Belfast Telegraph

David Jeffrey: Cut our Irish League clubs some slack in Europe

Eddie Patterson called it absolutely right when he said we shouldn’t be harsh on Irish League sides who come up short in Europe.

Our teams are up against it from the word go — usually tackling full-time opposition, whose superior fitness and technique provides a margin in quality that can be difficult to bridge.

Even in instances where our sides are favourites to progress (such as Linfield in their Europa League clash with NSI Runavik), their opponents are invariably well into their season and streets ahead where match sharpness is concerned.

It’s only right that we laud any success that Irish League football enjoys on the European stage but, at the same time, let’s not criticise those teams that miss out.

I believe Glentoran winger Jordan Stewart enjoyed a little bit of online fame with a pre-match tweet that went viral and which perfectly summed up the difference in preparation between our players and those from the continent.

I always felt the Glens faced the stiffest test of all our representatives and so it proved with MSK Zilina returning to Slovakia with a 4-1 first leg lead that will almost certainly be the platform from which they earn their place in the next round.

One positive that emerged from that game was the goalscoring debut enjoyed by young Conor McMenamin. He came through the ranks at Linfield but has found his career hammered by injury problems that I hope are now firmly behind him and I was delighted to see him get off to such a positive start with his new club.

Glenavon were undone by making the sort of mistakes that are not necessarily always punished with such ruthlessness at domestic level and, though they travel to Belarus with the tie still very much alive, they have a massive mountain to climb when they renew rivalries with Shakhtyor Soligorsk.

I attended Crusaders’ meeting with Levadia Tallinn and was most impressed with the performance they produced. The scoreless draw means they’re in with a real shout of causing an upset in Estonia on Tuesday night.

The fact that Levadia boss Marko Kristal spoke with such a depth of knowledge about the Crues in his pre-match briefings showed the level of respect he and his side were affording our Champions, while another thing that stood out from my visits to Seaview and Windsor Park this week were the attendances — 1748 and 1834 respectively — and the fans are to be commended for how well they backed their teams.

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