Cliftonville vs Linfield 04/05/24

Clearer Water Irish Cup Final Cliftonville vs Linfield 04/05/24

04 MAY 2024, 14.30




President's Welcome

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Chief Executive’s Message

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Cliftonvillle Manager : Jim Magilton Cliftonvillle Captain : Rory Hale Cliftonvillle Player : Jonny Addis Cliftonvillle : Road to the 2024 Final Cliftonvillle : 2024 Cup FInal Squad Linfield Manager : David Healy Linfield Captain : Jamie Mulgrew Linfield Player : Kyle McClean Linfield : Road to the 2024 Final Linfield : 2024 Cup FInal Squad

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Today's Match Officials

The History of the Irish Challenge Cup

The Road to the 2024 Final

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As chair of the Irish Football Association Challenge Cup Committee, may I welcome the players, officials and supporters of both Cliftonville and Linfield to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.

First contested in 1881, the Irish Cup is the fourth oldest national cup competition in the world. A special thank you goes to our sponsors – Clearer Water – for their support of this historic competition. Their product is described as “The Water That Helps People”. I am delighted that the company employs a diverse mixed ability workforce and seeks to close the gap on disability inclusion in the workplace. Our partnership with this premium and ethical brand complements our own sustainability strategy and corporate social responsibility work. This will be the biggest attendance at the Irish Cup Final this century and I am confident it will be a tremendous occasion. It is a classic Reds v Blues contest which has caught the imagination of everyone. Tickets sold out in record time. Linfield take the honour of having the most victories in the final (44) and the most appearances (64). Cliftonville have appeared in 23 final games (including replays), winning the cup on eight occasions. They were runners up in the first ever staging of the showpiece game on 9 April 1881, losing out by a slender 1-0 margin to Moyola Park. The Reds also endured the longest gap between wins in a final - 70 years from 1909 to 1979. Indeed 1979 is the last time that Cliftonville won the Irish Cup. The two sides have only met in the final twice before. Linfield won 5-1 in 1893 and 5-0 in 1934. These will be statistics and scorelines which Jim Magilton will be keen to change in favour of his side, while David Healy will be determined to add to Linfield’s honours.

It has been a long road since Limavady United made the long journey to Co Down to beat Portavogie Rangers in round one last August. Later rounds saw new names play the ‘big guns’. NIFL Premier Intermediate side Ballymacash Rangers reached the sixth round for the first time in their history after defeating Oxford Sunnyside in round five, while Willowbank from Amateur League 1B made their fifth round bow. Although Glentoran swept Ballymacash aside, the televising of the game at The Bluebell Stadium in Lisburn was a historic moment which the club is unlikely to forget. And Willowbank will have enjoyed their trip to Stangmore Park to face Dungannon Swifts despite suffering a defeat. I would like to thank the Irish Challenge Cup Committee and Irish FA staff, led by Andrew Johnston, for their hard work through all the rounds of the competition which bring us to this special occasion today. I wish both sets of players, coaching staff and supporters well. It has been a long season for you, but I am sure you will agree that this should be a fitting climax. Conrad Kirkwood President Irish Football Association



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Welcome to the Clearer Water Irish Cup Final 2024. What a match we have in store for us today. Cliftonville v Linfield in the final for the first time in 90 years. CHIEF EXECUTIVE’S MESSAGE

All tickets were effectively sold out in just over an hour, and it’s the biggest expected crowd for the final since 1979. 1979. Now there’s a date/year. 45 years ago, what else happened then? Of course, as we’ve all been reminded countless times lately, that was the last time the Irish Cup found its way to Solitude. Will today be the day that Jim Magilton breaks that 45-year curse? Or will David Healy steer Linfield to a 45th Irish Cup win? It seems the number 45 has a part to play today either way. Isn’t it fabulous to have two storied legends of our senior men’s international team bringing their teams to the final showdown? And each team backed by thousands of supporters who will bring the colour and noise to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park today. Often, of course, cup competitions throw up unexpected results and heartwarming stories. Many years ago now, in 1955, Dundela triumphed in this very competition, and Carrick Rangers also took the cup home as a side from outside the top division back in 1976. This year, however, the cup has played out to form, with the four top clubs in the Sports Direct NIFL Premiership at the time reaching the semi-finals, and of course two of them are here today having beaten Larne and Glentoran at that penultimate stage. Mentioning Larne, many congratulations to them on retaining the Sports Direct Premiership title after a thrilling season which came down to the wire. Portadown are back in the big time after winning the Playr-Fit Championship, and well done also to Limavady United who have topped the Playr-Fit Premier Intermediate League.

We are looking forward to a big summer here in Northern Ireland as we host the UEFA U19 Euros at Inver Park, Seaview and here at the National Football Stadium. Gareth McAuley will have his squad prepared and ready to take on Italy, Norway and Ukraine in the group stages of the tournament. The action starts on 15 July with the final here on 28 July. Today, however, it’s all about the Clearer Water Irish Cup. This is the first year of Clearer Water’s 10-year partnership deal and we couldn’t have wished for a better final for them. Clearer Water is a Northern Ireland company operating with a mixed ability workforce which delivers water that helps people. What’s not to like about that and we hope everyone from the company has a great day.

