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Jim Magilton On Cliftonville, Winning The Irish Cup And Looking Ahead To The New Season

Jim Magilton On Cliftonville, Winning The Irish Cup And Looking Ahead To The New Season

An interview with Jim Magilton, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You are the manager of Cliftonville, having taken charge just over one year ago. In your sole season in charge so far, you had the team competing at the top end of the league, secured a return to European football and won the club’s first Irish Cup since 1979. How would you put such a season into words? 

“Well, Callum, after all of that, what can I say… I’m retiring… (laughs).

“In all seriousness, it has been it’s been such a fantastic journey and one that I am immensely proud of.

“When you go into a club for the first time, you never know if players are going to respond to you, you are never sure about how you are going to adapt to a new league and you are never sure what sort of campaign you are going to have.

“However, our success this season comes down to the quality of our staff for which my assistant Gerard Lyttle deserves so much credit.

“When we became part of the club, we didn’t really have any backroom team other than Brian Campbell, who’s been at the club since Moses was around, and John Campbell, who’s been there since Moses too (laughs). Those two are fantastic servants of the football club but we knew that we needed to add to them.

“I do not mind admitting that I trusted Gerard to go and use his extensive knowledge of the league and find a physio, find a goalkeeping coach, find another first-team coach and a strength and conditioning coach as well as an analyst.

“We worked on it together but ultimately, he did all that and it was an amazing job.

“From there, it was a case of addressing the players and setting our stall out because we have high expectations as coaches, and we knew that we wanted to succeed from the moment we arrived.

“Prior to my appointment, I had the opportunity to watch a lot of Irish League football and I liked the squad. Paddy McLaughlin had put together a really good squad and I liked watching them and I felt that I could go in and improve them.

“Now, when you look a season down the line, all the things that we thought about prior to going in have developed quicker than we thought, and it’s been better than we’d actually hoped for at this early stage.

“We have had a fantastic season, but this is only the start. We have ambitions to continue building on what we have done so far.”

In terms of the Irish Cup final itself, you’re playing against Linfield at the National Stadium, which also happens to be Linfield’s home ground. The weight of history on is your shoulders, the shoulders of the players and the fans, given the 40-odd years that it was since the last time the club had won the trophy. How did you approach the build-up to the game? Did you lean into the history at all or were you just laser-focused on the game itself?

“I think a bit of both. I think every football club should be very proud of their achievements.

“The ‘79 Irish Cup winning team are revered at the club and that legacy and history had obviously grown over the years because we had not won it in 45 years.

“In that time great Cliftonville teams have gone very close and for us to have a chance to end that run without the trophy in a Cliftonville-Linfield final was a great opportunity as part of a wonderful spectacle.

“Arriving at the stadium and seeing the contrast of red and blue on the day, it was just amazing.

“In terms of the game itself, we went 1-0 down and lost our first-choice goalkeeper then we lost one of our first-choice centre-halves to injury as well.

“From that moment on, it was about asking the players to relax and play their natural game because before the injuries we didn’t do that.

“Gradually, we settled in the game and gained a bit more control of the ball and passed the ball better, we were a far better team in the second half. We really opened up and tuned the game around to secure the trophy and write our name into the history books of this great club.

“I won’t be alone in saying that I will never forget our third goal that sealed the victory on the day because it was one of the most iconic cup final goals that you are ever likely to see.

“Linfield had pushed everyone up and Ronan Hale ran the length of the pitch on the counterattack with an open goal awaiting him.

“The closer he got to the goal – before he then slotted the ball home – the louder the noise levels rose from our fans because I think people realised that they were going to finally win an Irish cup for the first time in 45 years.

“Then, when the full-time whistle went, the outpouring of emotion was just unbelievable.”

You like your teams to play football in an attacking, possession-based manner. Retirement has been key to that with the likes of David Oduwusu and Ben Wilson being signed last season to play alongside the likes of Joe Gormley, the Hale brothers and then youngsters like Odhran Casey who were already at the club. How proud are you of the recruitment that you were able to do in order to shape your squad?

“The philosophy that we bring into the football club is about playing good football that is also winning football.

“Gerard and I are on exactly the same page in that regard, and we felt that we had so many technically good footballers that would help us in playing expansive football.

“That starts from Jonny Addis, who dictates a lot of our play from the defensive third to the likes of Rory and Ronan Hale in the attacking areas.

“We also have Ronan Doherty, who can take the ball in any position to add to the pace and athleticism down the flanks from Kearney and Stewart.

“So, it was always our aim to set the team up to play on the front foot, be positive and really try to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses while being really positive about what we’re doing.

“Sometimes, it is easy to take your positives for granted and overlook them as people often like to dwell on what you’re not so good at but I tend to really focus on what we’re good at which has stood us in good stead so far.”

Finally, Jim, as someone who played at the highest level and has coached in different parts of the world, how do you rate the Irish League and the potential of the league now that you have worked within it?

“I have so much respect for the players, the coaching staff and the managers in the league because there is quality throughout the league.

“I am thoroughly enjoying my time as a manager in the league even if it is non-stop and relentless because that is what you want as a manager.

“You want to test yourself against strong opposition and I have to say, what Larne have achieved under Tiernan and Seamus Lynch at the helm and with the investment of Kenny Bruce has raised the bar across football in Northern Ireland.

“Now it’s up to everybody else including ourselves to raise our game and take the challenge to them.

“That being said, the chasing pack will all be thinking in the same way.

“Linfield will be desperate to win the league again, we’re going to be part of that chasing pack along too as Glentoran will hope to be also.

“Crusaders will want to challenge again albeit without Stephen Baxter at the helm, who did a magnificent job with Crusaders, and we wish him all the very best in his next chapter. Despite his exit, they will still be expected to be up there under their new manager, Declan Caddell who has a big job on his hands following in those footsteps.

“Coleraine are going to come back into the mix too with their new full-time model then you have teams like Ballymena United, Loughgall, Dungannon Swifts and Carrick Rangers who are getting stronger as well as the return of Portadown to the top flight.

“The league is a strong place at the moment, teams are attracting players from across the water that are coming in and they’re enhancing the league.

“Going into this season, it’s up to us to find players that are going to further enhance ourselves and the league as a whole, either within our own academies which all the clubs are trying to do in order to develop the next generation of Northern Irish talent or by recruiting smartly.

“This is a league that is competitive throughout and I believe that the competition is only going to grow stronger in the coming years.”