Belfast Telegraph

Blues will step up to the plate: Healy

 

By Steven Beacom

Linfield manager David Healy is confident that his players can 'rise to the occasion in the biggest match of their lives' against Celtic in the Champions League on Friday.

Healy accepts the Blues will enter the first leg of the second round qualifier at Windsor Park as massive underdogs but wants his players to enjoy the occasion and believes they now have the mental toughness to cope when all eyes are on them.

Speaking at a press conference at Windsor yesterday, Healy added that he expects to learn much about himself when he takes on Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers and his star-studded team.

"I wish it was tomorrow to be honest and the players feel the same," said Northern Ireland's record goalscorer, who led the Blues to league title, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield glory last season.

"Even though we only got through last week against La Fiorita, it seems like this game has been talked about for a lot longer. I'm excited and I want my players to enjoy it because that's what I'm going to try to do.

"It is a wee bit stressful thinking about the formation, who you are going to leave out of the squad, what changes you are going to make, but that's why I'm manager of this club and it is such a huge draw which is great for the players, club and supporters as we might never get the opportunity to play Celtic again in the Champions League.

"We need the players to be at their maximum and they will be. I have no hesitation in saying that.

"I asked them to dig deep at the end of last season when we had big games in the league and Irish Cup. The players have proved they have a mentality and toughness about them, so they are in a good place.

"We can't play our normal Irish League way against Celtic because they can pick you off. They have threats all over and we are under no illusions about how difficult it will be but I can't wait.

"Coming out of the game on Friday night I will have found out a lot more about myself as a manager and how far the players have come. It will be a great learning experience. This may be the biggest game I'll ever manage in and the biggest game they will ever play in.

"Celtic will deserve the utmost respect but if we show them too much respect then we will end up more or less watching the game instead of competing.

"I thought we did brilliantly to beat La Fiorita.

"They were being called minnows and part-timers but we only train twice a week ourselves and for us to win that tie not conceding a goal was excellent. I was delighted for the players.

"I think we can rise to the occasion on Friday. There is no pressure on us because nobody is expecting us to win. Who knows, someone could step up on Friday or next Wednesday (for the return leg at Parkhead) and write themselves into this club's folklore."

On taking on former Liverpool and Swansea boss Rodgers, who inspired Celtic to an unbeaten campaign domestically and three trophies in his first season in charge, Healy said: "I'm looking forward to seeing him. In my eyes, Brendan has done an incredible job not only at Celtic but throughout his coaching career.

"He worked his socks off at an early age so he deserves all the accolades.

"A few years back he came within a couple of games of winning the Premier League with Liverpool which they haven't looked like doing for decades. That's how good he is.

"He also plays football the right way. I played against his team at Swansea and they always played the right way. Look at Swansea now. They have been in the Premier League for a number of years and Brendan was the man who took them there."

On the part the Linfield supporters will play at Windsor, Healy said: "The fans here at Windsor are always huge. There will be a big crowd, some with different expectations and realism but one thing I will promise them is that we will go out and do our utmost and try 100% to the final whistle."

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