Enjoy the match! Patrick Nelson Chief Executive Irish Football Association



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Today is a grand occasion for the history books, with it being 90 years since Cliftonville and Linfield have gone head to head in an Irish Cup final, and this year being the first year of the Clearer Water Irish Cup furthermore marks this momentous occasion. immense joy to watch their teams play in our country’s premier cup competition.

When Clearer Water decided to partner with the Irish Football Association we knew we wanted a long-standing partnership, not only to bring stability but also to grow and develop the partnership over time. That’s why we have committed to a 10-year partnership with the Irish FA, which includes sponsorship of the Irish Cup. Over the next 10 years Clearer Water will strive to bring our values of sustainability and equality for all, in particular for those with additional needs, neurodiversity or physical disabilities, to this great game. Like the Irish FA we truly believe football is a game for us all to enjoy. This is why this is a partnership that works. Over the past nine months we have watched the best talent in senior and intermediate football across Northern Ireland come together - and it’s brought fans from all corners of Northern Ireland

Today is a celebration of sport and highlights the passion, talent and tenacity of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland always has and continues to produce great talent, and upcoming opportunities including Belfast hosting the 2028 UEFA Euros and the Under-19 Men’s European Championships that will take place here this summer will again put Northern Ireland on the sporting map. We wish the best of luck to Cliftonville and Linfield as we look forward to these two great clubs and their supporters creating a grand occasion, with the worthy winners lifting the Clearer Water Irish Cup later today! Ross Lazaroo-Hood Global CEO / Co-Chairman / Owner of Clearer Water Sitki Gelmen Co-Chairman / Owner of Clearer Water

Stephen Bogle (Head of Commercial Operations at the Irish Football Association) joined Clearer Water’s Ross Lazaroo-Hood and Sitki Gelmen to announce the company’s long-term partnership deal with the Irish FA, which includes sponsorship of the Irish Cup.


Cliftonville manager Jim Magilton has said he is used to dealing with the history of big clubs and insisted he will not let the Reds’ long wait for Irish Cup success weigh on him or his players.

Magilton believes their strong start to the campaign was a crucial factor in the season going well and spoke positively about what he says has been a hugely enjoyable first experience of Irish League management. “We got off to a fast start and that was important for us because Gerard (Lyttle, Magilton’s assistant) and I were in so late, which meant that we had to do everything in quite a hurry,” he said. “To get the start that we got gave the players the confidence and momentum to carry on and to believe in what we were saying to them. You can say all you want to players but you have to go out and deliver, and this group of players has done that remarkably well. “To finish in a European spot in the manner in which we did with games to spare was terrific and to play in an Irish Cup final is just reward for the season that the players have had.” Magilton admits he has been gripped by the Irish League. He revealed: “I went and watched the games as a supporter and I always enjoyed it but seeing the effort and application that the players make every week has astounded me. They are up for every game, they really are. “I also have a greater appreciation for the coaching staff and the work that goes on behind the scenes, and all the part-time staff that work at our clubs. It is honestly amazing.” Magilton, who was a Northern Ireland team-mate of Linfield boss David Healy, added that he cannot wait for kick-off today and the chance to deliver the trophy for his team’s fans. He said: “It would be a magnificent achievement by this group of players and the coaching staff. I’m excited about it, I’m motivated to win. “We know the task ahead, which is going to be a very difficult one against an outstanding team, but we are looking forward to it.”

The north Belfast outfit go into today’s showpiece match against Linfield with it being well documented that they have not won the trophy since 1979. Magilton, who was on Liverpool’s books for many years and played in the English Premier League for Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday before managing Ipswich Town and Queens Park Rangers, respects Cliftonville’s history but is unfazed by the demand from the fans for an Irish Cup success. “I understand the history, I understand how important it is and I understand how there is this magic around the Irish Cup for Cliftonville,” the former Northern Ireland international said. “We get it. It is there for everyone to see and everyone talks about it but I am more focused on these lads creating their own little piece of history.” He said the pressure to deliver what many Reds fans consider to be the holy grail of domestic football does not bother him. The Cliftonville boss added: “I have always been very respectful of the past. When I was at Ipswich everyone talked about the great Sir Bobby Robson so I appreciate the history that is attached to football clubs. “It was a great achievement by that Cliftonville team to win the Irish Cup back in 1979 but I see this as a wonderful opportunity to play against an excellent team in a showcase final. “I want us to go and embrace the whole thing. Rather than let it intimidate you, let it inspire and motivate you. I have never been one to allow that sort of thing to intimidate me.” Despite his appointment as Cliftonville manager last summer generating something of a mixed reaction from the Reds supporters, Magilton’s first season in charge has been a successful one. As well as guiding the Solitude side to the Irish Cup final, they finished third in the Irish Premiership and have secured a place in European football for next season.

