PADDY McLaughlin feels that Cliftonville's break from duty last week will have freshened things up ahead of their top of the table clash this weekend.

Having had a free weekend and Wednesday’s planned League Cup clash with Ards being postponed until the end of the month, the Reds host Larne at Solitude (3pm kick-off) in a first versus second clash.

Tiarnan Lynch’s side sit just a point behind the pace-setting hosts and McLaughlin is expecting a big test for his players who welcome back Declan Dunne, Luke McNicholas, Luke Turner and Paul O’Neill - all of whom were on international duty.

“The players have worked really hard during pre-season and worked really well thus far,” acknowledges McLaughlin.

“A weekend off will have done them the world of good with a chance to recharge the batteries and freshen ourselves up going into another run of tough fixtures. We’ve Larne on Saturday which is going to be a really tough fixture.

“It’s first versus second and two sides in good form at the minute, so it’s going to be a big test for us.

“The break has done us the world of good going into the game and with no midweek fixture with the Ards game being called off.

“Fair play to the young players, four players getting called up for international duty is brilliant. It’s brilliant for them and brilliant for the team. It’s shows how hard they’ve been working and how well they’ve been playing and they’re getting recognition now at international level.

“It was a good time for a break so we’re looking forward to Saturday now and we’ll prepare for Larne as we always do. We’ll prepare for it during the week and get our heads down again this week and prepare for a tough game.”

Paddy McLaughlin was named Manager of the Month for September

Paddy McLaughlin was named Manager of the Month for September

Saturday’s game is the first meeting between the sides since June’s Europa League Playoff final defeat at Inver Park.

McLaughlin insists that a lot of things have changed since then for the better and they’re only looking forward rather than backwards.

“It’s last season and we don’t look back,” he insists.

“At 1-1 we were well in the game and Larne caught us out a few out a few times. The score-line looked comfortable, but I don’t think it was that at all. But that was last season and we’re a new team.

“We’ve a different mentality and a real desire and hunger this year. The group definitely changed over the break and compared to the finish to last season, they’ve used that as fuel to the fire this year.

“They’ve come in a totally different animal and players we’ve brought in have been really brilliant additions. They’ve all played their part so far and we’ve a lot of strong characters that we’ve brought to the club for a reason - they don’t accept second best.

“That has changed and worked within the group, and they help push each other on and you’ve got the give the players all the credit. What happened last year stays last year, we’re only looking forward now.”

On Sunday, the Reds’ boss was named Aktivora NI Football Writers Manager of the Month for September, but he was keen to praise his players, back-room staff and club volunteers behind the scenes for their part in the solid start to the campaign.

“I know how important the players are to any team being successful and I know how important the staff are to any team being successful,” McLaughlin acknowledged.

“Whenever individual awards come around, I don’t like leaving anybody out. Every one of them are important and the role that they play. It’s only right that they get the credit they deserve.

“Everybody within the club deserves credit because they’re all working incredibly hard and even the people working behind the scenes, it’s important they realise how important they are to me and the club.”