Cliftonville FC boss Tommy Breslin is confident his players will not be blinded by the spotlight being shone on this week's UEFA Champions League opener against Celtic FC.
The Reds are preparing for the highest-profile game of their 134-year history as Neil Lennon's Scottish champions face the north Belfast part-timers at their wonderfully-named Solitude home. The second qualifying round tie represents a dream date for Cliftonville's players, many of whom are fans of the Old Firm giants, but Breslin is confident the little-known Northern Irish champions will not be overawed by their showdown with the Glasgow outfit.
"We're playing a world-renowned club, but we are determined to give a good account of ourselves," said the 52-year-old. "A lot of the lads are Celtic fans, but they are determined the game won't pass them by. It's important we don't play the occasion. We have to treat this as another 90 minutes of football and I'm confident the players will respond. We are minnows and big outsiders but we have a game plan and hopefully it works for us on the night."
Solitude will be anything but that on Wednesday, when a capacity attendance of 5,200 will fill the ground. "We could have sold four or five times more tickets for this game at a bigger stadium, but I'm pleased the game is at Solitude," said Breslin. "It's a reward for the fans who have stood by us in recent years, through the good and lean times. It'll be a wonderful atmosphere. It's the biggest European draw the club has had and we're really looking forward to it. It's a massive occasion, not only for Cliftonville, but Northern Irish football in general."
Captain George McMullan hopes Cliftonville, who lifted their domestic league title for the first time in 15 years in May, can "keep the tie alive" with a positive result in the home leg. "That's the aim," the 31-year-old midfielder explained. "We want to have something to fight for in next week's return leg in Glasgow. We don't want to be going to Celtic Park as tourists or sightseers. It'll be a huge challenge, but we want to be heading there with a positive result."
Reds midfielder Barry Johnston, whose late great uncle Charlie Tully played 319 times for Celtic in the 1940s and 50s, is relishing the prospect of facing his boyhood idols. "I have supported Celtic since I was a kid and Paul McStay was my hero back then," added the 32-year-old. "But come kick-off there will be no divided loyalties. I won't be pulling out of tackles or saying 'after you' simply because it's Celtic. I'll be doing everything in my power to secure a positive result for Cliftonville and the Irish League."