Linfield players will return to training on Thursday night for the first time since the Covid-19 crisis ended the league campaign in March, but striker Andy Waterworth says it will take time for the squad to regain their mental focus.
The Danske Bank Premiership season was frozen at the 31-game mark with the Blues four points ahead of Coleraine and after a long period of discussions, in which relations between clubs became strained, a mathematical formula crowned Linfield champions.
There has been no competitive action since March 7 and three days later Linfield confirmed that one of their players had contracted the virus.
The domestic game was brought to a halt and while the Premiership campaign has been concluded with Institute also relegated and Portadown promoted, it's hoped the three remaining Irish Cup fixtures can be played later this month.
Although delighted to secure the club's 54th Championship, the Linfield players are disappointed they were denied the chance to finish the job on the pitch and Waterworth feels the long delay in resolving the league standings was mentally draining for the squad.
"I've mixed feelings," said the 34-year-old, who has made more than 300 appearances for the club.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the boys again, we have kept in touch via WhatsApp but it's not the same and it's nice to get the training gear on again while in small groups with social distancing measures in place. It's certainly better than training on your own.
"But there was no psychological break for us and I think it's important for a footballer to have that."
Waterworth added: "It's unfortunate we didn't come to a decision on the league quicker because we are now preparing for Europe which is very important for the league's co-efficient and with no proper break and rest we have to get ready to go again.
"One week we are champions, the next we are back in training to prepare for Europe and it's disappointing from a players' perspective because we didn't know when the season was going to be over.
"I'm disappointed we didn't come to a decision quicker, allowing the players to recharge the batteries and come back focused on representing the club in Europe. I don't really know the politics of it all and it would be unfair to comment on that but from a selfish point of view as a player there was a lot of ambiguity and we were left without any proper down time. I understand there's a pandemic and there's no easy answer but the absence of that psychological break was frustrating. But our group is mentally strong and had we played fewer games than others I would have said we didn't deserve the league title but we were top after the same amount of games and we deserve to be champions.
"I would have wanted to win the league on the pitch and we put ourselves in the position to do that but it wasn't meant to be."
Linfield will now start warming up for their next European challenge. There are only three European places for Premiership sides this year but despite a pandemic playing havoc with schedules, the qualifiers are set to proceed. David Healy's men will play in a Champions League preliminary mini-tournament in Nyon, with semi-finals and a final on August 8 and 11.
The winners advance to a one-legged first qualifying round tie on August 18/19, while the three Europa League qualifiers will play one-legged ties on August 20. Linfield could be joined by San Marino side Tre Fiori, Inter Club d'Escaldes of Andorra and Kosovan representatives Drita in the mini-tournament.
• Linfield have extended deep sympathy to their player Jordan Stewart whose 30-year-old sister Natalie sadly passed away in Sheffield last week.