Belfast Telegraph

Why European run will help Linfield in quest for Premiership title, explains Healy


Fine fettle: David Healy is sure Blues can get league bid off to a flier
Fine fettle: David Healy is sure Blues can get league bid off to a flier
Matthew Shevlin
Emmett McGuckin

By Graham Luney

Linfield manager David Healy is confident there will be no European hangover when his side's Danske Bank Premiership assault kicks off.

The Blues are at home to Institute in their league opener on Saturday with that game sandwiched between two huge Europa League tests against Montenegrin champions FK Sutjeska.

Linfield have already contested four European games in a demanding pre-season schedule that has included friendlies with Motherwell and St Johnstone.

A 6-0 aggregate loss to a classy Rosenborg side in the Champions League was followed by a 3-2 aggregate success over HB Torshavn in the Europa League, a victory which booked their place in the third qualifying round.

The continental fixtures can be physically and mentally demanding but rather than sparking a sluggish start to their title defence, Healy believes they will give his men an early bounce.

"I hope the European games give us momentum," said Healy yesterday before his side flew out for tomorrow's clash at the Gradski Stadium in Niksic.

"The away trips and the training camp in Spain have helped the players establish a bond and relationship they wouldn't have been able to do at home.

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"It's okay playing friendly games and mixing young players with experienced ones, but do I have any concerns? Absolutely not because, without sounding disrespectful, Irish League clubs have been accused of playing so-called Mickey Mouse friendlies in games that are so unimportant.

"We played Dinamo Bucharest in Spain as well as Motherwell and St Johnstone at Windsor.

"The preparation for the league is strong because we have played good, solid friendlies and tough competitive fixtures in Europe. Hopefully that gives the players momentum.

"When the season starts the pressure will be there but that's normal. This time last year we started the season on the back of winning nothing and that was pressure. You've got to keep winning trophies. The demands will be greater on us given how other sides have strengthened.

"But European football is a good experience for the players and they can learn a lot from it."

Linfield will meet FK Sutjeska after beating HB Torshavn 1-0 at Windsor Park.

Andy Waterworth's first-half penalty at Windsor Park finished off the Faroese side and if the Blues can secure positive results against their Montenegrin opponents it could see a fourth European place return to the Irish League in the next few seasons.

"Financially, European football is massive for the Irish League and that's why it's sad to see we have lost a place," added the former Northern Ireland favourite.

"When you progress in Europe you can earn significant money and that's one of the reasons why we are working towards a full-time environment. I've heard people say we get a helping hand at this club but we don't and we certainly don't get all the decisions going our way.

"I think the Northern Ireland Football League have done a great job with the league and it's well marketed. There's huge interest and the league can develop further."

The Blues have added former Ballymena United frontman Matthew Shevlin to their ranks.

The 20-year-old striker has made the switch to Windsor Park following the expiry of his Sky Blues contract.

"I know most of the lads and they've all been very welcoming. There's going to be real competition for places but I will relish the challenge," said Shevlin.

Healy added: "He will add to our striking options and increase the competition levels within our squad. He was training with our lads and he will fit in easily with our squad.

"He's a young player with a positive attitude and I know he's really keen to make an impression with us. I'm looking forward to working with him in training in the coming weeks."

Northern Ireland Under-21 international striker Shayne Lavery, former Portadown ace Ross Larkin and French midfielder Bastien Hery have also moved to the Blues.

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