Words Mark Sterling




Cliftonville midfielder Rory Hale doesn’t need any extra motivation ahead of the Irish Cup final – but there is a sense of frustration from the decider five years ago that is helping to drive him on.

“The fans were brilliant from start to finish in the semi-final,” he continued. “In fact, even for the warm-up there was already about 3,000 of them in the stadium. It will be more of the same in the final no doubt. They will be out in their numbers and hopefully loud and proud.” With European football and a third-place finish in the Irish Premiership already secured, Cliftonville’s form has dropped in the weeks since that last four victory. Hale is not letting that bother him, though, and nor is he letting Cliftonville’s 45-year wait for Irish Cup success weigh him down. He pointed out: “It has been quite some time since we won the semi-final and it has been a bit strange because we were out of the title race but were guaranteed Europe after the first game of the split. “However, we finally got a win in the league against the Glens, which was comfortable enough, and the mood among the players is good. We are confident. It is all hands to the pump for the final. “The fact Cliftonville have not won the Irish Cup for so long definitely will not weigh on me. With this group of players it is very much ‘on to the next game’, no matter what that game is, where it is or who it is against. “We instilled that attitude at the start of the season and have continued it throughout so we are not going to stop now. I am hoping that it is in the boys’ heads that this is just another game, it is just the next game that is in front of us.” A game that he will, of course, play a much bigger role in than he did in that 2019 final.

The same applies to brother Ronan, in fact, who will likely be lining up alongside him in the Reds team to face Linfield in today’s Irish Cup decider. Back in 2019 the Hale brothers were playing for north Belfast rivals Crusaders and were in the Crues squad that beat Ballinamallard United 3-0 to win the trophy, but it was a bittersweet day for the pair as both were unused substitutes in the final. “We are determined to make up for lost time. Both of us will be hugely motivated and are really looking forward to the final,” said Hale, who has captained Cliftonville for most of this season. “I played in every single round [in 2019] but was then left out of the starting line-up for the final. I have the medal but it just doesn’t feel like you have won it when you don’t get on. “We beat Glentoran, Linfield, Ballymena United and Coleraine on the way to the final. You think as a player that you are going to get to these cup finals every year and you have the mentality of ‘we’ll go again next year’ but it is five years later now and my next final is only coming now. “You have to enjoy the moments, of course, but you want to be playing in these big games. That is what you are in football for, putting the boots on and playing in the big games in front of a sold out Windsor Park.” Hale cannot wait to run out at the National Stadium and hear the roar of the Cliftonville supporters who, like their Linfield counterparts, bought up all of their club’s allocation within hours of tickets going on sale. The Reds faithful created a tremendous atmosphere while backing their team in the semi final against Larne – and Hale wants a repeat in the decider.

Words Mark Sterling


It is one of the most iconic images of Northern Ireland’s domestic football season – and the idea behind it emerged in a primary school classroom.

well to secure what would be a first victory over the Blues this season. “You have to be confident,” he continued. “We are obviously aware that we haven’t beaten Linfield this season, which is something we want to put right, and our record against Linfield has not been great during my time at Cliftonville, both home and away. “We have to respect that and understand that it is a team that we have struggled against at times, but equally there is certainly no element of fear. “We know what we are capable of and we know that if we play at our best – or close to it – we will be well in the game.” Coming to the end of his third season at Solitude after something of a surprise switch from Ballymena United in the summer of 2021, Addis has become a firm favourite of the Cliftonville supporters. The ‘We love Addis’ song will no doubt ring out among the Red Army during the final. The 31-year-old is appreciative of the support he receives from the Solitude faithful, but knows he has to keep concentrating on delivering on the pitch. He said: “It’s great and I’ve loved my time at the club but I’m old enough and been around long enough to know that you have to get on with things, no matter what people are saying about you. “Whether it is good or bad, you can’t think about it too much because you could get distracted or carried away, and then your performances could dip. It’s fantastic and I’m really grateful for it, but I try not to think about it too much.”

When Jonny Addis began running towards the Cliftonville fans to celebrate heading his side into the lead in their Irish Cup semi-final win over Larne, the Whitehead Primary School teacher had the thoughts of his Year 7 class in his head. As Addis arrived in front of the Reds supporters in the National Stadium’s North Stand, he slowly raised his hands in the air to recreate the celebration recently made famous by Real Madrid and England sensation Jude Bellingham. “It began when I scored early on in the season and the kids in my class picked up on my celebration,” the central defender explained. “We have a bit of fun about me scoring and they had encouraged me to do a few different celebrations, some of which I was never going to attempt, but they suggested I do the Jude Bellingham one if I scored in the semi-final. “I don’t score that many so it’s difficult to say I planned it, but I found my arms going up naturally as I ran to the supporters so I just thought I’d go for it. It’s all a bit of fun. It was a great feeling to score in such a big match and to contribute to us getting to the Irish Cup final.” While acknowledging that the team’s form dipped somewhat after that last four win at the end of March, Addis said the mood among the players is upbeat going into today’s Windsor Park showpiece. The former Glentoran and Ballymena United defender has had to sit out a few games recently to rest a back injury but will be fit to take his place in Jim Magilton’s defence, where he has again been one of the Irish Premiership’s best performers. He is hugely looking forward to the occasion but knows he and his team-mates will have to play

Words Mark Sterling




Cliftonville saw off NIFL Premiership sides Larne, Loughgall and Coleraine as well as recently crowned NIFL Championship winners Portadown on the way to today’s showpiece game.

