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Feeney's clarion cry: Linfield must dare to dream big

By Stuart McKinley

Published 23/06/2015

Familiar setting: Andy Waterworth in action against B36 Torshavn of the Faroe Islands last season
Familiar setting: Andy Waterworth in action against B36 Torshavn of the Faroe Islands last season

Remember the 2014-15 football season? You should do. Technically, with the Women's World Cup and European Under-21 Championships taking place, it's still going on - and will be when the 2015-16 campaign gets under way for our clubs in Europe next week.

It's now 20 years since Uefa, with an ever-growing membership after the break up of the old eastern bloc, shunted the early rounds of their club competitions into what we used to know as the close-season and Irish League clubs had to like it or lump it. Europe's governing body had stopped caring about the minnows long before that.

The lucrative group stages of the Champions League and Europa League, which bring in millions in TV cash and sponsorship, are where it's at nowadays. It's a case of weeding out the small fry before the rest get into serious action when the season starts in earnest.

Linfield manager Warren Feeney got his first taste of European football when he led his team to a home win over Swedish side AIK Solna in last season's Europa League after seeing off B36 Torshavn of the Faroe Islands in the first round.

The Blues couldn't finish the job against Solna, but they will fancy themselves to make the second round again this time after drawing another Faroese side, NSI Runavik, in this year's competition.

It's the fourth year in succession that Linfield will travel to the Faroe Islands, a country that didn't even exist in European football when the likes of Benfica , Rangers, Juventus, Liverpool, Marseille and then defending European champions Red Star Belgrade were facing our clubs in years gone by.

This year, as well as the Blues facing Runavik, it's relatively unknown opposition in the shape of Levadia Tallinn of Estonia, Shakhtyor Soligorsk from Belarus and Slovakian side MSK Zilina who will meet Crusaders, Glenavon and Glentoran respectively and Feeney says it's time to accept that the European horizon has changed forever.

"We've a lot of work to do if we're going to play the big teams, but we've got to aim for that," said the Linfield boss.

"We know the way things are with Europe, it's been like this long enough, so we can't moan about it anymore and we should embrace it rather than resent it.

"It's not straightforward, we are going to be playing a team who are in the middle of their season while we are in pre-season and I am preparing for a European fixture next week while some of my players are still on holiday, others have trained and then gone away.

"Jimmy Callacher will miss the first round matches and if we get through I could lose Sean Ward for the second round, but these are part-time players so what can I do?

"What we did last season, beating Torshavn and winning at home to Solna, has given me the hunger to go and do it again.

"Look what Michael O'Neill did with Shamrock Rovers, getting them to the group stages a few years ago. If we go into the games with belief then we can do it."

Feeney has already started doing his homework on next week's opponents with the hope of tackling Olimpic Sarajevo from Bosnia or Spartak Trnava of Slovakia in round two.

The other Irish League representatives will have that in mind too when they play next week.

Crusaders will travel to Albania to meet Skenderbeu if they progress. The Glens could face Renova of Macedonia, who they beat on penalties in 2011, if they get through. Renova go up against Moldovan side Dacia Chisinau in round one.

Austria's Wolfsberger are Glenavon's potential second round opponents.

EUROPEAN FIXTURES: CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Crusaders v Levadia Tallinn (Home, Tuesday June 30, away, Tuesday July 7). EUROPA LEAGUE: Glenavon v Shakhtyor Soligorsk, Glentoran v MSK Zilina, Linfield v NSI Runavik (All home Thursday July 2, away Thursday July 9).

Belfast Telegraph

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