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Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland heroes can inspire Irish League teams in Europe: Howard Beverland

By Graham Luney

Published 21/06/2016

Daring to dream: The Northern Ireland Milk Cup winners from 2009 featuring Howard Beverland (far left), Josh Magennis, Corry Evans , Oliver Norwood and Conor McLaughlin
Daring to dream: The Northern Ireland Milk Cup winners from 2009 featuring Howard Beverland (far left), Josh Magennis, Corry Evans , Oliver Norwood and Conor McLaughlin

Howard Beverland believes Danske Bank Premiership sides can draw inspiration from Northern Ireland's Euro 2016 heroics going into summer battles on the continent.

Irish League teams discovered their European opponents yesterday and Crusaders new boy Beverland is looking forward to a clash against Danish giants FC Copenhagen in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

The Crues are expected to have home advantage for the first battle on either July 12 or 13 as they set about writing another special European fairytale following last year's victory over Levadia Tallinn.

There are some intriguing Europa League battles ahead with Linfield taking on Cork City, Glenavon facing KR Reykjavik from Iceland and Cliftonville up against FC Differdange of Luxembourg.

Former Coleraine skipper Beverland, who will train with his new team-mates for the first time tonight, is raring to go for the Hatchetmen.

"Irish League teams face difficult tests in Europe but we can draw inspiration from the Northern Ireland team and what they are achieving in France," said the centre-back. "It shows you what a well organised side with a lot of heart and passion can do. If you are willing to fight hard against opponents you can surprise them.

"I was part of the Northern Ireland Milk Cup squads when Josh Magennis, Conor McLaughlin, Oliver Norwood and Corry Evans helped us win it two years in a row and it's great to see those boys being part of this history-making team in France.

"I also played in the Harry Gregg Testimonial match against Manchester United including players such as Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Patrice Evra. Facing that quality of opposition really tests you and it's great experience.

"Copenhagen are the dominant team in Denmark and very strong in attack and defence but it will be a fantastic occasion and challenge for us."

There will be huge interest in Linfield's all-Ireland battle with Cork City in the first round of qualifying for the Europa League, a side they overcame in a Setanta Cup semi-final in April 2007 courtesy of Aidan O'Kane's late winner. The Blues last played a League of Ireland side in 1984 when they knocked Shamrock Rovers out of the European Cup.

Glenavon's opponents KR are the oldest and most successful club in Icelandic football, having won the Urvalsdeild championship 26 times,, but Gary Hamilton's Irish Cup winners will feel they can progress.

Cliftonville's opponents, Differdange finished third in their National Division last season.

The winners of the Linfield-Cork tie will take on Swedish side Hacken while Glenavon will play Grasshoppers of Zurich if they proceed.

If the Reds can conquer Differdange they will meet AEK Larnaca or SS Folgore in the second qualifying round.

Brendan Rodgers' Celtic could have faced Crusaders but instead were pitted against either Flora Tallinn or Lincoln of Gibraltar. League of Ireland champions Dundalk have been drawn against FH Harnarfjordur of Iceland.

Aberdeen will face Fola Esch of Luxembourg while unseeded Hibs, now managed by former Northern Ireland international Neil Lennon, were drawn against the winners of the game between Valur Reykjavik and Brondby.

Hearts were drawn against Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia and Herzegovina or Maltese side Birkirkara.

Wales' representatives, The New Saints, begin their campaign in the first round against Tre Penne of San Marino.

Belfast Telegraph

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