Brendan Lynch says he was delighted for his Cliftonville Olympic players when they were formally declared Premiership Development League Champions.
Lynch’s side were four points clear at the top of the table and had five games in hand over their nearest challengers, Crusaders Reserves, when the season was curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The application of a mathematical formula to determine final positions elevated Linfield Swifts into the runners-up spot on a points-per-game basis, but there was to be no denying the Reds their first crown since 2016.
Following the official presentation of the trophy at a socially-distanced ceremony at Solitude, Lynch – whose team’s highly impressive average of 2.8 points-per-game kept them comfortably clear of the Blues’ 2.2 – explained: “It was definitely a relief to hear that the season would not be null-and-voided for the players’ sake.
“They had worked relentlessly hard all season, which was reflected in their position in the table. It would have been terrible to put in all that hard work and effort, only to be told it all didn’t matter so my main relief was that the players were rewarded for their application and hard work in games and training.”
The Olympic suffered just a single defeat in their 25 League outings and registered 23 wins over the course of a hugely encouraging campaign during which, Lynch says, his players seemed to get better and better.
“The team performed consistently well over the season and it was brilliant to see how they matured from the previous season but also matured as the season went on,” he added.
“They were able to get some late wins along the way too and were able to draw on these experiences at different stages of the season in helping them stay at the top, which bodes well in their development as players.
“The biggest comfort for me was that they showed so much hunger and desire in how they played and it shows that they really are not only good players but want to be successful as a Cliftonville player.”
In addition to saluting his players, Lynch paid tribute to his coaching colleagues Martin Douglas and John McGrady as well as kitman Sean Carrbery, all of whom contributed to a significant team effort on and off the pitch.
The arrival of Mickey Donnelly (above) as Head of Elite Player Development was a further boost to the Olympic Manager, who believes his squad have been incentivised to improve by senior boss Paddy McLaughlin’s willingness to give young talents an opportunity to shine.
“Mickey has been brilliant in his role and has helped not only the players but all the coaching staff, too” says Lynch.
“The Board have not hesitated in listening to his advice on moving forward with the young players and what needs done to do this.
“Paddy always says if you’re good enough, you’re old enough and that gives the players massive encouragement. He doesn’t care what age they are as long as they work hard and show the right attitude.
“They can see Paddy’s squad is already young as it is and he has already taken a lot of players for the Olympic into his squad. He is always asking questions about the young players and we are constantly talking to all the first team management regarding the young players coming through. He even asks about the Under 18 players.
“It’s a great time to be at Cliftonville Football Club under Paddy’s leadership as he believes massively in putting faith in young players as long as they have the ability but, more importantly, show the right attitude and behaviours to be a Cliftonville player.”