Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill: Linfield's European run should inspire Irish League as Healy proves managerial class

 

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has hailed David Healy's Linfield side, declaring that their superb run in Europe this season should inspire other Irish League clubs to do the same in the future.

O'Neill was at Windsor Park on Tuesday night to see the Blues beat FK Sutjeska 3-2 in the second leg of the Europa League third qualifying round tie and 5-3 on aggregate.

Linfield are now in the play-off round of the competition where they will face Qarabag from Azerbaijan, with a lucrative spot in the group stages up for glittering prize. O'Neill knows all about that having guided Shamrock Rovers to the group phase in the Europa League in 2011 before moving into the international arena.

The Northern Ireland boss has been impressed by the approach taken in Europe by Healy, whose side prepared for the new season with a summer training camp in Spain.

"David Healy has done a great job leading Linfield to this stage of the competition," said O'Neill.

"He is proving what an excellent manager he is. It also shows what can be achieved by Irish League teams in Europe when they are well prepared as Linfield clearly have been during this run.

"What Linfield have done is brilliant for them but it is also good for the Irish League and hopefully can inspire other teams in the future."

O'Neill added that he enjoyed the energy and drive of young striker Shayne Lavery, who he has already capped at senior level. Lavery scored against the champions of Montenegro in a man of the match display.

"Linfield were fantastic and it was a fantastic team performance," added international boss O'Neill.

"I have to say as well I thought Shayne Lavery had an excellent game and I was delighted to see them make it through to the play-off round.

"They obviously have a tough test against Qarabag to come but I'm sure David will be approaching that tie in positive mood."

The Blues will host Qarabag next Thursday in the first leg prior to the return in Azerbaijan the following week.

Linfield have already earned £1,275,000 from their European adventures, and that could go up to £4m if they make it to the group stages.

"It is a challenge the players will meet head on," said a confident Healy.

"We'll probably need to ride our luck a little bit over both legs but our players are capable of producing something special."

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