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Who the teams can face as Irish League clubs eye glamour ties in Champions League and Europa League draws



Big stage: Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter celebrates his side’s win over FK Ekranas of Lithuania in 2014. Photo: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

Big stage: Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter celebrates his side’s win over FK Ekranas of Lithuania in 2014. Photo: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

Big stage: Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter celebrates his side’s win over FK Ekranas of Lithuania in 2014. Photo: Stephen Hamilton/Presseye

Irish League sides are hoping today's European draws will reward them with a lucrative tie against British or Irish rivals.

For many supporters it's a case of 'bring on the Old Firm' as Linfield could face Brendan Rodgers' Celtic if they can win their first qualifying round tie in the Champions League while Ballymena United, Coleraine and Derry City could net Scottish sides Rangers or St Johnstone in the Europa League.

David Healy's side will be drawn against either Alashkert (Armenia), La Fiorita (San Marino), Europa FC (Gibraltar), FCI Tallinn (Estonia) or Trepça'89 (Kosovo).

If the Blues can win their opening battle, sides such as Celtic, FC Salzburg, Apoel Nicosia, Legia Warsaw and their old foes FC Copenhagen await in the next round.

"I know some people are expecting us to get through but they are all champions and must be respected for that reason," said Healy.

Whatever happens, the Windsor Park side are counting their blessings as they will pocket at least £400,000 from their European adventure. Reach the second qualifying round and their cheque will be closer to £700,000.

"The financial rewards are a great incentive for the club," said the club's chairman Roy McGivern, who will be at the draw in Nyon, Switzerland.

"In footballing terms the Celtic game would be a fantastic tie as you not only have the top side in Scotland who have a big support in this part of the world but you have a Northern Ireland manager as well.

"But it's a game we would probably like to avoid because of the hype and other issues, particularly around health and safety.

"I've been a traditionalist in terms of not switching the season to the summer months but perhaps it could be tweaked a little to make us more competitive in Europe. Maybe we could keep the Boxing Day fixtures and winter football but look at the start and finish times of the league.

"The Northern Ireland Football League have helped us with the pre-season fixtures against Welsh sides and looking at the draw, a trip to Kosova or Armenia would involve quite a bit of travelling but the San Marino tie would be more welcome."

Linfield were in Wales at the weekend and defeated Bala Town 3-1 with Andy Waterworth, Aaron Burns and Cameron Stewart on target.

In the Europa League, Rangers are the team the Irish sides want though Tommy Wright's St Johnstone would also be exciting opponents.

Crusaders are seeded so they cannot face the Scottish sides though Stephen Baxter's men could face Derry City, Cork City or Shamrock Rovers.

The Crues will be looking to repeat their 2014 heroics when they beat FK Ekranas 5-2 on aggregate in a Europa League qualifier.

New signing, goalkeeper Brian Jensen, could make his competitive debut in that first qualifying round clash and Baxter has paid little attention to doubters who have questioned the signing of a 42-year-old.

"European football was a big appeal for him and hopefully we can enjoy success on the continent again," said Baxter.

"He was playing at a high level last season (with Mansfield Town) and goalkeepers can perform well into their early 40s. He looks really sharp and is the ultimate professional. His experience is vital and we've no concerns regarding his age, otherwise we wouldn't have signed him. It's not like he will be throwing himself around the goal all the time!"

Coleraine, the Sky Blues and Derry City hope they will get the luck of the draw today with Bannsiders boss Oran Kearney hoping his side can channel the frustration of the Irish Cuo Final loss to Linfield in the right manner.

"The Irish Cup Final has certainly not been forgotten and I won't let the boys forget it. It is very much at the forefront of our minds and it should be as we set about winning in Europe," said Kearney.

"The day and occasion got to a lot of the players, it caught the majority of them out but I'm sticking to the view it was a big learning experience and for players like Brad Lyons and Lyndon Kane that Cup final gives them as much experience as they would gain from 40 or 50 league games.

"I want us to now use the hurt from the Irish Cup Final to get through a round in Europe."

Belfast Telegraph