistle in Glasgow came not at the start of the term but on April 6 – just over a month before the season concluded.

Irish League
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Cliftonville’s campaign began with a single point from their first eight fixtures – a 2-2 draw at home to Queen’s Island coming amid a spate of defeats at the hands of Newry Town, Larne, Distillery, Belfast Celtic, Portadown, Glentoran and Ards.

Another 2-2 stalemate, this time against Linfield on October 17, sparked a brief upturn in fortunes that saw Glenavon (4-1) and Barn (2-0) overcome in subsequent weeks.

League victories would, in general, prove hard to come by but the Reds did enjoy a productive festive season courtesy of a 3-0 win over Belfast Celtic on Christmas Eve and goalless draw at Portadown on Boxing Day.

The New Year began with a disappointing run that yielded losses to Glentoran, Glenavon and Linfield on consecutive January weeks before Cliftonville concluded their League programme when Frank Mortished’s hat-trick earned a 3-2 win over Barn at the end of March.

Gold Cup
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A 2-1 win over Barn earned the Reds a semi-final date with Newry Town at Solitude and, having won that tie by the same scoreline, six full months would pass until the St Patrick’s Day decider with Belfast Celtic – which certainly wasn’t worth the wait as a 3-0 loss attested to.

Frank Mortished scores against Barn

County Antrim Shield
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With the team showing relatively encouraging League form in December, the arrival of the County Antrim Shield certainly did not distract attentions, with St Mary’s overcome 4-1 in the first round at Solitude.

After drawing 2-2 with Ards at the same venue in January’s quarter-final, a 4-2 victory in the replay (amid a run of three meetings in a week between the sides) earned Cliftonville a semi-final tie with Distillery, who were swept aside 4-0 at Celtic Park.

In the eagerly-anticipated Final with Glentoran, the Reds roared to a shock 5-1 success to earn the silverware courtesy of goals from WJ Campion, J Jones and another Mortished treble.

Irish Cup
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Despite having two home cracks at getting the better of Belfast United, the Reds suffered a first round exit when they lost 2-1 in the replay following an initial 1-1 draw.

City Cup
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Having struggled for consistency throughout the season, it was with a certain element of surprise that Cliftonville commenced their City Cup programme with consecutive wins over Ards (2-1), Larne (2-0) and Distillery (1-0).

Though Belfast Celtic would inflict a 3-0 defeat in the team’s fourth outing in the competition, a 3-2 victory at home to Portadown inspired another bright run that included a 1-1 draw with Newry and 1-0 win over Linfield.

Unfortunately, however, successive reverses to Glentoran, Glenavon and Barn meant that adding another trophy to the cabinet was beyond them even before they concluded proceedings in a 1-1 draw with Queen’s Island at Solitude.

Charity Cup
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The poor spell that put paid to Cliftonville’s City Cup prospects likewise ended their interest in the Charity Cup thanks to Crusaders recording a 2-1 win at Solitude in the same period.

In Review
Cliftonville finished 11th in the 12-team Irish League, eight points ahead of bottom side Barn and 19 behind Champions Belfast Celtic.

T Willis played in 43 of the Reds’ 44 fixtures across all competitions, marking him out as the team’s most regular performer ahead of Robert McGuire (40), James Quinn and John Rainey (both 39).

Frank Mortished’s 23 goals ensured he finished comfortably clear at the top of the scoring charts, with J Woodrow (9) and James Quinn (7) his nearest challengers for the honour.

Cliftonville’s County Antrim Shield success was the last time the Club would claim that particular silverware until the iconic 1978/79 season.