CLIFTONVILLE manager Paddy McLaughlin is looking forward to the return of the Danske Bank Premiership at the weekend as the Reds make the trip to the North Coast to take on Coleraine (3pm kick-off).
Last year’s Premiership runners-up have been hard at work for two months in preparation for their Europa Conference League fixtures in July and pre-season friendlies either side.
McLaughlin believes they have worked really hard since returning and feels they are ready for the league season to begin.
“We’ve been back for a while now and obviously the boys came back early from their holidays to get ready for our European run and they’ve worked extremely hard over the last two months, so we’re looking forward to the league starting now,” he reports.
“All the hard work has been done, all the matches and friendlies have been played and everybody has got nearly the same amount of minutes as each other so they’re all geared up and ready to go. We’re looking forward to Saturday now.”
McLaughlin feels that Coleraine have strengthened well in the off-season and expects Oran Kearney’s to push to play more football this season.
“They’ve strengthened well and they’ve some really good signings and I’m sure they’re buzzing for the new season as much as we are,” McLaughlin predicts.
“It’s a tough start for us but they’re all tough. The Irish League is very competitive, one of the most competitive leagues around. It doesn’t matter who we got, it was always going to be tough.
“We prepare for it like it’s going to be, hopefully it should be a good football game.
“They have signed very, very good technical players and I’m sure that’s something that Oran (Kearney) will be trying to push them to do this year - to play more.
“The surface up there is excellent, so it suits both sides to get the ball down and play.
“There will be a big support at it I’m sure from both sets of fans and Red Army will be out in force as normal.
“It’s a cracking start for us, a really tough game, but it’s as tough for them as it is for us. Both sides, I’m sure will look forward to it.”
Saturday will see former Reds’ duo Conor McDermott and Michael McCrudden face their former club just a few weeks after leaving Solitude.
Their former boss thanked the duo for their hard work but is adamant that in preparation for Saturday, the focus is on more than two players.
“It’s good to see the two boys back on the pitch playing,” admits McLaughlin.
“They’ve got too much talent to be letting it slip by them, so it’s good to see them back playing.
“They served the club really well in their time here, so we thank them for that. But they’re playing elsewhere now, so good luck to them.
“We go about our business as normal. We don’t focus on one or two individuals, we focus on Coleraine as a team.
“They’re a really strong opposition right across the park. We won’t be focusing on any individual, we’ll focus on a strong side and it’s important that we’re at our maximum to get the better of them.”
McLaughlin feels his side’s fitness levels are where he wants them to be and praised his side for coming through the tough preparations for the season ahead.
“They’ve been playing really well right throughout pre-season and the European games - our performances have been excellent,” believes McLaughlin.
“The fitness levels are where we want them to be at this stage and it’s just about competitive match sharpness now. All players and all teams will be like that, but our boys are raring to go.
“They’ve done all the hard work, everything we asked of them- they done.
“It was a really tough schedule and some really tough fixtures along the way as well in pre-season.
“They’ve come through all the tests really well and it’s just a matter now in getting the season off and running and hopefully kicking off with three points.”