Davy McDaid believes Tuesday’s European play-off success will galvanise Cliftonville for a massive title surge next season.
The Reds claimed a thrilling 3-2 victory over Glentoran to book their place in the Europa League qualifiers – guaranteeing £160,000 of UEFA money in the process.
It is a significant pot of cash for the Solitude club as they look to keep up with rivals Crusaders and Linfield next season.
McDaid bagged the winner in Tuesday’s win over Glentoran, and now Gerard Lyttle’s side can look forward to the Europa League qualifiers which kick-off in 49 days’ time.
“It was a massive win for the club,” McDaid said.
“The players knew there would be changes at the club if we weren’t financially right for next season, so it was a huge incentive.
“We discussed it a few weeks ago and we knew the same squad wouldn’t be here next season if we didn’t qualify. To miss out on Europe for a second successive year would have been a big blow, so it was crucial.
“We knew what was at stake and we stepped up to the plate and claimed a massive win.”
Cliftonville won historic back-to-back Danske Bank Premiership titles in 2013 and ‘14 before finishing a disappointing fifth the following year.
This season the Reds faltered again in the Premiership to finish in fourth spot – five points below Glenavon in third, 19 behind Linfield and 27 off champions and derby rivals Crusaders.
They did lift the League Cup, but that trophy success added little gloss to an abject campaign at Solitude.
McDaid hopes securing vital European funding can provide the platform for a genuine title challenge next season.
“We need to push Linfield and Crusaders next season,” said McDaid.
“You can see how Crusaders have already strengthened for next season by bringing in the likes of Philip Lowry and Howard Beverland, so hopefully we can do the same.
“Looking back at the campaign, we played well until January, but for some reason we drifted and confidence dropped.
“We maybe didn’t get the breaks we deserved and let’s not forget we won the League Cup, but we know we should be doing a lot better in the league.
“We have lost a lot of important players in recent times – the likes of Liam Boyce and Joe Gormley – but with our squad, we know we can improve. There’s a lot of talent here and a lot of young players, so we know we can kick on.”
McDaid earned Cliftonville’s win against Glentoran on Tuesday in an ill-tempered game at Solitude.
The Glens finished the game with nine men, while Cliftonville had goalkeeper Conor Devlin sent off.
For McDaid, however, it was a positive end to the season – for the club and on a personal level.
The striker’s goal meant he became only the 18th Cliftonville player to score 20 or more in a season for the club.
“I was pleased to reach the 20 mark,” he said.
“I had been on 19 for a few weeks, so it was good to get back on the score sheet in such an important game.
“We’re pleased to be in the Europa League and we know it’ll be a quick turnaround.
“We’ll maybe get three weeks off and then be back in for pre-season. It’ll be a short summer, but it has to be done. It was crucial we qualified for Europe.”