I'm relishing the fireworks of a Big Two showdown, admits David Healy
Linfield boss David Healy insists there is no bigger fixture on the local football calendar - and his boys are relishing today's first Big Two derby showdown of the season against fierce rivals Glentoran at Windsor Park.
Both teams approach the high-profile fixture in the best possible shape, so something must give.
Following their record-breaking performance in the Europa League - they were deprived of a place in the group stages by the away goal rule against Azerbaijan champions Qarabag - the Blues returned to Danske Bank Premiership action by grinding out a 1-0 win at Cliftonville last week.
At the same time, Mick McDermott's Glens extended their winning run to four games - it is now five in all competitions - with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over newly-promoted Larne at The Oval.
While the Blues pocketed a cool €1.3m from their European adventure, Glentoran benefited from a summer takeover, with Iranian entrepreneur Ali Pour agreeing a three-year investment plan, which has allowed manager McDermott to invest heavily in the transfer market.
Suddenly, the clouds of financial uncertainty have been blown away. There is a new vibrancy and optimism hovering over The Oval these days, both on and off the pitch.
In a week when Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 qualification hopes hit the buffers when beaten by Germany, Healy, the country's record goalscorer, believes his boys can get the international stadium bouncing again - the blue half at least.
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"I've always said that Linfield v Glentoran is the biggest game - it's massive," said Healy. "Traditionally, Linfield and Glentoran bring the biggest crowds. That's why it's always been the Big Two.
"They are also the most successful clubs in the country.
"I would imagine we will have a big home crowd and I'm sure Glentoran will bring a big support with them, especially the way they have started the season. It has all the makings of a massive Big Two derby."
With the new investment kicking in, coupled with their impressive early-season form, Healy reckons McDermott's boys will travel across town baying for blood.
He added: "Glentoran have started the season well. Because of our European commitments, we have been playing catch-up in terms of games. But now we are back to the bread and butter of getting three points from this league fixture.
"In my eyes, there is no bigger opposition to play against and we welcome the challenge. I know our players are all looking forward to the game.
"Hopefully we'll have a large vocal home support, which means so much to the team.
"It means a lot when they (the fans) get behind the players, especially in a Big Two match. It's one the players are excited about, one they are relishing.
"Although things haven't been going so well in recent times for Glentoran, because of the stature of the club and its fan base, it's always been the big one for me.
"Glentoran haven't hit the heights expected of them for a few years and their problems have been well documented.
"Nobody wants to see a club struggle. People may say it's great for the league that Glentoran are on the way back. It certainly helps harden the competition.
"But we don't worry about what other clubs do, we look after ourselves. A lot of clubs have improved this season: Crusaders, Cliftonville, Ballymena United and Coleraine.
"Glentoran and Larne can be added to the list, which makes for a hectic league campaign.
"Sometimes form goes completely out of the window in a Big Two game, and sometimes your league position doesn't mean a lot. Glentoran will be looking forward to playing us, especially in the form they are in. Personally, I'm looking forward to a humdinger of a game."
Healy decided to rest most of his first-team squad for the midweek County Antrim Shield tie against East Belfast, but his fledgling side still romped home 5-1.
He added: "I was pleased to be able to give the kids an opportunity in that game - Dale Taylor, Charlie Allen, Trai Hume, Ross Larkin, Daniel Reynolds and Stephen Fallon.
"Even though we strengthened the squad this season by signing Rohan Ferguson, Bastien Hery and Shayne Lavery, we still have a conveyor belt of young boys coming through.
"I probably would have used more of them against East Belfast only the Swifts also had a game and I didn't want to leave them short.
"The pleasing thing for me was Taylor looked quite experienced for a 15-year-old, while Allen played the full 90 minutes - he got better as the game went on.
"It would be fair to say there will be a few changes for this Big Two game.
"I rested quite a few in midweek, so I'm hoping they'll be hungry and sharp and ready for this challenge.
"It will be the first taste of derby action for Shayne, Rohan and Bastien, but they have experienced the big atmosphere of the European games.
"I couldn't imagine there will be a bigger crowd than what they experienced at Rosenborg and Qarabag."