First up, in round five, was a trip to The Showgrounds in Coleraine where they needed extra time to edge past Oran Kearney’s Bannsiders. The Reds’ next outing was at their home ground, Solitude, where they defeated Premiership new boys Loughgall by four goals to nil. Another Co Armagh side provided the opposition in the quarter-finals. Cliftonville took on Portadown at Shamrock Park and they booked their place in the last four by scoring twice without reply. It was the Reds v Inver Reds in the semi-finals, with the north Belfast Reds defeating the high flying Larne variety by two goals to nil at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. The Reds have yet to concede in the Irish Cup this season. And they have scored 11 goals on their way to the decider.

Sean Stewart fired a shot wide for the visitors before Shea Kearney’s well-struck snapshot was pushed away by Brown. The Reds upped the tempo after the interval. They saw an early penalty appeal waved away as Ronan Hale went to ground. Then the Reds’ Luke Turner had a goal-bound shot blocked, while Ben Wilson’s long range effort sailed over the bar. Late on in the second half referee Raymond Crangle brandished a straight red at Cliftonville’s Sam Ashford for a late tackle on Dean Jarvis, while Coleraine’s Lyndon Kane got his marching orders for two bookable offences in what was his 300th appearance for the club. In the first period of extra time Brown saved a Rory Hale effort before his brother opened the scoring with a superb strike from 25 yards. As the game drew to a close Ronan Hale exploited hesitancy in the home defence to make it 2-0 before completing his hat-trick with a neat finish. SIXTH ROUND Cliftonville 4-0 Loughgall Ronan Hale was back among the goals when the Reds faced Loughgall in the sixth round. Hale contributed two of his side’s four goals in a fine win against the NIFL Premiership new boys from Co Armagh. Joe Gormley and Rory Hale also got on the scoresheet at Solitude. Loughgall posed problems for Cliftonville in the opening exchanges, especially in the midfield area, however the Reds’ defensive line held firm. The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession, although their final ball repeatedly let them down and Cliftonville keeper David Odumosu was rarely tested. Gormley opened the scoring towards the end of the first half with a neat finish past Berratt Turker and the Reds never looked back after that. It was Gormley’s 25th goal for the club in the competition. On 54 minutes Stephen Mallon sped towards the bye-line and cut the ball back to Ronan Hale. He twisted and turned about 12 yards out before firing in a low shot which took a huge deflection off Loughgall’s Pablo Andrade before the ball nestled in the back of the net.

FIFTH ROUND Coleraine 0-3 (AET) Cliftonville

A Ronan Hale hat-trick in extra time helped Cliftonville seal a place in the sixth round. There was little to choose between the NIFL Premiership sides during regulation time, however Hale’s excellent intervention ensured Jim Magilton’s side would reach round six. Very few clearcut chances were created within 90 minutes, although the Reds did fashion some half chances prior to the period of extra time. Coleraine goalkeeper Rory Brown saved a deflected effort from Ronan Hale in the first minute before Bannsiders striker Davy McDaid tested Cliftonville keeper David Odumosu.


SEMI-FINALS Cliftonville 2-0 Larne Cliftonville got the better of a lacklustre Larne in the last four. Goals from Jonny Addis and Ronan Hale saw Jim Magilton’s side win the entertaining contest at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park by two goals to nil. Cliftonville got their tactics spot on. They kept Larne’s star players quiet and produced some fine attacking football in front of circa 5700 fans. Chris Gallagher’s curling shot from 30 yards was superbly pushed over the bar by Reds keeper David Odumosu before Cliftonville took the lead on 34 minutes. Captain Rory Hale played a one-two with Ben Wilson from a corner and then whipped the ball to the back post where Addis headed it powerfully into the net. It was an excellent move. Just after the break Levi Ives’ drilled corner was met by Inver Reds centre back Ro-Shaun Williams and his header went inches past the post. The Reds’ Odhran Casey planted a powerful header over the bar, while Cliftonville skipper Rory Hale smashed a shot just past the upright. Substitute and Reds icon Joe Gormley lifted an effort over the top and Larne keeper Rohan Ferguson pushed out a Ronan Hale drive before the action swung to the other end of the pitch where Larne substitute Joe Thomson hit the side netting with a rising shot. Cliftonville got their second on 85 minutes. Ronan Hale raced forward and played a one-two with Gormley inside the area - and Hale’s deflected shot flew past Ferguson into the net. In the closing stages Donnelly’s crisp strike was superbly saved by Odumosu, while Ferguson saved two efforts from Ronan Hale and another from Gormley.

