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Linfield chairman Roy McGivern says Irish League clubs have renewed belief on the European stage

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Roy McGivern is tipping Irish League sides to record positive results in Europe

Roy McGivern is tipping Irish League sides to record positive results in Europe

Roy McGivern is tipping Irish League sides to record positive results in Europe

Irish League teams can make a major statement on the European stage this summer.

That’s the view of Linfield chairman Roy McGivern, with the countdown under way for this week’s return to continental action.

The Danske Bank Premiership champions take on Welsh Premier League side The New Saints in a Champions League qualifier in Oswestry tomorrow night, while Larne wrestle with St Joseph’s in Gibraltar in the Europa Conference League.

On Thursday, the north Belfast sides are in action in Conference League action, with Crusaders also in Gilbraltar to face FC Bruno’s Magpies while Cliftonville are in Slovakia to take on DAC.

There is optimism the Irish League representatives can secure more positive results which will improve their Uefa co-efficient ranking, potentially opening the door to further progress in Europe and more prizemoney.

Northern Ireland lie 42nd in the rankings, but the Irish League recently regained a European place which was lost and a renewed focus on preparations has sparked fresh belief that incredible European riches are within reach.

Linfield will get another two bites of the European cherry if they can win their Champions League tie as defeat in that competition would see them drop into the Europa League and then Europa Conference League.

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Group stage qualification, with its millions of pounds of prizemoney, is the promised land every team wants to reach and there’s a quiet confidence it will be achieved.

“If you look back a few years ago, we were ranked 52 out of 55 teams and, of course, we lost a European place,” reflects Linfield chairman McGivern.

“We also played in the preliminary round of the Champions League but we have now climbed up to 42 and our clubs have enjoyed better results.

“I think we are on an upward curve as a league and it’s really important because the better results you have, the more chance you will be seeded in competitions and then you need the luck of the draw.

“We have been building towards this for a number of years with the full-time set-up and progressing in Europe is a big target of us and that includes the group stages.

“We came close against Qarabag and I think an Irish League team will get there and I just hope it’s us.”

Linfield are the best placed of all the Premiership sides to go on an extraordinary continental run and the mood music is good.

“Winning the domestic league is our main target and it secures a Champions League place which now opens up other possibilities if you are knocked out,” added McGivern.

“We have given ourselves that platform and we are trying to build for future success.

“We have given the squad and players the best opportunity to perform well. We have been away to Marbella for a training camp and the players were brought back early to prepare.

“I think we are in a better place than last year both in terms of recruitment and preparation.

“We have really strengthened when you look at players like Joel Cooper, Chris McKee, Daniel Finlayson and the two lads last week (Robbie McDaid and Eetu Vertainen).

“The squad is the best it has been at this stage for a number of years so we have given the players an opportunity and it’s over to them.

“It’s not going to be an easy task, TNS were brilliant in Europe last year and they beat Glentoran. That’s not going to be a walkover and they will see this game as a big opportunity like ourselves.”

Clubs have been denied the full magic of European football during the pandemic when fans were unable to following their teams abroad and now they are facing rising travelling expenditure which will eat into budgets.

But there is a hope that Uefa will increase the funding available to clubs so they can continue to weather the financial storm created by Covid-19 and now fueled by increased costs.

McGivern added: “The prizemoney has been pretty stagnant and we are in the last year of a European cycle, this is year three but it’s possible there could be some increases in the future.

“We’ve had to deal with the pandemic and now this year clubs have faced increased travelling costs. Perhaps we can encourage Uefa to increase the prizemoney in all competitions in the new cycle.

“The positive is that I think all the local sides have a chance to progress.

“Larne won a few games last year, Coleraine beat Maribor (in 2020) so anything is possible.

“If the players are well prepared and have belief, we can compete in Europe and I think the belief is back. We have seen teams in the south reach the group stages so we shouldn’t fear any side.

“I’m more concerned about getting winnable ties than glamour ones in the early stages because you want to get through a few rounds and perhaps reach a play-off and the group stages, where the financial rewards would be huge.

“I think club seeding may play a greater part in the future and it’s something we will keep an eye on.

“We just missed out on being seeded for our draw but there’s not a lot between ourselves and TNS.

“Winning the first tie is critical because it opens a pathway to the Europa League and Europa Conference League.”

The bigger picture for the Irish League’s four representatives over the coming weeks and months is keeping that co-efficient ranking moving in the right direction so the domestic game can look forward to a more prosperous future.

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