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Chairman’s end of year address

It’s fair to say that 2022 has been an eventful year for Cliftonville Football Club.

Finishing a very close second to Linfield in the Danske Bank Premiership, qualifying for Europe and winning the League Cup were the highlights for the Men’s team but, for me, there is also the tinge of regret that we didn’t clinch the League title when it was within touching distance. However, when you look at what was achieved with the part-time set-up that we currently have, it can be argued that we were punching above our weight.

Today, we sit in third place in the table and play League leaders Larne on Monday at what will again be a sold-out home end at Solitude. This time last year, we were also sitting third, so it’s all to play for over the coming months and there will very likely be a number of twists and turns along the way.

This year saw record sales of Season Tickets which is a fantastic reflection of how much our fans enjoyed last season and want to be involved again in the current campaign. It does make it difficult for us when it comes to ticket allocation for the big games with fewer tickets available for general sale. To increase capacity and provide much improved facilities for across the community, Solitude is in urgent need of re-development and the delay in the availability of the sub-regional stadia funding is grossly disappointing not just for us but across the League.

2022 also saw Cliftonville Ladies win the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership title – a brilliant achievement and thoroughly deserved by the players and management.

We now enter a new phase in the Ladies’ game with professionalism to be introduced in the coming season. It’s an exciting venture by the Clubs involved and, whilst it will initially be based on a hybrid model, plans are afoot to develop that further in the coming seasons. Well done again to Cliftonville Ladies.

This week, we also heard the vision of NI Football League CEO Gerard Lawlor, who would like to see the Men’s Premiership go full-time for all Clubs within five years. That’s an ambitious vision within a short timeframe and the infrastructure within all Clubs would need to be secure to achieve that but it would lead to a more level playing field compared to today, where we have three or four full-time teams competing against the part-time squads.

For us, developing our young players through the Football Development Centre and Academy is crucial to supplying up and coming talent for the first team.

Sean Moore is a prime example of that, he has now secured his first team place on merit at the age of just 17 and we have more budding talent coming through the ranks under the tutelage of Marc Smyth. A sincere thanks to all those coaches and helpers throughout our underage teams.

Looking forward to the coming months, we are in a good position in the League and we start the Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup campaign on Friday night at Dundela. We always live in hope on that one!

As always at this time, we spare a thought and prayer for those members and supporters who are no longer with us.

Finally, a Healthy and Happy New Year and a huge thank you to the players, coaches, management, volunteers, staff, board, sponsors and to our supporters whose unstinting backing drives our teams on week after week.

Good luck to everyone associated with Cliftonville Football Club for 2023!

Paul McKeown