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Title joy will reap rich European rewards for Linfield or Cliftonville, insists Blues chief Roy McGivern

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Linfield’s Shayne Lavery scores against Qarabag in the 2019 Europa League Play-Off

Linfield’s Shayne Lavery scores against Qarabag in the 2019 Europa League Play-Off

©INPHO/Brian Little

Linfield’s Shayne Lavery scores against Qarabag in the 2019 Europa League Play-Off

For Linfield and Cliftonville, there’s more than title glory on the line this weekend.

While both clubs have qualified for Europe, the financial rewards for the champions could stretch way beyond the €1.11m mark.

Linfield pocketed €1m of European prize money last summer but there’s a greater pot of riches on offer should an Irish League side progress to the group stages for the first time.

And that is a realistic prospect, particularly if a team can win a Champions League qualifier.

Linfield and Cliftonville will battle it out for the Gibson Cup on Saturday, with the champions only a point ahead as they host Coleraine and Cliftonville travel to Glentoran. Linfield also have a superior goal difference of 10.

If David Healy’s side win the title this weekend they will be seeded for their Champions League tie, and there are opportunities to also compete in the Europa League and Europa Conference League where TNS reached the play-offs last year.

In 2019, Linfield’s brave attempt to reach the Europa League group stages ended in disappointment in Azerbaijan as they lost out to Qarabag on away goals. It was a European run that injected fresh hope and belief in Irish League sides that group stage competition was a realistic target.

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Linfield reaped the benefits of a warm weather training camp in Spain before a campaign which almost landed them a lucrative estimated £4m jackpot.

The Blues hope to do something similar this summer once their title mission has concluded.

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Linfield’s Roy McGivern

Linfield’s Roy McGivern

Linfield’s Roy McGivern

Cliftonville have taken the league championship fight to the final day and they will also be aware of the significant European prize money that is within reach.

“There’s more money spread across the league than there has ever been,” said Linfield chairman Roy McGivern.

“We are back having four clubs in European competition, which is great. Larne showed last year if you win a few Conference League ties you can generate significant income.

“Irish League clubs have nothing to fear. Teams are full-time, our ranking has improved and we should be performing better. That investment in the league is paying dividends and we are looking at a pre-season warm weather training camp again.

“When we did that before the pandemic we reached the play-off against Qarabag, so we are looking to go in that direction again. The better the preparation, the better your chances.

“You bring the players back early and can arrange a few games. The last time we went to Spain and we are making preparations for this one.

“It’s the type of thing you can introduce when you have European money.”

And Blues chief McGivern knows there’s also a lot at stake financially in the final weekend of the league campaign.

“Our motivation for going full-time wasn’t about keeping pace with other teams, it was about our own ambitions,” he added.

“I attend the European Club Association regularly and we know the changes in European football.

“Last season was a taste for us in that we had the Champions League qualifier and had the bonus of dropping into the Conference League, where we won a tie.

“The incentives are huge. If you look at TNS last year, if you win your Champions League game you drop into the Europa League and then Conference League, where they ended up in the play-off round.

“There’s a pathway there, though you need your team to be well prepared out of season.

“There’s no reason why an Irish League can’t reach the group stages with the right draw and a little luck.

“We are a members club, we don’t have an investor and the money is needed to run the club. Part of the European money goes towards the wage bill and we are dependent on European football on a regular basis.

“If you reach the group stages, you want to make sure you make the most of that money by reinvesting in the club and team to leave you on a strong footing.”


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