Belfast Telegraph

Feeney striving to match Northern Ireland boss O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Linfield manager Warren Feeney has set his sights on matching what Michael O'Neill achieved at Shamrock Rovers by steering the Blues into the group stages of the Europa League.

Some will see such a target as mission impossible but Feeney's team should complete step one in the Faroe Islands tonight when they face NSI Runavik in the second leg of the first qualifying round (7pm), leading 2-0 from last week's encounter at Windsor Park.

Three more rounds would have to be negotiated before Linfield could think about drawing Liverpool, Napoli or Marseille in the group phase but Feeney is taking inspiration from Northern Ireland manager O'Neill's efforts with Shamrock Rovers.

Back in 2011, O'Neill created history by guiding the Dublin outfit into a Europa League group with Spurs, Russian side Rubin Kazan and PAOK from Greece. By the end of 2012, O'Neill had been appointed Northern Ireland boss and is well on his way to leading the country to the Euro 2016 finals.

Ex-international Feeney would love to see Northern Ireland make it to France. For now though all his thoughts relate to delivering for Linfield in his second season in charge. Domestically, the coming campaign will be a big one for him. He wants European success first.

"I want to go as far as we can in Europe," he said ahead of tonight's return game on Runavik's artificial turf.

"I look back at Michael O'Neill and what he did at Shamrock Rovers by taking them into the group stages. That was a fantastic achievement and he and his players got the chance to perform against big clubs on a big stage.

"That's what I want for Linfield and as a player that's what you should want as well. Sometimes you can be drawn against teams who are just too strong, but if you get a little bit of luck you have to try and take advantage. We have to win a few rounds to make the group stages, but it's not impossible. We should aim that high."

Should Linfield beat their Faroe Islands opponents, they will face either FK Olimpic Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) or Spartak Trnava (Slovakia) in the next round, though Feeney will not take anything for granted.

He said: "We can't be complacent. Yes, we have a 2-0 lead, but we are going into their backyard and we have to approach it the right way and if we are disciplined we should get the right result. It is only halfway and we must be professional about it."

Linfield's victory last week was secured thanks to goals from Andy Waterworth and new signing Guy Bates.

"I was pleased with how they linked up in attack. They complement each other," said Feeney.

"We all know what Andy is about. He has proven that in recent years and Kevin has great qualities too. Some people see him as a target man but there is more to his game than that. He has great feet, which he showed when he scored his goal."

Feeney, who along with Bates has recruited Mark Stafford, David Kee and Danny Wallace over the summer, has had a bid of just under £10,000 rejected by Ballymena United for David Cushley. He's keen to land the striker, but will look elsewhere if the move doesn't happen.

Europa League: Toftir, NSI Runavik v Linfield, 7pm, Linfield lead 2-0 on aggregate.

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