UEFA Europa Conference League: Larne look forward to European adventure
There is a buzz around Larne today as the dust settles following Larne FC’s victory over Cliftonville in the Euro play-off final at the weekend.
The Inver Park side welcomed Paddy McLaughlin’s men to east Antrim on Saturday, with the winner progressing to the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League.
Larne who have never competed in a European tournament, ran out 3-1 winners to secure their berth in the competition along with a guaranteed £215,000 in prize money.
Larne’s Chairman Gareth Clements says now that they have given themselves the opportunity to play in Europe, the players won’t be there to make up the numbers and will be hoping to progress in the qualifying rounds.
Speaking to the Times, Mr Clements, who came back to the club three and a half years ago when Kenny Bruce took charge, said: “It’s starting to sink in. We’ve had meetings with the IFA to make sure the stadium is ready to host European matches and we’ve been in touch with UEFA.
“When we outlined our vision for the club just over three years ago, improving the stadium, re-invigorating the team, improving the infrastructure and the academy and playing in Europe were our main goals.
“When we said we wanted to play in Europe, people thought we were mad. Now, we’ve proved the doubters wrong and to be fair, some have been in touch since Saturday to congratulate us.”
Over 400 lucky Larne fans were able to attend the crunch tie on Saturday and they made sure they roared their team into the history books.
Gareth added: “As Tiernan (Lynch) has always said, the fans really are our twelfth man. It was great to have supporters there for the match and to get some of the younger lads back in with the drums, they really made some noise. There were around 430 in the ground, but at times it sounded like there were a couple of thousand. They really played their part.
“The way the team performed this season has given the town a real buzz and there is a feel good factor.”
Looking ahead to the draw, which takes place on June 15, Gareth explained: “We will take what comes our way although we would want to avoid Dundalk or the Welsh sides as this would be more like a pre-season friendly than a European game.
“Looking at possible teams we could get, there are clubs from nations including Iceland, Lithania and the Faroe Islands. If we were to be drawn against a side from the Faroes, it would give us a chance of progessing.
“We won’t be going into Europe for a jolly up. We want to see how far we can go. We want to go on an adventure or two and I know the supporters feel the same way.”
Even though Cliftonville were on the losing end at the weekend, Mr Clements said Larne were congratulated by the north Belfast side.
Gareth stated: “We have received well wishes from right across the spectrum. Crusaders and Cliftonville have been in touch. They said about the paper work and planning ahead of playing in European competition and said they would give us a steer if needed. This was really generous. The Irish League family has been brilliant.
“I’m proud and privileged to be the first chairman in Larne’s 132-year history to make it to Europe. We’re flying over to the draw in Geneva and I’m excited to see what lies ahead.”
Former East Antrim Times sports editor Barry McDevitte has analysed some of the possible permutations ahead of next week’s first and second round qualifying draws in Switzerland.
Mr McDevitte said: “There are 66 teams in the first round- 33 seeded and 33 un-seeded. Coleraine will be seeded from the Irish League. Larne will join Glentoran as an un-seeded team.
“If Larne can get a favourable draw against a side such as Liepaja (Latvia), Hibernians (Malta), FCI Levadia (Estonia), Drita (Kosovo), Europa (Gibraraltar), or a team from San Marino, they will have a chance to make it to the next qualifying round.
“Looking at the teams they could draw here, there could be a potential glamour tie for Larne if they can progress. Clubs including Basel (Switzerland), Copenhagen (Denmark), Feyenoord (Netherlands), Aberdeen or Hibernian (Scotland) could be drawn against Tiernan Lynch’s side.
“With the draws taking place next Tuesday and Wednesday for the respective qualifying rounds, it‘s great to see Larne’s name added to the list of Northern Irish clubs in Europe and it will be interesting to see how they do.
“There are gifted players at Inver Park and they will be wanting to play on this stage. Hopefully fans can be in attendance to see their team make history.”
Click here to read Larne’s Euro-vision ahead of crunch play-off tie
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