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Europa Leagu: Leeman Craven a big night at the Cottage

By Stuart McKinley

Paul Leeman first played in Europe in the 1990s and in that time he’s savoured famous victories and memorable nights.

The Crusaders new-boy, however, has never been as excited as he is this week.

After going down 3-1 to Fulham last week, unless the Crues can pull off a miracle they’ll bow out of the Europa League tomorrow night, but not before they get to play on the home ground of an English Premier League club. That’s something no Irish League team has done since the Crues met Liverpool 35 years ago.

After that, the might of former European champions Porto, Red Star Belgrade and Marseille all faced Northern Ireland opposition, but nowadays more often than not, it’s unknowns who are in the away dressing room.

“We’re going up against a team from the English Premier League — which a lot of people reckon is the best in the world. Everyone, including myself, thought the days when Irish League clubs faced opposition like that in Europe were over, so it’s exciting,” said Leeman.

“I’d say I’m as excited as I’ve ever been in the build-up to a European game.

“Fulham were in the final of the Europa League just over a year ago, so for us to be on the same pitch as them will be a great experience for everyone in the team.

“Whatever happens two pre-season games against top class opposition will benefit us when it comes to our domestic campaign.”

Meanwhile, Glentoran left Belfast yesterday to start an arduous Europa League trip to Ukraine with a squad so fresh-faced, they could have been mistaken for the youth team.

Starting from their base at the Park Avenue Hotel, Scott Young and his vastly inexperienced side headed to Dublin, where they picked up a flight to Frankfurt for an over-night stay, before flying to Kiev today and then hopping on another plane to Poltava where they will face Vorskla tomorrow night.

Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, the Glens were already without Sean Ward, who is on holiday, and the recently-married Richard Clarke.

However, due to work commitments, Colin Nixon, who was suspended for the first match at the Oval, Richard Gibson, Aidan O'Kane, Ciaran Martyn and Andy Waterworth have been added to the list of missing first team players.

That means that some of the kids — most of them around the age of 18 — who have been making headlines of late will get another chance to shine in European competition.

“It's a depleted side, yes, but if someone had said a few weeks ago that we would get through a round but have to do without a lot of regular players for the second round, I would have gladly taken it,” said boss Young.

Glentoran squad for the Europa League match v Vorksla: Morris, Hogg, Taylor, McGovern, Hill, O'Hanlon, Howland, Cherry, Murray, Carson, McGuigan, Beggs, Boyce, Davison, Johnston, Callacher.

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