Belfast Telegraph

David Healy hungry to banish Euro pain with title power surge

Cliftonville v Linfield, Danske Bank Premiership: Solitude, Today, 3.00pm

Title charge: Linfield boss David Healy wants his boys to start picking up league wins
Title charge: Linfield boss David Healy wants his boys to start picking up league wins

By Graham Luney

After the champagne and caviar of the Europa League play-offs, it's back to porridge for Linfield this afternoon.

David Healy brings his men to Solitude for a tough assignment against Cliftonville and the players have had just enough time to shake off the frustration of their loss to Qarabag on away goals.

Although it was a brave and courageous effort by an Irish League side which has barely started its domestic season, the end, when it came, was that familiar heartbreaking feeling of what might have been.

A place in the group stages of the Europa League, guaranteeing the club around £4m, slipped from their grasp.

But the European adventure, which included wins over HB Torshavn from the Faroe Islands and Montenegro champions Sutjeska after the defeat to Rosenborg, has whetted the player's appetite for another shot at the big time.

Winning league championships is the Blues' ticket to a shot at the European top table and the champions must refocus and go again on the domestic stage.

"The European journey was an incredible experience and one we got a plaudits for and pats on the back but at the end of the day we went out of the competition," said Healy.

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"I've brought the players down to earth by saying that as good as we have been and as far as we progressed, we still ended up failing as we never reached the goals I had set.

"It's important to come back down to earth and understand that you need to be ambitious, you need to want more. But it was still an incredible journey we went on and one which hopefully will stand us in good stead for the season. The Irish League throws up different atmospheres and scenarios. At times we need to be big and strong. The players know I want more quality in the final third but there is good togetherness in the squad.

"I had my team picked by Friday morning for the Cliftonville league game."

Blues stopper Gareth Deane, who is regaining his fitness after picking up an injury against Rosenborg, feels the European run will help the team hit the ground running when they resume their Premiership commitments.

"The European run was a great test for the boys and it's fairly sharpened up our fitness levels," argued Deane.

"I think the new players David has brought to the team have made a significant difference.

"Now we have three or four players in each position so if you aren't doing the job you are out and will be replaced.

"Playing good teams week in, week out is only going to benefit the league and its profile. Hopefully a few more players will make the move across to England and follow in the footsteps of players like Gavin Whyte, Paul Smyth and Mark Sykes.

"I also think the full-time move would be very beneficial for the club, particularly for the European games.

"If you are training four times a week it will help players' fitness levels. Crusaders and Larne have embraced it and I think it's only right Linfield are looking at it too.

"I think we aren't far away from making the group stages of a European competition and the boys have shown that.

"Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers have managed to do it and the manager and players want it."

• Tottenham have signed Northern Ireland midfielder Rachel Furness on a season-long loan from Women's Super League rivals Reading.

The 31-year-old joins Spurs just two days before they make their WSL debut against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

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