Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup Round One
Cliftonville v Islandmagee (Saturday, 3pm, Solitude)
CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin is adamant that his players will not take Islandmagee lightly when the East Antrim outfit travel to North Belfast for Saturday’s Samuel Gelston’s Whiskey Irish Cup clash.

The Amateur League side travel to Solitude (3pm kick-off) looking to become potential giant killers of the First Round-proper weekend. 

But McLaughlin, who has his homework done ahead of the clash, isn’t taking Islandmagee lightly and although he hopes they enjoy the visit on Saturday, isn’t hoping that will extend to a result.

“We’ve had a bit of homework done on them and we’ll not take them lightly,” he said.

“There are shocks in cups and big upsets, and we don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of them.

“We’ll protect ourselves and go with a strong side and a side that we feel will win the game. It’s an occasion for them that I’m sure they’ll enjoy coming to Solitude and playing against some of the top players in the division.

“Unfortunately, it’s not the top team in the division at the minute. It should be, but that day will hopefully come again.

“It will be a good day for them and hopefully they enjoy it but hopefully they don’t enjoy the result. We don’t want to be on the end of a cup upset.”

McLaughlin believes that all of his players will want to play on the back of Tuesday evening’s disappointing North Belfast derby defeat to Crusaders, but will assess injuries ahead of the game and believes there may be a chance to give game-time to players who are on the comeback from injury and haven’t played as much this season.

“I’m sure the boys all want to play every game and they’ll want to get the bad night out of their system and back on the pitch,” he predicted.

“They’ll come in for a recovery session on Thursday and we’ll see what we have. We’ll not disrespect the competition or any opponent in any way at all. We’ll go as strong as we feel that we need to go and we’ll see what we have.

“We’ve a couple of knocks and injuries in there and people just coming back from Covid. It might be an opportunity to rest a couple and take a couple out and give the other boys that have been working hard behind the scenes a chance of some game time. We’ll see what comes our way on Saturday.”

Rory Hale faces another spell on the sideline after coming off midway through the first half of Tuesday night’s defeat.

Although McLaughlin acknowledges it was a set-back for his team, he refused to allow the injury to be an excuse for defeat and felt it was more to do with their decision making.

“That probably unsettled us a bit, but we still have good players” he reflected.

“We’re always going to lose players through different injuries throughout the season, we can’t let a player going off injured be an excuse for the performance from then on in.

“Rory is key for us surely, hopefully the injury isn’t too bad, but we can’t hide behind that saying that’s what cost us the game.

“It was decision making and our quality in the final third that probably let us down more than Crusaders have. They’ve had two opportunities and taken them both, we’ve had three or four and taken none of them. The decision-making cost us the game, not Rory going off injured.”

The Reds’ boss has backed his players to bounce back and create another unbeaten home run after their winning streak at Solitude came to an end and insists the defeat won’t see their season unravel.

Cliftonville are aiming to bounce back from Tuesday's league defeat to Crusaders

Cliftonville are aiming to bounce back from Tuesday's league defeat to Crusaders

“The boys have been superb,” acknowledged McLaughlin. 

“It had to come to an end at some stage (but) we just wanted to keep going – you don’t want to imagine every losing a game. It’s disappointing and frustrating when it comes your way, but it was inevitable that we were going to lose our record at some stage. If we can go on another run now for the next 10 it will be brilliant - we have to bounce back quickly.

“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves because there is too much good happening and the players have worked too hard all year and got ourselves into a brilliant position and it won’t unfold because of one bad night.

“There is a lot of good things coming our way and we’ve got to be ready for it and make sure the next opportunity that comes around we don’t let it go.”

On the January transfer window, McLaughlin admits he will always be interested in players that can bring his side to the next level and if that transpires, believes they can have a successful end to the season.

“We’re always on the look-out no matter what,” he confirmed.

“If players come along that we think can add to what we already have then we’re definitely going to be interested. We’re always on the look-out to strengthen and bring players in that we think can take us up another level.

“If we do then there will be a lot of success coming our way, if we can go up another level than we’re already on.”