Victory away to Glentoran by 2-1 thanks to goals from Chris Gallagher and Ryan Curran kept the dream alive and allowed McLaughlin’s Reds to wrap up the gruelling league season on a fitting note despite events across the city in a Windsor Park win ultimately preserving Linfield’s position a single significant point clear.
McLaughlin’s praise for his players’ dedication to push Linfield to the last day was framed around the sense of disappointment within his dressing room despite a campaign packed with positives.
And the Reds boss feels that refusal to settle for plaudits over the big prize signals a deep drive to regroup and return to the top table’s trophy hunt.
“The hunger and desire is there,” said McLaughlin. “You’re looking at the players and they’ve just finished a point behind Linfield, got into Europe and won a cup and they’ve their heads in their hands.
“That’s desire and such a turnaround over the last number of years when you were fighting to get into the play-off and now we’re disappointed in finishing second.
“There’s an incredible turnaround in mentality.
“We can’t just let that go...we’ve got to maintain that and we’ve got to build on it.
“There are no regrets.
“You probably regret every point you drop but if you live on regrets, you’ll never move forward.
“People say we’ve overachieved, I don’t think we’ve overachieved.
“The talent’s there and (this season) it was just about consistency.
“You build on what we’ve got and try to improve it.
“Anyone we bring in or anyone who stays at the club has got to be hitting those heights.
“It’s important that we keep bringing talent to the club that’s going to help us develop.”
Cliftonville closed out the campaign with a final tally 22 points superior to the previous season and with just four defeats from 38 demanding league tests.
“We will stick to the positives, enjoy our break and it’s not long before we come back in again with Europe coming up,” he said. “But that’s why we’re in the game...to try and compete at the top end.
“Any team that wins the league, they’ve earned it...we congratulate David (Healy, Linfield boss), his team and his staff.
“We’ve pushed them to the last kick of the ball and we were one point short...they’re worthy winners.”
premiership RESULTS: Crusaders 1 Larne 2, Dungannon Swifts 1 Ballymena United 2, Glenavon 1 Warrenpoint Town 2, Glentoran 1 Cliftonville 2, Linfield 2 Coleraine 0, Portadown 0 Carrick Rangers 5