As the only member of Cliftonville’s squad never to have heard the Red Army roar, Barry Coffey has more reason than most to look forward to Tuesday night.
The easing of lockdown measures means supporters will return for the North Belfast Derby date with Crusaders and Coffey – who, unlike everyone else in the panel, has never experienced fans at Solitude as either a Cliftonville player or as part of a visiting team – can’t wait to savour the occasion.
“It’ll be exciting to witness it at last,” explains the Celtic loanee.
“I know there won’t be as many people as there could be but it’s still something to look forward to. When you grow up wanting to be a footballer, you dream about playing in front of crowds but it’s just been empty stadiums for me so far at Cliftonville.
“I watched the Irish Cup Final on Friday night and everything just seemed faster and more enjoyable. Fans definitely do make a difference and it will be a nice change for all of us after these last few months with nobody able to be at the games.”
Of greater significance on Tuesday night is Cliftonville’s bid to secure home advantage in next month’s European Play-Off semi-final and Coffey is well aware of how significant victory could be in that regard.
“Our home record has been pretty good,” says the 20-year-old.
“It’s important we keep our momentum going through to the end of the season. We had a good performance and result against Glentoran last week and we want to keep that going.”
Coffey has certainly caught the eye in both of the Reds’ last two home outings, with the Republic of Ireland Under-19 ace registering the first senior goals of a promising career.
After winning April’s Goal of the Month poll with a stunning strike against Carrick Rangers, the Tipperary man rattled in an early contender for May’s accolade with a free-kick in the recent clash with Larne and admits putting the ball in the net makes victory all the sweeter on a personal level.
“Obviously you want to help the team and make sure you win matches – that’s the most important thing,” he adds.
“But it’s enjoyable to get yourself on the scoresheet and it helps you feel better about your game. I was really pleased with the goals I scored in the last few weeks but it’s all about momentum for us now and we want to keep building that in our last few matches and it will be great to have the fans there with us for them.”
Cliftonville v Crusaders
Tickets: Available to Club Card holders here
Match Sponsor: Sean McClean
Matchball Sponsor: West Gourmet Sandwich Bar
Man of the Match Sponsor: Paul McKeown