Richard Brush has paid tribute to everyone at Cliftonville on and off the pitch following the completion of his move to Sligo Rovers.
The 36-year-old goalkeeper has returned for a fourth stint at The Showgrounds, where he intends to combine a playing role with taking his first steps towards securing coaching qualifications.
Brush joined the Reds in the summer of 2018 following a spell with Ballinamallard United and, curiously, both the first and last of his 90 appearances came in injury-time 2-1 wins away from home; Glentoran being overcome at The Oval on his debut and Dungannon Swifts suffering the same fate early last month.
Though the Birmingham-born stopper has represented a host of Clubs during a much-travelled career either side of the Irish Sea, he admits his time at Solitude has left a particular lasting impression on him.
“In terms of changing rooms that I’ve been in, I can honestly say it’s the first time I’ve left a Club having made some proper friends,” he reveals.
“Obviously there have been plenty of people I’ve got on with and had good times with in my career, but I’ve made some real friends at Cliftonville and I had a seriously great time there.
“Not just players, either. The likes of Brian Campbell, the kitman, and John the doc; even the Chairman and people behind the scenes have been fantastic. What a Club. I really mean that, what a Club this has been to play for.
“The management and the staff have been great with me and, given the logistics of where I’ve been travelling from, I would maybe only have been at one training session a week but there was never any attitude of ‘who does this guy think he is?’ from anyone and, to be honest, given that he only had limited time to work with me, credit has to go to (Goalkeeping Coach) Conleth McCrudden for his patience with me and everything he did to keep me sharp, fit and interested.”
Listing the team’s and his own run of form in late 2019 and early 2020 as “special” highlights, the Englishman had plenty of options when it came to determining his favourite save as a Cliftonville player – but neither the sensational double-stop against Crusaders in April 2019 nor the match-winning intervention to deny Glentoran in August of the same year topped his personal list.
“There was one in a game against Carrick Rangers at home last season,” recalls Brush, who kept 29 clean sheets during his time in BT14.
“That’s a save that sticks out for me because I had buried my nan at 11am that morning in Birmingham. I was very close to my nan so it was a very difficult day and I didn’t even know if I’d be playing because, obviously, I was in Birmingham or if Paddy would have wanted me to play. We were 2-1 up at the time, down to 10 men and Carrick would probably have kicked on and won it if they’d equalised at that point, so it’s a good memory for me on a tough day personally.”
Brush admits the last 10 months have not been the same without the Red Army turning out in their numbers and is disappointed not to have been able to say a proper goodbye on the pitch.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 people, 200 people, two thousand or whatever, it’s a privilege when people spend their hard-earned money to watch you play football – not that anyone ever spent money to watch me personally!,” he says.
“Our supporters were always great and I loved playing in front of them, especially with that big stand behind me, but the last year hasn’t been the same with fans not allowed into grounds. That’s been a shame but, overall, it was a special time in my career and I really, really enjoyed my time at the Club.”
It goes without saying that Richard retains the admiration of everyone at Cliftonville for not just his services but also for his courage in battling back from the life-threatening illness he suffered travelling home from a match in November 2018. To return so quickly and perform to such a high level speaks volumes about his ability and personality.
We wish him very well for his return to his adopted home of Sligo and for his future career on both the playing and coaching fronts.