Blues will now have the group stages in their sights, insists former Blues captain
Former Linfield captain and eight times title winner Lee Doherty says the club can now focus on making history by becoming the first Irish League side to qualify for the group stages of European competition.
The Blues are beginning life as a full-time club and it’s an ambitious move aimed at raising standards in Europe as well as domestically.
There are huge financial gains to be secured in Uefa competitions, with group stage action bringing in millions of pounds, but an Irish League side has never reached that promised land before.
But the restructuring of European club tournaments has generated fresh hope that a Danske Bank Premiership side can hit the jackpot and full-time football is viewed as a necessary step towards living that dream.
David Healy’s side will face Lithuanian champions Zalgiris Vilnius in the first qualifying round of the Champions League, with the first leg away from home next Tuesday (6pm).
If Linfield progress they will play either Ferencváros of Hungary or the preliminary round winner Kosovo’s FC Prishtina.
Even if Linfield lose that tie, they will transfer to the Europa League champions path third qualifying round.
Defeat there will see them move into the Europa Conference League play-offs.
If the Blues lose their Champions League opener, they will transfer to the second qualifying round of the new Conference League and play the loser of the Champions League tie between CFR Cluj of Romania and Bosnia side Borac Banja Luka.
So a European victory is a big step towards a possible play-off fixture and Doherty, who won 20 trophies in 14 years at the club, says the full-time approach can pay rich dividends.
“The only way clubs can reach the group stage is through the full-time approach and we are heading towards that model,” he said.
“With the new European competition it will be a bit easier as you aren’t coming up against the top sides.
“I can remember playing teams like Benfica and it was always tough but now Irish League sides are going full-time and will be knocking on the door of qualification for the group stages.”