Larne recorded the greatest result in the history of the club and yet the overriding emotion coming out of Inver Park on Thursday was one of disappointment.
A 2-1 victory over Danish outfit Aarhus could have been so much better.
I picked a good one to take my son Bobby to his first Larne match and honestly the score should have reflected Linfield’s 4-0 rout at Windsor Park. That’s how much Larne were on top.
Larne controlled the midfield, beat the press and the Aarhus defenders simply didn’t know how to deal with the tricky David McDaid. Larne’s intensity blew the Danes away and yet the rewards were not evident as they only scored two goals and conceded a needless one at the end.
But while there was obvious disappointment the margin was not greater for their efforts, Larne should be full of confidence ahead of this week’s second leg because they they completely schooled Aarhus at times and I see no reason why they can’t do the same in Denmark.
It was likely Aarhus completely underestimated Larne ahead of the match because I felt their coach appeared tactically naive.
I felt he was scrambling at times to stay in the tie.
After realising his players were struggling to deal with Larne’s short, sharp passing, which was making inroads into the Aarhus defence, their coach tried to switch things around by going 4-3-3 after about 10 minutes but it was ineffective and easily combatted.
You could tell Aarhus have some nice footballers, who have a little bit of quality about them but like the Bulgarians who played Northern Ireland in March, their players don’t like the intensity and physicality our game produced.
They are used to having time on the ball to work their magic while our players have a real hunger and desire to get stuck in and go hard on the press.
Their skipper struggled all night, booting and slashing at the ball and really didn’t know whether to stick or twist.
If I were Larne manager Tiernan Lynch I would be asking my players for exactly the same application and desire in Denmark this week and I’m convinced the Danes, unless they make dramatic changes to their playing style, will struggle to cope with the intensity.
That surprises me as Aarhus finished fourth in a strong and competitive Danish League but apart from capitalising on a Larne mistake at the death to score, they offered very little.
Tiernan will obviously have a Plan B up his sleeve should Aarhus offer different options in Denmark the reality is they will need to come out and attack which should leave them vulnerable on the counter attack.
While Larne’s victory was remarkable considering the standard of opposition they were up against, Linfield’s 4-0 rout of Bosnian outfit Borac Banja Luka was equally commendable.
It’s a result which should guarantee their place in the next round, but knowing manager David Healy, he will not see it like that.
With the gameplan he devises, he’ll be challenging his players to improve on last week’s display and demanding they go out to Bosnia and return home with a positive result so that the momentum continues.
The results are extremely beneficial for Northern Ireland’s co-efficent ranking and making sure that the all-important fourth European place is secure for at least another season.
Europe, as proven, can also produce a good source of income for Irish League clubs and these funds can then be forwarded into infrastructure and player development, which can only have a positive impact on the game here.
Irish League clubs in Europe usually involve a quick “hello” and “goodnight” but in recent years Linfield and now Larne, having been making progress and hopefully that will continue for the two clubs on Thursday and in the next rounds.
The Celtic fans I know are spewing…
They want to see big name signings to address the obvious gulf that was created between themselves and Old Firm rivals Rangers last season.
A new energetic manager has arrived in Ange Postecoglou but, ahead of next week’s Scottish Premiership opener against Hearts, have the club actually strengthened?
Has Scott Brown, now captain and assistant coach at Aberdeen, been adequately replaced? Not at this stage.
Celtic have lost probably their best player in Kristoffer Ajer to Premier League new boys Brentford.
That is no surprise. While Celtic may be a huge global club, the draw of the Premier League is greater, and that’s where any top player plying their trade on these islands wants to play.
He knows he has been given an opportunity to showcase his talents and, if he does well, it could be Brentford this season but one of the top clubs in the Premier League next year. The transition wouldn’t be so simple going from Celtic.
Rangers haven’t added too many players but, then again, did they need to? The big thing for manager Steven Gerrard was keeping his title-winning squad at Ibrox, which he has done, and then making a few simple additions with loan players also returning.
This season will be a huge mental challenge for Rangers, who have gone from the hunters to the hunted. It will be interesting to watch how they cope psychologically with the new pressures of trying to keep Celtic and the likes of Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibernian at bay.
Gerrard will be looking for a big response from his players in the early part of the season to send out a message that they are physically and mentally strong, and no-one should be in any doubt about their capabilities in defending their title.
Steven Davis will naturally be a key player for Rangers again this season, while some Northern Ireland fans may be surprised to see Ali McCann still at St Johnstone after his impressive exploits last season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes later in the window to an English club.
Some managers will still be assessing their squads and, once they realise they need a player of Ali’s quality, they can make a late bid.
It’s great to see Hearts back in the Scottish Premiership, having bounced up at the first time of asking after I felt they were unfairly relegated when the season was cut short 16 months ago.
Liam Boyce and Michael Smith deserve to be playing at the higher standard, and Tynecastle, just like Pittodrie where ex-Celt Brown will add a new dimension to the Aberdeen team, is a venue which could be a tricky place to go and get a result for the Old Firm this season.
Hearts and Aberdeen may not be serious challengers but I certainly expect them to have a say in who will win the title.
Inevitably though, it will be who is the stronger beast between Rangers and Celtic, and my Hoops friends will certainly be hoping they make a few more decent signings before the window closes.
Bailey Peacock-Farrell needs to cut his losses and make the move away from Burnley.
The Northern Ireland international goalkeeper it appears is now fourth choice keeper at Turf Moor after Sean Dyche signed Wayne Hennessy and it’s obvious he doesn’t have a future there.
I’m sure he is on a decent contract there, so any move will likely come down to money.
But he needs to show great character and opt for playing over pay.
There’s no point finishing your career with a big bank balance and hardly any appearances because you have been sat on the bench or haven’t made the first team squad.
Bailey needs to work on his game and the only way to improve is to play regularly in matches.
While Bailey is a young lad full of confidence, I wouldn’t necessarily be confident of him playing behind me.
I always felt comfortable with Ben Foster or Roy Carroll behind me in goals but too often Bailey’s movement lets himself down and is susceptible at his near post.
He is a good shot-stopper but that’s only one aspect of goalkeeping.
He needs to go to a club where he has a good chance of playing each week. Obviously nothing is guaranteed, but I always knew when discussing a move to a club whether I was going to be given an opportunity for regular first team football.
If he doesn’t get a move then he could soon become out of sight out of mind.
If you are not in the eye, you are easily forgotten about.
New young keepers come through the ranks and Bailey can slip out of view.
If he wants a future in the game, he needs to do something about it, and that means demanding a move away from Burnley and fixing himself up with gametime at a Championship or League One side.
At the moment, he’s the young goalkeeper who played a couple of Premier League games and conceded 10 goals.
It’s up to Bailey to change the narrative.