Then it was Rory Hale’s turn to score against the Villagers. His goal came just a couple of minutes later and it was a beauty. He turned his marker inside out before smashing the ball into the top corner from nine yards out. Ronan Hale grabbed his second of the afternoon in the 82nd minute. Chris Curran spotted the run of Sam Ashford and he teed up Hale for a simple finish at the back post.

QUARTER-FINALS Portadown 0-2 Cliftonville

The Reds journeyed to Co Armagh for their last eight tie. Providing the opposition at Shamrock Park were Championship side Portadown. Two second half goals were enough to get Jim Magilton’s side over the line in what was a cracking cup tie. Portadown pressed from the start, although the first clearcut chance of the game fell to Cliftonville. Ronan Doherty slipped the ball to Sam Ashford and he rattled the woodwork with a rasping drive. Ports striker Eamon Fyfe struck the frame of the goal before a Mark Russell clearance rebounded off the Reds’ Ronan Hale and flew just over the bar. Cliftonville keeper David Odumosu pushed away a Zach Barr strike, and Portadown goalie Aaron Hogg produced a great stop to keep out a clever flick from Ronan Hale. After the interval Hale was unlucky to see a sweet strike rebound off the Ports’ crossbar. The visitors took the lead on 63 minutes. Rory Hale sent Sean Stewart free down the left flank. His cross into the danger zone was met by Portadown defender Luke Wilson who managed to put the ball into his own net from inside the six-yard box. Fyfe thought he had equalised for the home side with a cool finish, but he was adjudged to have been offside in the build-up. Cliftonville doubled their lead in the 86th minute. Wilson slipped and Ashford pounced on the loose ball. He found Rory Hale down the right flank. He put the foot on the gas before delivering a cross into the six-yard box where Ashford was on hand to tuck it home.



Nathan Gartside Goalkeeper

Orann Donnelly Goalkeeper

Conor Pepper Defender

David Odumosu Goalkeeper

Signed from St Patrick’s Athletic following an impressive loan spell, David began his career with hometown side Dundalk and was part of the Drogheda United side that won the Airtricity League First Division title in 2020. A former Republic of Ireland Under-20 international, the 23-year-old has recorded 15 clean sheets so far this season.

Nathan (28) joined Cliftonville from Derry City in the opening weeks of the 2022-23 season. Formerly with Institute and Watford, the ex-Northern Ireland Under-21 goalkeeper was called into Ian Baraclough’s senior international squad a couple of years ago and, after spending much of the current campaign providing competition to David Odumosu, returned to the starting XI for the recent clashes with Crusaders and Glentoran.

Another player who has caught the eye while playing for the Cliftonville Academy, young goalkeeper Orann found himself part of a handful of senior matchday squads during the 2021 22 season and penned his first professional contract in November of last year. Still awaiting his senior debut, the Ballycastle teenager (19) forms part of a strong goalkeepers union at Solitude.

A former Republic of Ireland Under-19 international, Conor began his senior career with St Patrick’s Athletic and moved to Inverness Caledonian Thistle before winning the Scottish League One title with Greenock Morton in 2015. The Dubliner’s first taste of the Irish League came at Glentoran prior to a stint with Linfield and, having won the Irish Cup with both, will hope to mark his 30th birthday with a third honour today.

Jonny Addis Defender

Odhran Casey Defender

Shea Kearney Defender

Sean Stewart Defender

On loan from Norwich City, Sean (21) has been a regular in the Canaries’ Under-18 and Under-23 teams in recent years. Having previously worked with Reds boss Jim Magilton in the underage Northern Ireland international set-up, marauding full back Stewart has impressed since marking his debut with a goal and will bid to shake off a recent injury concern to feature this afternoon.

An experienced central defender of some repute, Jonny moved to Solitude from Ballymena United in the summer of 2021. The 31-year-old former Carrick Rangers and Glentoran man, who was named in the NIFL Premiership Team of the Year, has been one of the team’s top performers since arriving at Solitude and was on the scoresheet in the semi-final victory over Larne.

Handed his debut by caretaker manager Michael Press in January 2019, Academy graduate Casey is a versatile talent who recently made his Northern Ireland Under-21 debut. The 22-year-old defender, who won the Championship title on loan at Newry City in 2022, has popped up with a couple of vital late goals this season and is today out to end a strong campaign by earning his first senior trophy with the Reds.

Handed his first professional contract last summer, Shea (20) caught the eye with a string of impressive pre-season performances. Having made his debut in September 2022, the marauding defender is one of an ever-increasing number of Academy graduates in Jim Magilton’s senior Reds squad and has been no stranger to the scoresheet during the campaign.


