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Flood of memories

Regular readers of our Matchday Magazine will know all the facts and figures behind each new week at Cliftonville Football Club, while our Twitter followers are regaled with daily delves into the archives – and today provides yet another significant anniversary.

For it was on March 19, 1996 that the Reds ended a 16-year trophy famine by beating Glentoran in the Coca Cola Floodlit Cup Final.

Goals from Tim McCann, Jonathan Cross and an iconic Paul Stokes finish saw Marty Quinn’s side battle from behind to deliver Solitude’s first senior silverware since the Gold Cup success of 1980 – although the team that won the McEwan’s Soccer Sixes in 1995 might still have something to say about that!

A huge crowd packed into Windsor Park on a night that the Red Army, whose hearts had been broken courtesy of so many near misses over the previous decade-and-a-half, firmly believed that their long wait was primed to come to an end… although quite how many retained that faith when Derek Cook headed the Glens in front remains open to question.

Undeterred, however, Cliftonville hit back just before half-time when, just 60 seconds after a miraculous clearance at the other end from Joe Kerr, flying winger McCann stroked past goalkeeper Neil Armstrong to level the scores.

Paul Rice’s save to deny Pete Batey maintained parity at the break, with a fired-up Reds side emerging to take full control of proceedings after the interval.

Glentoran’s failure to clear Gerry Flynn’s long throw-in saw the ball fall favourably for Cross and the on-loan Wrexham man made no mistake with an ice-cool finish that sent supporters in the North Stand into raptures.

Batey would hit the bar and Justin McBride saw an effort chalked out for offside as the east Belfast side fought desperately for an equaliser, only for Stokes to put the finishing touch on one of the all-time great Cliftonville goals with just four minutes left on the clock.

Receiving possession in a deep midfield position, the Dubliner floated a ball over the top for McCann to chase and, when he delivered an inviting cross into the middle, Stokes launched himself at it with a diving header that gave Armstrong no chance and sparked the celebrations (above) that marked the end of the Club’s long wait for trophy joy.

Cliftonville: Rice, Hill, Flynn, Tabb, Kerr, Heath, McCann, Sliney, Cross, Stokes, Donnelly. Subs: Feehan, McDonald, O’Neill (for Donnelly, 82 mins).