Belfast Telegraph

Dream clash with Celtic allows Blues chance to shine

By Graham Luney

Former Rangers and Linfield ace Chris Hegarty says the Blues' Champions League scrap with Celtic is a golden chance for the Irish league's finest to dazzle on the European big stage, but he also has concerns about the Windsor Park club's financial power.

The Danske Bank Premiership champions will pocket around £1m from the double-header through appearance money, gate receipts, television revenue, merchandising and advertising.

The second qualifying round first leg at Windsor on Friday (5pm) will be televised live on Premier Sports (Sky channel 428 and Virgin 551), allowing the Blues players to showcase their talent in front of a huge global audience.

Hegarty, who scored for Rangers against Linfield in a friendly at Ibrox in April 2013, made 31 appearances for the south Belfast side before making his loan move to Dungannon Swifts permanent last year.

The former Northern Ireland Under-21 international started his career at Millwall and went on to spend four years at Rangers.

"It's a massive game for Linfield and all the lads should cherish it," said the 24-year-old central defender.

"Any other Irish League player would be jealous and particularly of the money the club is getting.

"They will get around £1m, and that's bad news for the rest of the Irish League because Linfield's financial muscle will be even greater, and you just have to look at how they finished last season and then their signings this summer. Linfield will be hard to break down and difficult to compete with. But I'm not being disrespectful to Linfield when I say that Celtic will have too much quality over the two games.

"The Blues are a very good Irish League side and they will give it everything, but I think under Brendan Rodgers' Celtic are well marshalled and their feet will be kept on the ground with a determination to do a professional job.

"But the Linfield players should also relish the Parkhead game, it's a massive opportunity for the players and even manager David Healy to deliver on the big occasion.

"A lot has been said about Celtic fans not going.

"You want the stadium to be full and it's great for the Irish League. It is disappointing there are no away fans as I feel the security at the stadium would ensure there is no trouble at the game."

During his time at Ibrox, Hegarty only tackled Celtic teams at reserve and youth team level, but the Linfield players will wrestle with Rodgers' Invincibles and it's a rare chance to sparkle on the big stage.

"It's a great chance for the lads to further their careers and progress to the full-time game," added Hegarty.

"The Linfield squad is packed with experience but also talented young players and they will have a hunger to better themselves.

"Clubs in England or Scotland might take a chance on one or two like Paul Smyth, an absolutely super Irish League player who has the potential to shine across the water.

"Why clubs don't make a move for him baffles me. I've been at Rangers and Millwall and I know players like Paul would prosper in Leagues One or Two."

Belfast Telegraph


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