Words Conor McLaughlin

Luke Kenny Defender

Reece Jordan Defender

Stephen McGuinness Defender

Paddy Burns Defender

The most recent addition to Cliftonville’s squad, former Academy star Paddy returned to the club in February. After leaving Solitude to join Glenavon in 2017, the 23-year-old left back enjoyed a rewarding spell with Notre Dame University in the United States over the last three years. He hit his first Reds goal in last month’s draw with Coleraine.

On loan from St Mirren, the central defender (20) came through the Buddies’ Academy and enjoyed senior game time at the Scottish Premiership side at the start of this season. Luke, who hails from Glasgow, has not benefited from a consistent run in the team throughout the season but has impressed in recent weeks, featuring regularly since the Reds booked their Irish Cup final spot.

Signed from Portadown on Deadline Day last August, Reece has been one of the Irish League’s hottest properties since bursting on to the scene in 2021 season. A talented young defender with a bright future ahead of him, Jordan (20) enjoyed a brief run in the side early in the season and, having patiently bided his time in the months since, delivered an eye-catching display against Glentoran a fortnight ago before delivering another solid 90 minutes against Linfield last week.

A defender who can operate both centrally and on the left, Stephen penned a contract extension with the Reds last summer. After spending the 2021-22 campaign on loan at Queen’s University, the 20-year-old also undertook a loan stint with Annagh United in the second half of last season and was in the Reds’ starting line-up for recent away clashes with Larne and Linfield.

Rory Hale Midfielder

Chris Curran Midfielder

Stephen Mallon Midfielder

Eric Yoro Midfielder

Signed on loan from Bolton Wanderers during the January window, Eric’s first taste of senior football came after emerging through to the first team at League of Ireland side UCD. A defender who can also operate in midfield, the Dubliner (20) joined Bolton in the summer of 2022 and has been a regular performer in their B team.

A member of the Cliftonville Academy before joining Aston Villa in 2015, Rory returned to Solitude in January 2021. The 27-year old former Galway United, Derry City and Crusaders man marked his 100th appearance for the club with a strike against Newry City back in August and penned a three-year contract extension until 2027 earlier this season.

A star of the Ballinamallard United side that impressed during their debut Premiership season, the ex-Manchester United youngster’s signature was secured in the summer of 2013. An able performer in a variety of positions, skipper Chris (33) opened his goal account for the season in December’s 4-1 victory over Loughgall and will today strive to be the first Cliftonville captain to lift the Irish Cup since Walter Mills some 45 years ago.

After more than a year out with injury, Stephen made his comeback in October’s draw with Loughgall. The 25-year old ex-Sheffield United, Central Coast Mariners, Derry City and Bohemians ace, who represented both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland from Under-15s though to Under-21 level, returned from a minor knock in February and was most recently among the goals in last month’s win over Glentoran.



Shea Gordon Midfielder

Ronan Doherty Midfielder

Ben Wylie Midfielder

Kris Lowe Midfielder

One of seven January 2021 recruits, Kris boasts considerable Premiership experience despite being just 28 years old. The Omagh man spent more than a decade with Dungannon Swifts prior to his switch to the Reds, for whom he has endured something of a stop start season through injury, with a particularly nasty fall in the Irish Cup semi-final defeat of Larne keeping him out of late.

A January arrival from Larne, midfielder Shea came through the youth ranks at Dungannon Swifts prior to joining Sheffield United in 2016. Capped by Northern Ireland at Under-21 level, Gordon (25) enjoyed a five year spell in Scotland with Motherwell, Partick Thistle and Queen of the South before moving to Inver Park and, despite going close three times on his debut, is still awaiting his first Cliftonville goal.

Sought by a host of clubs in the summer of 2019, Donegal man Ronan has been a virtual ever present during the five years since. After stepping up from the Ulster Senior League with Cockhill Celtic into the Premiership with Institute, ‘Olly’ (28) has delivered a series of stylish displays in the middle of the park and was the last Cliftonville player to score a winning goal against Linfield.

After a spell with Linfield’s Under-18s, 21-year-old Wylie made the move to Celtic prior to a loan stint with hometown side Ballymena United during the 2020-21 season. A further loan at Airdrie duly followed prior to a six-month spell with Ytterhogdals in Sweden. The Under-21 international has been nursing an injury sustained shortly after his January switch to Cliftonville from the Swedish side.

Sam Ashford Forward

Ronan Hale Forward

Ben Wilson Forward

Joe Gormley Forward

The greatest goalscorer in Cliftonville’s history surpassed Kevin McGarry’s record of 170 strikes when he scored against Crusaders in October 2018. A double title winner with the Reds prior to a move to Peterborough in 2015, the man known simply as ‘The Goal’ is currently in his testimonial season. The 34-year-old extended his goals haul with the equaliser in last month’s north Belfast derby against Crusaders at Seaview.

