Belfast Telegraph

Champions League group stages are virtually impossible for Irish League teams, insists David Healy

 

By Steven Beacom

Linfield boss David Healy believes it would be virtually impossible for an Irish League side to make it through to the group stages of the Champions League with the way UEFA structure the modern-day competition.

Long gone are the days when the Blues reached the quarter-finals of the European Cup in 1966/67 and Glentoran were in the last eight of the now defunct Cup Winners Cup in 1974.

In the 21st century, if Irish League teams win one tie, it is deemed a successful campaign.

At around 11am on Monday morning, the Blues will learn their first qualifying round opponents and potential second qualifying round opponents in Europe's premier competition. They would have to win both those ties and two more to make it into the glamour stages along with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and other massive clubs.

Healy suggests that if ever an Irish League side reaches the group phase in Europe, it will be in the Europa League as League of Ireland clubs Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers have done in recent years with Stephen Kenny and Michael O'Neill respectively in charge.

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Healy, who is looking forward to finding out Linfield’s European opponents today, says: “The last thing Uefa want is to have a team from Northern Ireland in the main draw for the Champions League group stages because they want the big nations represented. That’s where all the money is,” said Healy.

“If any of the teams from our league are to get through to the group stages, there is more chance to do it in the Europa League, which Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers have done in recent years.

“Us getting through one round in the Champions League would be good. Getting through two rounds would be an incredible achievement but to make into the group stages of the Champions League you would have to win another two ties after that!

“No matter what we do here we are a part-time league. We can have all the best young players who haven’t quite made it in England coming back here but at the end of the day we only train two/three nights per week for an hour and a half so that puts it in perspective about our chances against teams from other nations, the vast majority of whom are full-time professionals training day in day out.

“That should not stop us wanting to achieve, however. And as far as I am concerned we at Linfield will be doing all we can to progress in European competition this season.”

While the Blues are in the Champions League, Crusaders, Coleraine and Ballymena United are in the Europa League along with Derry City. They will learn their first qualifying round opponents at around 12 noon.

If Linfield win their opening Champions League clash they could face Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic in the second qualifying round.

The Hoops have now added former Aberdeen favourite Jonny Hayes to their squad, the Dubliner agreeing a three-year contract.

Hayes said: “I’m delighted. Hopefully, I’ll take the chance I’ve been given.”

Hayes, who is hoping that the move will boost his chances of winning a place in the Republic of Ireland squad next season, admitted the prospect of playing Champions League football was one of the big attractions of moving.

“Everybody knows about the atmosphere of Champions League nights at Celtic Park. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want a part of that,” he added.

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