Ronnie McFall last night insisted that Irish League clubs can do even better in Europe than they have done this summer — and that’s after both his own Portadown team and Cliftonville won ties in the Europa League.
And the Shamrock Park boss has called on the Irish FA and Premiership clubs to come together to ensure that the momentum built up over the last month isn’t lost.
The Ports defeated Skonto Riga of Latvia and only lost 3-2 on aggregate to Qarabag of Azerbaijan. Along the way they not only scored in every game, but took the lead in all four outings and suffered only one defeat in the process.
Overall in 10 European games so far — with Cliftonville facing two more against CSKA Sofia – the four competing Irish League clubs have suffered only three defeats, which is a major positive after seven defeats from eight games last season and 33 goals conceded.
“Before this season Europe has been two defeats and out for most clubs. This season everyone can take pride from their performances and results, but things could be even better,” insisted McFall.
“If we want to compete in Europe then clubs, players and everyone else needs to change their mentality.
“I think with better preparation, both in terms of training and matches before going into Europe a lot more could be achieved.
“Clubs in the League of Ireland are given money to help with their preparation for Europe. If we were able to go away for a training camp where players are training a couple of times a day for a week with a couple of matches as well it would make a big difference.
“In my opinion there is no shortage of quality and ability in our league, it’s about application and if other things around the matches are right then improvement can be made.”
That would mean more time off for players, some of who have missed European matches because of holidays.
That involved some of McFall’s own players and it’s a situation he is not happy about, although the veteran boss also believes it’s a problem that can be sorted out.
“Players are going on holiday at times when European matches are being played and it’s just not acceptable,” he said.
“Yes, we are a part-time league, but too many people have a part-time attitude too. That’s something that can be dealt with. Players want to do well and they they know what they have to do in order to do well. They know that better preparation means better results and will do their best to fit in accordingly.”
With Europe seemingly no longer throwing up high scoring defeats against teams few, if anyone, had heard of before, McFall is looking for a snowball effect to hit the league.
“All the Irish League clubs can look back on this season’s European games with satisfaction — and there is still more to come with Cliftonville,” he said.
“I don’t want to be looking back on it as a one off. We should want to build on this and make it the rule, rather than the exception.
“The objective now for everyone has to be focusing on how we progress from here and improve the standing of the league in Europe. There is a knock-on effect for the whole league and the chance to improve the overall product.
“If you do well in Europe then there are financial benefits, with money that can be spent on improving grounds and improving squads. With more money you can attract better players and that can make the league more competitive.
“Also, if you get into Europe again there is more opportunity to go further and therefore bring in more money.”