Yesterday brought the curtain down on a busy January Transfer Window at Solitude, where Manager Paddy McLaughlin welcomed seven new signings over the course of the month.
With deals for goalkeeper Aaron McCarey (Dundalk) and midfielder Rory Hale (Crusaders) done before Christmas, the Reds also secured a move for former Academy star Eoin Teggart on loan from Portsmouth before snapping up Kris Lowe from Dungannon Swifts last week.
On Saturday, meanwhile, Republic of Ireland Under-19 international Barry Coffey arrived on loan from Celtic before Daniel Kearns joined from Linfield, with Deadline Day seeing Conor McMenamin transferred to Glentoran alongside Thomas Maguire sealing a loan switch to Warrenpoint Town.
Confirmation of goalkeeper Richard Brush’s return to Sligo Rovers this morning concluded a frantic weekend of moves, with McLaughlin (main image, with Coffey) delighted to have refreshed his squad for the challenges that lie in store throughout the rest of the season.
“We’ve been shrewd in the transfer market and haven’t just signed people for the sake of getting bodies in the door,” he explains.
“It’s not just a player’s ability that matters, we’ve done our research into their personalities, their characters and what they can bring to our dressing room, which is just as important.
“I’m pleased with the deals we’ve been able to do because there’s no doubt we needed to bring people in. The fixture list is going to be really, really busy for the rest of the season and we’ll be playing two games a week for a while, so you need to have as many options available as possible.”
As well as increasing competition for places across his squad, McLaughlin is hopeful the new recruits can help Cliftonville find the kind of consistency and momentum that is often difficult to build up once injuries bite as heavily as they have done in recent months.
“It’s been one after another for us and I’ve never known a run like it,” he adds.
“You might expect to get one or two serious injuries in a season but the amount we’ve had, and still have, has been unreal. Levi Ives, long-term injury; Seanna Foster, long-term injury; Donal Rocks, Calvin McCurry, Joe Gormley – it’s a crazy run, plus you add on the normal injuries you’d expect a squad to pick up over the course of a year on top of that.
“On Saturday, we’ve had to make two substitutions when Chris Curran and Garry Breen came off at the same time. It’s an horrendous run of injuries, most of them serious and long-term, so it was important we got bodies in and the additions we’ve brought in over the course of the window have been brilliant signings for us.
“You can’t go out and sign a player every time somebody gets injured, so you’re looking for someone with a bit of versatility in there and that was one of the things that attracted us to Kris Lowe.
“Over the years at Dungannon, he’s been someone who’s been cool and calm on the ball but can play with a bit of flair and that’s the kind of player we want here. He’s able to do it in a few positions and he didn’t put a foot wrong when he came off the bench against Glenavon on Saturday.
“Rory Hale and Aaron McCarey have already had a big impact on the players around them and long may that continue, plus young Eoin Teggart gives us another exciting attacking threat.
“Barry Coffey’s an Under-19 international, pushing to get into the Celtic first team. You don’t play at the levels he’s been at without being a talented player and I know he’s rated very highly in terms of the future he can have in the game, so hopefully we can help his development and he’ll do well for us.
“We’re delighted to get Daniel Kearns on board. We’ve tried to sign him a couple of times but, for whatever reason, just couldn’t get it over the line. He’ll be a brilliant addition, our fans will love him. Technically, he’s excellent on the ball, his ability to open teams up and bring people into play is fantastic and he’s done that his whole career so we’re looking forward to getting him on the pitch for Cliftonville.
“Paul O’Neill is a super talent, one of the best – if not the best – young players in the country and he’s another one I know our fans are excited about.
“I feel we’ve enhanced the quality of the squad overall and now we need to really have a run at it for the rest of the season. We were unbeaten in January so our start to the year has been good, but we want to be doing much better generally and I believe the squad we have now – the new signings as well as the boys already here – is capable of kicking on.”