Signed from Ayr United, the 28-year-old, who has made two appearances for England at C international level, began his career in the Tottenham Hotspur Academy before stints at various Non League clubs. On target in recent wins over Coleraine, Glenavon and Loughgall, he picked up an injury in the process of scoring against the Villagers and was subsequently ruled out until last week’s clash with Linfield - when he duly marked his return with another goal.

After becoming just the second person in history to mark his Cliftonville bow with a European goal, Ronan (25) went on to score 29 times last season - the highest ever return for a player’s debut term. Injured during pre-season, the younger of the Hale brothers has wasted no time in getting back on the goal trail; his penalty against Glentoran a fortnight ago marking his 20th of the campaign.

Ben (22) was signed following a spell with Brighton and Hove Albion, whom he joined from Coleraine in the summer of 2018, having the previous year become the Bannsiders’ youngest ever senior goalscorer at the age of just 15. A Northern Ireland Under-21 international, a calf injury has limited Wilson’s appearances since the turn of the year but he notched his 20th goal of the season against Larne last month.



Words Conor McLaughlin

Jim Magilton Manager

Gerard Lyttle Assistant Manager

Ricky McCann Strength & Conditioning

Rob Murdie Goalkeeping Coach

Jim Magilton became the 29th appointed manager of Cliftonville Football Club in June of last year and recently became the fifth successive Reds boss to achieve European qualification in his first season at the helm. In a playing career that saw him make his Irish League debut for Distillery at the age of just 15, midfielder Magilton signed professionally with Liverpool before going on to represent Oxford United and played Premier League football for Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town, where he took up his first managerial role in a three-year spell between 2006 and 2009. A stint in charge of Queens Park Rangers preceded the 52-times capped former Northern Ireland captain being appointed as Michael O’Neill’s assistant manager during an historically successful spell at Shamrock Rovers prior to his installation as boss of Melbourne Victory in the Australian A-League. In 2013 Magilton was appointed Elite Performance Director by the Irish Football Association and later served as manager of the Northern Ireland Under-21 side ahead of taking up a Sporting Director position at Dundalk, where he also briefly served as interim manager in 2021.

A former Cliftonville player, coach and manager, ‘Skin’ returned to Solitude as assistant to Jim Magilton last year. Appointed boss in the aftermath of Tommy Breslin’s resignation, Lyttle oversaw the club’s fourth consecutive League Cup triumph in 2015 and a Europa League victory over Luxembourgian side Differdange the following summer. After stepping down as Reds chief in 2017, Lyttle took over the reins at Sligo Rovers and also had a period in charge of Northern Ireland’s Under-17 and Under-19 sides prior to his latest return to Cliftonville.

A valuable member of Tommy Breslin’s staff during Cliftonville’s title triumphs of 2013 and 2014, Ricky returned to the Reds in the summer of 2023. One of the leading sports scientists in the country, Ricky has been a key component of both Linfield and Northern Ireland’s backroom teams in recent years. He also provides support to Olympic and Paralympic athletes through his work at the Sports Institute.

A goalkeeping coach of some repute, Rob made the move to Cliftonville from Ballyclare Comrades last summer. A UEFA Goalkeeping B Licence holder, Rob is also the head goalkeeping coach at Belfast Met’s academy and is highly respected for his work at the Rangers Academy NI and NIGK Institute, where he has developed and coached elite academy and professional club goalkeepers.

Gary Crosbie Physiotherapist

Dr John Campbell Doctor

Brian Campbell Kitman

Most recently with Ballymena United, Gary has prior experience with Donegal Celtic as well as the Body Basics Sports Injury Clinic. He also joined Cliftonville’s backroom staff last summer.

A long-serving custodian of Cliftonville FC, Dr Campbell arrived at Solitude in 1991. During his dedicated service he has enjoyed three league title successes, five League Cup crowns and a host of other honours, to which his contribution cannot be overlooked. He was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame five years ago.

A nephew of the club doctor, Brian first stepped into the kitman’s role back in 2007 and has been trusted by a succession of Cliftonville managers ever since as well as undertaking the same job on the international stage with Northern Ireland’s Under-21s.


Linfield’s manager insists his players will be fired up and ready to go this afternoon for a titanic showdown that has been 90 years in the making.

players who have managed to get their hands on the trophy, the last time coming in 2021 when they defeated Larne at Mourneview Park. “Like a derby game, you can go into it in good form and find yourself on the end of a beating, so the final will be won on the day,” added Healy. “Form and previous games against Cliftonville will certainly not matter. It will be all on the day. "The cup final is a great day and everyone is looking forward to it.” The Linfield boss said his team will be well prepared for the match and he will be relying on his more experienced players, who have been over the course before, to lead from the front. Healy will be coming up against one of his best friends in Northern Ireland football today. Cliftonville boss Jim Magilton was a senior member of the international squad when the Blues boss made his debut back in 2000 and Healy is full of admiration for his former team mate. "He came into the job a little bit later and the job Paddy (McLaughlin) had done before in pushing us really hard for a league title... they won the League Cup and they'd been successful,” said Healy. "I couldn't understand the question marks at the time around someone like Jim Magilton coming into the job. "Four, five or six years ago supporters of any Irish League club would have been really excited by that and I couldn't get it. Jim has gone in, hit the ground running and got his team in fine form. “I've worked with Jim, played with Jim and know the type of character he is - he was always going to demand the highest standards and he has certainly got that. Cliftonville are in the final again and everybody knows Cliftonville haven't won the Irish Cup in such a long time, so they're going to be desperate to go and put that right.”

