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Premiership

REDS MOVE HAS REIGNITED HALE'S LOVE OF THE GAME

Written by: Johnny McNabb 12 Jan 2022
football

Cliftonville midfielder Rory Hale insists the move to Solitude almost twelve months ago has helped him fall back in love with football.

The 25-year-old crossed the north Belfast divide in January 2021 as he completed a switch to the Reds from derby rivals Crusaders.

Hale has starred in his new surroundings as Paddy McLaughlin’s troops sit in third spot in the Danske Bank Premiership table and have a BetMcLean League Cup final on the horizon.

“My spell at Crusaders was probably more frustrating than anything else,” he said after making 49 appearances for the Hatchetmen.

“I had been a regular starter throughout my career but it just didn’t work out that way at Seaview.

“I started the 2019/20 season off well, was playing good stuff and then unfortunately suffered a knee injury which took me four months to recover from.

“After losing the League Cup final to Coleraine, the pandemic then hit and it was simply stop-start in terms of appearances and it was making me unhappy, which was why I made the decision to leave.

“The options were limited at that time as Crusaders understandably didn’t want to sell me to a rival and whilst the full-time aspect of a move to Larne was appealing, I always had a switch to Cliftonville in the back of my mind.

“Thankfully, it happened as it’s my hometown club, I love playing for them, I have a great relationship with the fans and the move has reignited my love for the game.

“I left Crusaders on good terms, I won two trophies during my time there and I’ve made great friends. It’s a great club who certainly looked after me but I just needed to get more game time.”

Hale – who won international caps with Republic of Ireland under 21’s – started his career at Aston Villa, where he rubbed shoulders with Manchester City star Jack Grealish.

“I moved over to Birmingham at the age of 16 and spent five years at Villa,” he recalled.

“They had a great youth team with players like Jack Grealish and Keinan Davis and I really enjoyed my time there.

“I feel like I was unlucky at Villa as the club must have had six or seven different managers meaning it was hard to break in.

“Jack was always the best player on the pitch, and even when you knew what he was going to do, you couldn’t stop him. It was great because all I had to was pass the ball to him and let him do his stuff.

“Being told that I was going to be released completely caught me off guard as I was captain of the under 23 side, as well as being in and around the first-team squad.

“However, with a month of the season to go, Steve Bruce called me into his office to tell me that the club had too many midfielders and I was being let go.”

Despite having offers to stay on the mainland, Hale returned to Ireland and signed a short-team deal with Galway United in August 2017 before linking up with Kenny Shiels at Derry City six months later.

“I had a few trials and offers elsewhere in England, but at that time, I just didn’t feel like it was for me,” he continued.

“I moved to Galway and I absolutely loved it for the six months I was there and Shane Keegan was a fantastic manager.

“Once my contract expired, I had lots of offers from League of Ireland clubs but I decided to move as close to home as I could at Derry City.

“I probably had the best season of my career under Kenny at Derry and things were looking good until the club got dismantled as players went elsewhere and we suffered some serious injuries. It was great lifting the League Cup but I feel we could have done even more.”

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© Pacemaker Press

Rory’s younger brother, Ronan, is currently firing on all cylinders at Larne and the older sibling admits the pair are close after playing for Derry City and Crusaders at the same time.

“To be honest, before we both moved to England, I don’t think we were as close as we are now,” he acknowledged.

“Ronan is probably more of a best friend – except I’m still looking after him!

“I still like winding him up on social media and making jokes but, more importantly, I want Ronan to do well and score goals just not against Cliftonville.

“When we play against each other I always say I hope Cliftonville win 3-2 and Ronan scores two for Larne.

“He is a great player and I know he has reaped the benefits of full-time football and who knows maybe we will play with each other for a third time.”

Cliftonville are firmly in the hunt for the Gibson Cup but Hale outlined the importance of securing European football for next season.

The midfielder has also been plagued with hamstring injuries in recent months and hopes to be back as soon as possible.

“We are doing well in the league but qualifying for Europe has to be our aim,” he confessed.

“Obviously we will be doing our upmost to win silverware but the financial boost of European qualification and the trips away are brilliant.

“The defeat to Larne in the European play-off is still a sore one to take as we deserved to win that day, so we have used that as motivation.

“I have had two freakish injuries so far this season and I’ve only had nine or ten starts which isn’t like me.

“I want to get back fit and help Cliftonville get back to where they should be.

“I keep on getting reminded about winning the Irish Cup at Crusaders and the fact Cliftonville haven’t lifted it since 1979, so I might have one eye on that.”

Hale’s obsession with football continues with his employment as he runs his own coaching business at Solitude.

“Before lockdown, I had no intention of coaching and after realising a move over the water wouldn’t happen again, I wanted to have a back-up plan in place,” he concluded.

“I started up my own coaching business and completed my A and B licences and everything has taken off since then.

“We have nine coaches on board and coach over 200 children a week. It is refreshing to know that we play a small part in their development and several have had trials at clubs over the water.”

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The midfielder has also been plagued with hamstring injuries in recent months and hopes to be back as soon as possible.

“We are doing well in the league but qualifying for Europe has to be our aim,” he confessed.

“Obviously we will be doing our upmost to win silverware but the financial boost of European qualification and the trips away are brilliant.

“The defeat to Larne in the European play-off is still a sore one to take as we deserved to win that day, so we have used that as motivation.

“I have had two freakish injuries so far this season and I’ve only had nine or ten starts which isn’t like me.

“I want to get back fit and help Cliftonville get back to where they should be.

“I keep on getting reminded about winning the Irish Cup at Crusaders and the fact Cliftonville haven’t lifted it since 1979, so I might have one eye on that.”

Hale’s obsession with football continues with his employment as he runs his own coaching business at Solitude.

“Before lockdown, I had no intention of coaching and after realising a move over the water wouldn’t happen again, I wanted to have a back-up plan in place,” he concluded.

“I started up my own coaching business and completed my A and B licences and everything has taken off since then.

“We have nine coaches on board and coach over 200 children a week. It is refreshing to know that we play a small part in their development and several have had trials at clubs over the water.”