Derry native Paddy McLaughlin wins Manager of the Month award

Northern Ireland Football Writers’ manager of the month Cliftonville’s Paddy McLaughlin, with his Reavey Solicitors award. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEyeNorthern Ireland Football Writers’ manager of the month Cliftonville’s Paddy McLaughlin, with his Reavey Solicitors award. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Northern Ireland Football Writers’ manager of the month Cliftonville’s Paddy McLaughlin, with his Reavey Solicitors award. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin has been named Reavey Solicitors Manager of the Month by the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Association.

The Reds completed January unbeaten with wins over Larne, Linfield, Glenavon and Ballymena United. It's the fifth time McLaughlin has won the prestigious monthly prize, but he was quick to praise his players and staff when receiving the accolade.

“It's a pleasure to win this trophy once again. I'd like to thank the Football Writers' and their sponsors Reavey Solicitors,” he said.

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“It was a good month, and up until this point it has been a good season. We've gone beneath the radar until now, but that's no longer possible as we're up there challenging for the title in February.

“The boys have been superb. They're a credit to themselves and a credit to the club. I'm just collecting this trophy on their behalf.”

The Creggan man's side suffered a narrow 1-0 loss at champions Linfield on Saturday but still sit joint top of the Danske Bank Premiership alongside Larne, but in his opinion it's way too early for any title talk around Solitude.

Since his appointment in 2019, Cliftonville have qualified for Europe and last season came from behind to seal the Bet McLean League Cup, defeating Coleraine in extra-time, at Windsor Park, last March.

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Trailing 2-0 in the second half, a brace apiece from Joe Gormley and Paul O’Neill sealed the memorable victory over the Bannsiders.

However the Reds were to suffer Premiership heartache last season, losing out by just one point to the Danske Bank Premiership title to David Healy’s Linfield.

To their credit Cliftonville have bounced back this season and have carried on where they’ve left off and once again find themselves right in the thick of the title race.

“I don’t think you can deny we’re a good side, because we are. Anyone who leads the Premiership is a good side but anyone talking about league titles, it’s a bit early for that,” insisted McLaughlin.

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“We’ve only passed the halfway stage and we’re happy to be in contention, like we were last season. We just have to try to stay there now.

“We always expected the likes of Linfield, Glentoran, Larne and Crusaders to challenge last season but if you look at the squad we’ve put together in the last couple of years, it didn’t surprise me how close we got.

“We were in the mix right up until the last day and I questioned the players if they could show that level of consistency again, and to be fair they have.

“It’s such a competitive league, it’s a really strong league from top to bottom and you have to be at your best every week.”

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He helped guide Institute to First Division title glory during the 2017-18 campaign in what was his first managerial season. During that time severe flooding in August 2017 devastated the club when their Riverside Stadium ground was destroyed by water.

This meant that the club would have to relocate, at least temporarily, to Wilton Park, home of North-West Junior League club Churchill United, in an agreement to share their ground, for at least the remainder of the season.

After gaining promotion to the top flight, ’Stute moved to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium and it was there where McLaughlin’s style of play came to the fore.

His ’Stute side produced some superb free flowing possession based football and that played a major factor in the Belfast men making him their number one choice to replace Barry Gray in February 2019.

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During his time with the Waterside men he introduced an extra night's training session and that extra session is something he brought with him to the Reds and he and the squad knows that decision has helped them over the last few years.

“If you’re going to compete against the full-time teams, you have to train as much as possible. You can’t have people in every night because they have families and jobs but the third night was essential to what I wanted to do,” he explained.

“You’re not tightening the gap completely but at least you’re giving yourself a chance.

“It’s been a big commitment from the players and there was shock to the system at the start because it was a culture shock and no one likes change, myself included, but to compete, it was something we knew we had to do and if anyone didn’t buy into it, they knew they wouldn’t be there.

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“To be fair to the players they did buy into it and they love training and getting together. It’s a good changing room and always has been. They are doing what they love.

“We knew we’d be left behind if we didn’t try to get as close to the full-time teams as possible.”

The ex-Derry City defender believes in his squad and admits with Larne now just above them on goal difference, he isn't too upset that they aren't sitting at the top of the table.

“It’s no surprise to me that we are back amongst the top sides because we have a top side ourselves, as much as the full-timers,” added the 43-year-old.

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“You like to be the hunter more than the hunted, but we aren’t looking at the positions at the minute. Only when we get to the split will we start looking at that but we are where we are on merit. But we know everyone will keep jockeying for positions.”