Paddy McLaughlin says he always knew yesterday’s opening Danske Bank Premiership encounter with Glentoran would be a feisty battle – and believes the tone for Cliftonville’s performance was set inside the first minute by new boy Ryan O’Reilly.
The debutant produced a crunching challenge on Seanan Clucas right in front of fans in the Main Stand Lower and, in doing so, set the standard for a fine individual performance as part of a committed team display, with McLaughlin – a central defender in his own playing days – reflecting: “As a centre-half, you love those tackles.
“It’s one of those ones where you’re probably going to win the ball cleanly but you know you can also leave your mark and set yourself up. It was a brilliant start for him and I think he continued that on throughout the game. I thought he was immense, him and Garry Breen together were superb.
“We knew it was going to be a battle from the very start and Ryan O’Reilly’s tackle in the first minute set the tone – not just for him but for the rest of the boys as well and you need that against sides as good as Glentoran.”
The Reds looked strong defensively throughout and their attacking talents came to the fore as the second-half progressed, with front pair Joe Gormley and Ryan Curran neatly combining to produce the game’s only goal shortly after visiting sub Cameron Stewart had been sent off.
It was, however, in the middle of the park where McLaughlin felt the game was always likely to be decided and he was delighted his faith in Aaron Donnelly was rewarded when the 20-year-old produced an eye-catching display in an unfamiliar role.
“We had to be a wee bit cautious with one or two of the boys and had to leave a couple out, so Aaron Donnelly was the choice to go in there,” he explains.
“Odhrán Casey had an argument to go in but, because of the experience in the Glentoran team, we ended up going with Aaron. We’ve seen him play a few times in there in training and the thing about good players is they can play anywhere and Aaron’s definitely one of them.
“He was very unfortunate not to win Young Player of the Year because, in my eyes, he’s the best young player in the Irish League and he showed his quality with his performance this weekend.”