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07 Jul 2022

'Derry City the perfect opponent for Cliftonville'

Candystripes travel to Belfast on Saturday

Derry City

Derry City will face Cliftonville this weekend at Solitude.

Paddy McLaughlin believes that Derry City will provide the perfect opponents for Cliftonville this weekend ahead of the forthcoming qualifying rounds for the Europa Conference League.

The Candystripes will travel to Belfast this Saturday for a friendly contest that benefits both clubs. Ruaidhri Higgins’ team are back in competitive action at home to Drogheda United next Friday, June 17, and Saturday’s game at Solitude will help the City boss prepare as Derry look to put a difficult spell behind them when the league resumes.

For Cliftonville, who finished in second place in last season’s Irish League, it is the first of a number of pre-season friendly games, and is ideal preparation for a huge European game.

“We have got European football in four weeks’ time so it’s important that we play matches going into that at the same level we’re going to be playing,” he explained. “There’s no point in playing non-league teams and not getting what you would get out of the likes of Derry City and Shamrock Rovers. It was important that we took on tough fixtures and there’s no tougher fixtures at the minute than Derry City and Shamrock Rovers, two of the top sides in the Airtricity League and two of the best sides who are playing the best football in a number of years. It will definitely be a tough test for us, but it is tough for a reason, and that’s to give us an eye opener for what we will be in for in Europe.”

It could be an interesting debut for midfielder Gerard Storey, who earlier this week left Derry City to sign for the Reds after failing to break into the first team at the Brandywell.

The 20-year-old opted to choose Derry City over Cliftonville last August, but made just three first team appearances under Higgins in his time at the club prior to his return to Belfast this week.

McLaughlin, who was disappointed to lose him last year, is delighted to have him back.

“Last year we brought him in again for pre-season and he was excellent,” he recalled. “He played really well in a couple of matches for us so we were disappointed then that he turned down our offer and went to Derry City.

“It is always hard to turn down Derry City as it’s such a big club and it’s full time so it is appealing to young players. But it’s third time lucky now and we’re delighted to get him back. Even the early signs, he’s trained two or three sessions this week and you can see he has that bit of class and he uses that on the ball and hopefully we can get that put of him on a regular basis next season.”

McLaughlin has already signed ex-Candystripe Ronan Hale to boost his team ahead of a new campaign, and the addition of Storey, a player he is a huge fan of, only strengths his quad even further.

“He’s technically excellent and coming back from a year of full-time football with Derry City, his fitness levels are going to be high,” he added. “He definitely looks the part so far, but there’s a long season ahead and I’m sure he will play his part throughout the campaign and hopefully at a high level, because that’s the reason we brought him in, he’s a high-level player.”

It has been just over five weeks since Cliftonville lost out on the Irish League title to Linfield on the final day of the season, meaning there hasn’t been much of a break at all for Mclaughlin and his players with European football now around the corner.

“It is a short break and that’s the downside I suppose of qualifying for Europe,” he admitted. “Your break time is halved because you usually get six to eight weeks off, but our boys have come back now after just four weeks and they have come back in great shape. They didn’t have too much of a break, but our boys don’t mind a bit of hard work and they don’t mind sacrificing a few things and hopefully it will be worth it by progressing in a couple of rounds in Europe.”

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