Crusaders boss Stephen Baxter insists he will continue to support Irish League clubs in Europe without a hint of envy.
Larne and Linfield carry domestic hopes on the continent now as Glentoran and Coleraine fell by the wayside last week, with the Blues dropping into the UEFA Conference League and Larne beating Bala Town to progress in the same competition.
The Crues have got used to European football during Baxter’s tenure, with the north Belfast club qualifying in 10 of the 12 years he has been at the helm.
They hit the crossbar last season as Irish Cup and European Play-Off Semi-Finals came to nought with the accompanying penalty shoot-out controversies.
This year has proved to be a watching brief for Baxter as he plots a return to European competition in the season ahead, but he insists he wants his rivals to excel in the meantime.
“We’ve had great pleasure playing in Europe over the years, it has been good for our club and it is certainly at the forefront of our focus” said the Seaview boss.
“But there is no element of jealousy for me watching our rivals play in Europe, that’s a concept that just doesn’t exist for me.
“I take pride in watching our teams play in Europe, I leave Saturday rivalries aside and cheer them on in whatever competition they are in and it helps with our UEFA coefficient if they do well.
“I have nothing but admiration for all our clubs playing in Europe and I hope they can all progress.
“Does it give me more of a hunger to compete in Europe? Absolutely it does, but not just in Europe, we want to compete domestically and playing in Europe is always the objective.
“It is an incentive the whole way through the season, the rewards are great and the financial rewards even greater now.”
Greater financial rewards and significant investment at Glentoran and Larne have not only made the Premiership much more competitive, but the same could be said for the transfer market.
After successive European campaigns, the Crues had the financial muscle to compete for the very best players available, but now find it harder with Linfield, Glentoran, Larne and even Derry City able to attract the top stars.
Baxter is not surprised by the progress made at other clubs but insists he will stick to his principles and will not be forced into paying ‘silly money’.
“We won three League titles and almost won a fourth. The other clubs were hardly going to sit back and watch approvingly, they reacted and they responded,” he explained.
“Through talking to players and people in football, I am aware of what is going on out there in the market and it is more difficult now.
“It’s a challenge but I won’t change my methods. I will work within my budget, my aim is to bring quality players to Seaview to buy into what we believe in and what we are trying to do.
“Success comes from preparation and application. You don’t win trophies through wishful thinking, you have to put the hours and the work in.
“If we are looking to sign a player but he is looking silly money, we will withdraw, because a player would be coming for the wrong reasons and that’s not the type of club we are.
“Our aims are the same, to try and put a silver pot on the mantelpiece at Seaview. Last season was not as good as we would have hoped for, but we were within a hair’s breadth of reaching the Irish Cup Final and the European Play-Off Final.
“Perhaps not playing in Europe will helps us domestically, because it will give players with knocks and niggles — and there are a few — time to fully recover for the season ahead.
“We will meet up next Saturday and get down to work, maybe bring one or two more in and I believe we have enough quality to challenge if we can bring quality to the fore on a consistent basis.”