This for me has been a very interesting few weeks. Work commitments have kept me away from all sorts of football interests, and I have missed what has been going on through the offseason. One thing is for sure, I have not missed Crusaders in European action.
The season starts on the 20th of Aug and we already have teams showing real competitiveness in European games. We also have the rest of the team’s starting the long pre-season training slog to get them to the right level. And what an opening day to the season it will be. Larne will host Coleraine. Two title contenders just to start with. Then you have Linfield hosting Crusaders.
This game will become interesting for a few reasons. For the Blues, the number of players that have been let go in the offseason. Will they be able to fill the void of 30+ goals from Andrew Waterworth and Shayne Lavery? For the Crues – it has been two seasons of underachievement. Players have now started to leave and yet there has been no real marquee signing. Let’s see if the tactical approach changes – or are we going to be going down the same old route this season.
Onto the European games and I have taken a little bit of interest in them. I have always been a follower of the Bosnian Premier league, and do follow it. I have been to the Asim Ferhatovic Hase Stadium home of SK Sarajevo on several occasions. So, to hear a few teams from the Irish League had been engaging in some football in the country got me interested.
Firstly, Linfield got knock out of the Champions League qualifiers by Lithuanian opponents Zalgiris Vilnius. This then put them down into the newly formed UEFA Conference League where they got a draw against Borac Banja Luka. The holiday city of Bosnia. The Blues hold the advantage in the first leg and should be too good for this team.
The two early exits for Irish league clubs were Glentoran. I think that is enough said about that with the money and investment that they have had. Could not even be competitive against a team around their level from Wales. For the Bannsiders, I thought they had got the win. They were paired against the Bosnian Champions Velez Mostar. Now, this is where it gets interesting. The game was played in Sarajevo at the home of the cities second team, ‘Zeljeznicar’. I say second-team very lightly as Zeljeznicar are the working man’s team in the capital city. Not Vincent Tans funded machine, ‘SK’. Sounds like a few teams in the Danske Bank Premiership.
Now anyone that has ever made the long car journey from the beautiful city of Mostar to Sarajevo, will tell you it is very scenic but long. So, with that added with a change of ground for Mostar it was always going be a positive game for the Bannsiders. But if your stadium does not pass the UEFA equality line then you have to play somewhere. The Bannsiders had a lot going for them. I would rather have taken their flight rather than that bus journey. The Bannsiders got the win but on the return leg, they lost.
Larne are still going strong and why shouldn’t they be. They play a really good brand of football and that will go down well when playing European opposition. They are currently in the UEFA Conference League and have a 2-1 lead against a very good Danish top-flight team, ‘AGF Arhus‘. Hopefully, they go with confidence and pull off a big result out there. As for the season ahead. I think this Larne team are going to be the team to beat come