Chris Curran is proving Cliftonville’s main man in the middle this season - with his captain’s broad skillset helping Paddy McLaughlin fine-tune forward progress.
Curran’s combination of steel and skill in the midfield has played a central role in Cliftonville’s rise to second spot in the current Danske Bank Premiership standings.
The Reds host Warrenpoint Town this weekend aiming to turn the tables on the one-point deficit with leaders Coleraine and Cliftonville boss McLaughlin is quick to highlight the value of Curran on and off the field.
“Last year when playing in a wing-back system he did a great job for the team, in a position not high up on his priorities I’m sure,” said McLaughlin. “He’s that good a person, that good a captain and that good a leader that he played out of position for the group.
“Putting the team before himself showed me a lot about Chris.
“This season he’s been moved into more of a central position and has so much quality, with that drive from the middle of the park.
“Not too many teams have that drive going forward in that way and Chris’ retention of the ball and ability to win it back is brilliant for a forward-thinking player.
“People may not feel that would naturally be a strong point for Chris in terms of winning the ball back but he really has been brilliant.
“When you add in the young players around him on the books, we’ve got good young players in alongside Chris.
“He’s a key element of what we are doing here and try to build our midfield around him.
“He’s zero maintenance, leads by example in the changing room and on the pitch and is an ideal captain for any team.”
Curran’s arrival at Solitude in 2013 pre-dates both McLaughlin and Barry Gray, the latter back at the Belfast club today following his exit in January.
“I got it myself a few weeks ago when going back to Institute,” said McLaughlin of Gray’s return to Solitude as a talking point. “Barry did a good job at Cliftonville and brought good players to Cliftonville - people like Conor McMenamin and Liam Bagnall are key men now for this club and he signed them.
“I’m sure the club will offer Barry a warm welcome back as a former manager.
“This weekend aside of course, I wish him all the best in the future.”
Gray’s focus will centre on the future and attempts to move basement-based Warrenpoint Town beyond the drop zone.
His second spell as Warrenpoint boss has opened with back-to-back defeats by 1-0 and 4-0 respectively to Carrick Rangers and Glentoran.
“Saturday is a great opportunity again for us to pitch ourselves against one of the league’s best teams and most certainly the league’s most in-form side at the minute,” said Gray on the official Warrenpoint Town website. “Solitude is a place very close to me and I look forward to a return.
“We are under no illusions about how difficult the game will be, however, playing against sides like Cliftonville is what all players should want and look forward to, it’s a chance to pitch yourself against the best.
“We have worked hard midweek to try and add small bits to our game and Saturday will be an opportunity to try new things, players need to concentrate and do the basics right to begin with then we can move on from there.”