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Starter’s orders

Paddy McLaughlin says Cliftonville are determined to start 2021 off on a winning note when they face Dungannon Swifts tomorrow.

The Reds’ inconsistent form in the opening months of the Danske Bank Premiership season can arguably be traced back to a disappointing November night at Stangmore Park and, ahead of this weekend’s return to the County Tyrone venue, McLaughlin says he and his players have taken advantage of football’s recent mini lockdown to evaluate their situation.

“We’ve used these last two weeks to do a couple of things,” he explains.

“Firstly, we’ve reflected individually and as a group on where we are and where things have been going wrong for us. The schedule was pretty relentless before Christmas so to get a fortnight without any games was a chance to get together on the training pitch and work on things together in a bit of detail.

“Secondly, it was an opportunity for players to spend some time with their families. Footballers generally don’t get Christmas off and especially the more senior players, it’s probably been years since they were able to have that quality time at home.

“They’ve had big demands on them over the last few months and will have even more in the months ahead, so it was nice to give them that family time because we don’t forget the sacrifices they and their families have to make all year round.

“The players have come back rejuvenated and there’s been a really good mood around the place in training but we know that has to be carried into matches. There’s no point in training well and then not performing when games come around.

“Dungannon will be a tough test, it always is. It doesn’t feel like that long ago we played them down there, so we remember how things went wrong for us that night and the importance of making sure there’s no repeats.

“After a pretty rough time of it, coming back after a two-week break and getting three points would be a good way to start the year.”