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BetMcLean Cup

REDS HOPING TO REKINDLE GLORY YEARS

07 Mar 2022
football
© Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker Press Celebrating victory over Crusaders in the 2012/13 decider

For a lengthy spell less than a decade ago it seemed like the League Cup was the sole preserve of Cliftonville, and Cliftonville's alone.

The Reds stormed to an unprecedented four successive victories, winning the competition every season from 2012/13 to 2015/16 and remaining undefeated from August 2012 to November 2016 - a run of almost four years and three months.

But that sequence of successes wasn't Cliftonville's first win.

That came nine years earlier, in November 2003, when Larne were defeated 5-4 on penalties following a 1-1 draw at Windsor Park. Derek Delaney had given Larne the lead on 11 minutes, an advantage they held for over an hour before Keith Mulvenna headed home Conor Hagan's free-kick.

In the shoot-out, Reds keeper Paul Straney assumed hero status by making the only save to deny Emmanuel Maxwell and subsequently bring the trophy to Solitude for the first time.

Fast forward to the 2012/13 campaign. A 4-1 defeat of Tobermore United set Cliftonville, managed by the great Tommy Breslin, on a path that would also take them past Ballinamallard United, Portadown and Glenavon before facing old rivals Crusaders in the January decider.

The Reds were clinical on the day. Goals midway through the first half by Diarmuid O'Carroll and Joe Gormley put Breslin's men into a commanding position at the end of the first half, with Gormley adding a third after the break before Ryan Catney rounded the scoring off with around a quarter-of-an-hour remaining.

football
© William Cherry/PressEye Completing back to back victories against the Crues in 2014

Twelve months later the north Belfast neighbours contested the final again, this time held at Solitude. Cliftonville swept aside allcomers in their cup defence, hitting 14 goals and conceding none, as HW Welders, Dundela, Bangor and Ards all fell by the wayside.

And there was another clean sheet in the decider after Conor Devlin kept the Crues at bay in what was a disappointing scoreless draw, and also went on to make a couple of saves from Colin Coates and Jordan Owens in the penalty shoot-out that was ultimately required to separate the sides.

Cliftonville made it a hat-trick of victories in a much more entertaining encounter a year later. Ballymena United provided the opposition on this occasion, and fought back through two David Cushley goals to level on the hour after Gormley had bagged a first half double, including the opener after barely 55 seconds.

However, Breslin's charges weren't ready to relinquish their hold on the trophy just yet and so, with ten minutes remaining, a poor Tony Kane header fell straight for Marty Donnelly to blast home what proved to be the winner.

It was back to Solitude the following February as the Reds became the first side to reach four consecutive League Cup finals and, as it turned out, also the first to win it four times on the trot.

football
© Kevin Scott/PressEye Celebrating success over Ballymena United in 2015

Standing in their way were Ards, then playing in the Championship, which presented Cliftonville - now managed by Gerard Lyttle - the opportunity to gain revenge for a penalty loss to their North Down opponents in the 1994/95 final.

After a tentative start, Donnelly fired the Reds in front with a curling effort just inside the post ten minutes before the break. David McDaid then added a second on 62 minutes before Stephen Garrett made sure of yet another triumph with seven minutes remaining.

Cliftonville were finally toppled in the quarter-finals of the 2016/17 edition of the trophy when two Andy McGrory extra-time goals saw Glenavon through to the last four.

Since then their best effort was a semi-final showing during the 2017/18 campaign when outgoing holders Ballymena United ended their interest in the competition.

And, somewhat remarkably, it has been the current holders that have knocked the Reds out every season since then. Dungannon Swifts accounted for them in the 2018/19 quarter-finals, as did Linfield at the same stage a year after that.

That will be one League Cup run the Cliftonville faithful will hope comes to an abrupt end on Sunday against current holders Coleraine!

football
© Stephen Hamilton/PressEye Toasting four in a row!