The Clearer Water Irish Cup decider sees David Healy’s Linfield pit their wits against Cliftonville on the biggest day of the domestic football calendar at a sold-out National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. Having lost out on Gibson Cup glory for the second year running, the Blues’ appetite for success goes without saying, but the Blues boss believes this year’s showpiece could be one of the best in recent history. “Even when we played Portadown (in the League Cup final) we stressed the importance of the game because it’s a cup final,” said Healy, who has won the Irish Cup twice during his managerial career. “We want to be successful in cup finals and… this one hasn’t been played in 90 years. “We know the intense rivalry that the clubs have had over the years and we can call it as it is with sides from across the divide but the relationship that I have had with any Cliftonville manager, chairman or other people at the club has been a close working one and people may not see that. “There are respectful relationships which have been built up, including the return to Solitude, and in my time here we have been respectful to one another as two successful clubs.” He also said he hopes the game will not be mired in controversy. He pointed out: “There will be a big crowd and hopefully we will minimise any controversy around it. “There will be 15,000 at the game and we want it to be played in the right manner and the showpiece it should be. “My players will be finely tuned, fired up and ready to go. Hopefully we can show anyone watching the game that we can hold a good cup final in front of a big crowd and everyone is toeing the line on and off the pitch.” While Cliftonville have not won the Irish Cup since 1979, Linfield’s squad is littered with

Words Mark McIntosh




Linfield captain Jamie Mulgrew and trophies go together like bacon and eggs.

"And also, look, I enjoy it, I enjoy playing here, I enjoy the challenge of being successful and winning trophies and medals. I think that's the main goal and the excitement for me. “I enjoy the changing room that we have, I feel we have a good changing room, a good bunch of boys there, a good mix, so it's enjoyable to come in every day. “I suppose you could say at my age coming in every day, enjoying the environment and working your socks off every day is something that I like. It might sound strange but I do.” Mulgrew also admits he is still constantly striving to prove people wrong. He said: “Look, no matter what age you are, people will write you off and say things. You might have a couple of mediocre games and they might think 'he's not a good player' or whatever it is. That's society now, that's part of the industry that we are in, so it's important that you have the mentality to prove people wrong. “At the end of the day, in football that's what you're constantly trying to do, prove people wrong because I think we all know football is about opinions and people still think I'm a rubbish footballer. That's the way it is, you're not going to change that. “You just have to keep working hard and have a strong mentality to perform and prove people wrong.” And Mulgrew’s vast experience and will to win will be crucial in the dressing room today. “I think I will just do what I always do, enjoy and embrace the challenge. I don’t think there is anything to be overawed about,” he added. “Going out in front of 15,000 people, what’s not to look forward to. That’s certainly what spurs me on and gives me the drive to go and win another trophy for the club, another medal, and that’s something I don’t get sick of. “Winning the League Cup should spur us on to go and win another trophy.”

The all-conquering Blues skipper has won everything Irish League football has to offer - several times over - and will be hoping to claim an eighth Irish Cup winner’s medal this afternoon. His insatiable hunger for success has ensured that at the age of 37 he remains a vital ingredient in David Healy’s recipe for success. Having lost out to Larne in the title race for a second year running, pressure will be on the Blues to deliver the goods today and add the Clearer Water Irish Cup trophy to the League Cup, which has been resting in the club’s trophy cabinet for the past two seasons. But while the league will always remain the priority for Linfield, Mulgrew insists this competition is never viewed as an afterthought. “I think if you look back, winning the league wasn't good enough, I think that's the stage it got to, which is quite amazing, but that's what's expected (at Linfield),” he said. “Whenever you come through the doors here, that's the magnitude of the task ahead. Then obviously we were winning the league and that was successful, but under David (Jeffrey), when we were winning doubles, that's what was expected every year. “There's a lot more competition in the league with Larne and things, and even when we were going through a barren spell of not winning the league, that was always the expectation, winning the league. “But look, we've certainly improved from last year and we hopefully can finish off on a high and be Irish Cup winners, which is the next best thing at the minute for us.” Mulgrew shows no signs of winding down his trophy-laden career. He believes he can still contribute to a successful Linfield side – and his desire for more success only grows by the season. He added: “I suppose in my position, you're trying to put off the inevitable, you try and prolong your career as long as possible, and that's all down to putting the work, the effort in, and also having the right mentality.

Words Mark McIntosh


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