The silence of the Irish League critics is deafening. The days of clubs being ill prepared and embarrassed in European competition are a fading memory.
There’s a new mindset which is reaping rich financial rewards and the emergence of new full-time cultures should keep clubs moving up in the word.
The new Europa Conference League has opened the door to group stage action for our clubs and if the attitude, drive and determination shown by Linfield and Larne is maintained, that promised land is just around the corner.
The bigger picture is the Irish League, which has regained a lost European place, is moving up in the world and commanding more respect.
NIFL has risen three places from 42nd to 39th in the Uefa country rankings while the League of Ireland have dropped five places from 37th to 42nd, the first time they have been below their northern neighbours.
Should Northern Ireland’s clubs maintain their progress in Europe, 35th place in the rankings would give our Irish Cup winners a bye into the second round of the Europa Conference League.
Linfield’s coefficient has now risen to 7.0 from 5.25 at the start of this European season.
They have moved up from 226th to 152nd. Three seasons ago they were 336th on 2.25.
A coefficient of 5.25 would have earned them a seeded spot in the draw for the first round of this season’s Champions League.
A coefficient of 7.0 would have given them a seeded place in both the first and second rounds of the Conference League if they had gone straight into it instead of going via the back door through the Champions League.
While Larne’s European record reads played four, won three, drawn one, league champions Linfield continue to show their class on the continent.
Borac Banja Luka were blown away 4-0 at Windsor Park before the attacking flair made way for the side’s steel and resilience in the scoreless draw in Bosnia.
The result takes Linfield’s European prize money for the season up to €1.11m.
No David Healy, no problem. The Blues now face Fola Esch, of Luxembourg, in the next round.
The first leg is scheduled for Windsor Park on Tuesday with the return in Luxembourg on Thursday August 12.
Linfield are one round away from a play-off and as they are playing in the Champions Path, they are unable to draw the competition’s top sides like Tottenham or Roma until the group stages.
Linfield assistant manager Ross Oliver dedicated the side’s 0-0 draw in Bosnia to absent boss Healy.
“He’s done so much for me over the years,” the assistant said of his boss to linfieldfc.com. “He’s my manager but more importantly he’s my friend. Without getting too emotional here, that one was for him.
“I’m still a wee bit in shock (at the result). It will take a bit of time to sink in. The players were unbelievable tonight. I’ve thanked every one of them for what they do for this club and for the manager, our leader, who’s not here tonight.
“I’m sure he has kicked and headed every ball at home and is already doing his homework on our next opposition at home.”