Belfast Telegraph

Linfield's Europa League run can inspire cross-border victory over Dundalk, says coach

Battle ready: Rohan Ferguson
Battle ready: Rohan Ferguson

By Graham Luney

Linfield will take inspiration from their amazing European exploits this year going into the double header with Dundalk, according to goalkeeper Rohan Ferguson and coach Ross Oliver.

The Danske Bank Premiership champions will take on the SSE Airtricity League champions in a two-legged tie, kicking off at Windsor Park tomorrow night with the second leg at Oriel Park on Monday.

The Unite the Union Champions Cup is a new initiative backed by the Irish FA and FAI and comes at a time when the IFA stated they cannot support plans to introduce an All-Island League.

Unite have signed a three-year deal to sponsor the cross-border tournament, with £43,017 set to go to the winners, £21,520 for the runners-up and a further £21,520 ring-fenced for community-based projects in the competing teams' local areas.

Dundalk finished their domestic season with Sunday's FAI Cup final penalty shootout defeat to Shamrock Rovers, while Linfield are still looking good in their Premiership title defence.

Stopper Ferguson joined the Blues on a loan deal from Motherwell in July and, during the club's run to the Europa League play-offs, grabbed the man of the match award on his debut following the 2-2 draw at HB Torshavn.

The 21-year-old Scot, who also played for Airdrie, stated: "The European journey was amazing and especially for me when I joined the club on loan. Our performances were outstanding and it was just a shame we fell at the last hurdle.

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"We have been playing catch-up but the team has been progressing well. It's been all about winning games in hand.

"This is a great game to play in, something different, and the boys will want to get their hands on the trophy for the first time."

Coach Ross Oliver insists Dundalk will be given the respect they deserve and he predicts his players will relish the all-Ireland challenge.

"We will treat it in a similar way to Europe," said David Healy's right hand man. "The players will be prepared right for the game and we have done our homework on Dundalk.

"It's important we perform well. The club will take it seriously and you have to recognise the challenge because Dundalk have won their league four times in the last five seasons.

"They didn't win everything they played in this season but I'm sure they would love to win this one. From a players' point of view, two games is a challenge because it affects your league programme, and hopefully it doesn't disrupt us. We have a big enough squad to cope with that."

Dundalk first team coach John Gill believes the cross-border competition has captured the imagination of the players.

"I think it's a good time for both clubs to play the game," he said.

"We've had a long hard campaign and Linfield are well under way in their season. It will be a fantastic game, I was up here for the Qarabag game and was very impressed with Linfield. There will be a little spice to it, a great occasion and our players are looking forward to it.

"You have two teams who have been very strong in their domestic leagues in the last few years and it's an exciting game.

"The players want to win every trophy they play in and, as we are representing our league as well, we want to perform well. It's a magnificent gesture to stage a game like this and we applaud the organisers for that."

Former Northern Ireland goalkeeper Pat Jennings is an ambassador for the competition.

"I think it's a brilliant concept and the players will enjoy it," he said. "Rivalry is good in football and there is no room for hatred. We will see who the best team in Ireland is and money will go to communities, which is nice because football can give something back to help people."

Fifa have agreed that all four officials for the second leg will be female, with French referee Stephanie Frappart taking charge.

• Ards yesterday welcomed the Irish FA's rejection of proposals for an All-Island League.

The Bluefin Sport Championship club stated: "The majority of clubs attended recent talks held in Dundalk to listen to the proposals and, as previous winners of an All-Ireland trophy, Ards were interested to hear what was being said.

"Having heard the proposals, we are in complete agreement with the recent statement made by Patrick Nelson, Chief Executive of the IFA, and are totally committed to remaining as members of the NIFL, a body that has enhanced Irish League football."

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