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Port of history

Chairman Paul McKeown has spoken of his pride in Cliftonville Ladies as the team prepare for tomorrow morning’s Women’s Champions League clash with BIIK Kazygurt.

In what is effectively a Play-Off for third place in Group 6, the Reds will go toe to toe with the Kazakhstan outfit just days after their never-to-be-forgotten showdown with Benfica at the Futebol Campus in Seixal, with the very fact they’re even involved in the competition worthy of acknowledgement.

“It’s been an historic week for Cliftonville Ladies as they play their first ever Champions League matches,” he explains.

“To come up against the mighty Benfica in Portugal is something special.The journey our Ladies have taken over recent years has been amazing and we are immensely proud of their achievements.

“Everyone at Cliftonville Football Club wishes the players and the management team the very best of luck for this final group match.”

Birthday girl Hannah Doherty says the very opportunity of going up against the Portuguese giants on Wednesday night will have been beneficial.

“I think it was a really good experience getting the chance to play against Benfica, who are a top side,” says the newly-turned 26-year-old.

“Even the facilities that we’ve been able to get round, I feel like we’ve got that 1% better being against such a top team and I think it’ll help us going into the next game.

“Everybody’s looking forward to it. We’ve gone through some of their plays and we know they favour certain sides and players they tend to go through, but obviously it’ll be another game where we have to work really hard and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Captain Marissa Callaghan has, meanwhile, paid tribute to everyone whose dedication has led to Cliftonville Ladies representing the Club on the European stage.

“It’s the first time in our history we’ve been in the Champions League and to play a Club of Benfica’s calibre was unbelievable,” she says.

“We’re proud to be here but we wouldn’t be here without the management team that’s behind us and all the hard work of every single coach and player. It’s such an exciting time for the Club and we have five players who have come through the ranks of our youth structure and it’s brilliant to see those kids come in and get some game time and be regular starters for the first team.

“The likes of Rachael Norney, she was with us from Under-9 right through, the same as Toni-Leigh Finnegan. It’s just a credit to the Club and all their hard work to see those young players come through.

“It’s been emotional. I’ve been with the Club for a long time and have gone through everything with the Club. I was just texting a friend and she said ‘I think you’ve done everything with the Reds now’ and, yes, I think that’s everything ticked.”