Linfield have kicked off this season's Champions League with a bang and defender Mark Stafford says the players are living the dream.
In his early career, the 32-year-old former Ballinamallard United ace never thought he would be part of a Linfield squad going up against Europe's elite.
But David Healy's side reached the Europa League play-offs last year after losing their Champions League first round qualifier against Rosenborg and the Premiership champions are now winning games and admirers on the continent again.
The Blues' exploits have helped the Irish League regain their fourth European place next season and if they keep flexing their muscles, the club's Uefa co-efficient could become the highest in Irish League history.
A trip to Legia Warsaw in the Champions League first qualifying round awaits if they win tomorrow's preliminary decider against Kosovan side Drita in Nyon (5pm).
Linfield booked their spot in that tie by beating Sammarinese champions Tre Fiori 2-0 in Switzerland on Saturday, with Bastien Hery and new signing Christy Manzinga finding the net for the Windsor Park side.
Hery found the top corner with a long-range effort after 71 minutes before debutant Manzinga wrapped up the win seven minutes from time.
Tre Fiori's poor afternoon was compounded when defender Giacomo Pracucci was sent off in the closing stages for a poor challenge on Kirk Millar.
Stafford, an unused substitute in the game, has been impressed with the new arrivals at Windsor but he accepts repeating last year's European heroics is a tall order.
"The bar is set very high from last year, the performances against some good teams were exceptional," he said. "It's going to be very hard to replicate that but I think this squad we have now is even better than the one we had last season.
"We've obviously lost Joel Cooper, which is a big loss, but I think the squad is still strong and the new signings will leave us in good shape for Europe and the league season.
"The new signings are quality players and have been able to go straight into the first team and make an impact, it's not a case of bringing in squad players.
"They are top players and the competition to get into an 18-man squad next season will be strong.
"It has always been that way but now we have even more quality which will push standards up in training and matches.
"The club will keep moving forward and the Champions League win is a good start.
"I'm glad we have the European games because it's competitive football for the players and then there might be a short break before the league begins.
"It's important for the new lads to blend in and get experience. All the lads are focused on the job in hand which is the next European game.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game on Saturday as we had faced San Marino opponents before and found it difficult. It was never going to be straight forward, particularly in the heat of the afternoon."
Saturday's game was played behind closed doors at a neutral venue in Switzerland and the first qualifying round tie will be played without fans in Poland over one leg on August 18 or 19.
The loser of the Drita v Linfield tie will drop into the Europa League second qualifying phase. Stafford, who agreed a one year contract extension in May, added: "The European games are great exposure for the Irish League and the Champions League is the elite competition so it's a real honour and the added bonus is another tie in the Europa League.
"It gives clubs an opportunity for go on a run which we did last year. It's a great experience for players, particularly those like myself who thought earlier in their career they might not get a crack at Europe so it's all positive. The fitness levels of the lads has been good but you learn a lot more from your competitive games, particularly against high quality opposition, but we prepared as well as we could in the short time we had. We have no regrets going into these tests."
• FORMER Linfield and Glenavon favourite of the 50s and 60s, Syd Weatherup, has died in Canada, aged 86.
Weatherup is especially remembered at Glenavon as an ever present goalscoring left winger in their last league title winning side of 1959-60 and as an Irish Cup winner against Linfield in 1961, the famed Jimmy McAlinden managed team of Cush, Corr, McVeigh, Jones, Campbell and Denver.
He emigrated to Canada in 1966 where he coached youth football.