William Murphy is adamant that Linfield remain among the top teams in Ireland, despite failing to make the semi-final stages of the Setanta Sports Cup.
For the first time in the four-year history of the competition David Jeffrey’s men will have to watch the knockout phase on the sponsor’s television channel after Monday night’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of Derry City — the first time the Candystripes have beaten the Windsor Park men in the tournament in six attempts.
Instead it will be Belfast rivals Glentoran in the last four and although hurting over the lesson in finishing handed out at the Brandywell by hat-trick hero Mark Farren, Murphy can see past the Big Two rivalry enough to be content that the last four of this year’s all-Ireland competition won’t be completely a League of Ireland affair.
“We have won the competition, been in another final and a semi-final, so although this is the first year that we haven’t qualified from our group we have been the Irish League’s sole representatives in the latter stages,” said Murphy.
“We have been the catalyst for the Irish League and we have always been strong against the full-time teams.
“The games are more intense than an ordinary league game because we are coming up against full-time clubs.
“Although we have a growing number of full-time players our set-up is nothing like the League of Ireland clubs who have everything geared towards training and coaching while we still have part-time players who work every day.
“Maybe the Derry City game showed up a gulf that we always thought wasn’t there before and it might take some time to close that gap.
“Not everything in the League of Ireland is rosey though.
“There are a few teams with financial difficulties and you only have to look at Shelbourne, who were very successful but now find themselves in the First Division, to see what can happen if you’re not careful.”
Although the Blues were put to the sword by Derry generally and Farren in particular, Murphy puts Linfield’s failure to make the semi-finals down to a game earlier than Monday night’s.
“The 4-1 defeat against Glentoran at Windsor Park put the cat among the pigeons,” said Murphy.
“We had started the competition well, beating Derry City at Windsor and then the Glens at the Oval.
“Although we lost to St Patrick’s Athletic in Dublin we were still sitting nice and pretty at the top of the group, but we only took one more point in the second-half of the group stage.
“It wasn’t a 4-1 game really, but the Glens deserved it and that made our task very difficult.
“Derry were just awesome, we couldn’t cope with them and it is very disappointing to find ourselves out of the competition.
“But when you look at our record, with three defeats in the group we just weren’t quite good enough this time.”