Ryan Catney back in action for Cliftonville's Europa League opener
Europa League qualifying preliminary round, first leg: Cliftonville v FC Nordsjaelland (tonight, 7.45pm); FCI Levadia v Dundalk (tonight, 5pm); Shamrock Rovers v AIK (tonight, 7.05pm); Spartak Subotica v Coleraine (tonight, 7.45pm)
CLIFTONVILLE go into tonight’s Europa League qualifier against Danish Superliga outfit FC Nordsjaelland with Ryan Catney firmly back in the saddle and the Reds captain is determined to make an impact.
Catney spent nearly 18 months on the sidelines after suffering a horrific double compound fracture against Crusaders at Seaview, but he is raring to go again after a lengthy recovery period.
“Nordsjælland will be a massive game,” the veteran midfielder said.
“We’re back in Europe and we missed it last year. It’s great for the club financially, plus some of the players are new here and haven’t played in Europe before.
“You always want to make the most of matches like this because, you never know, it could be your only chance to play in Europe and you’ve just got to go and give a good account of yourself.”
The winners of this tie will face a second qualifying round showdown with either AIK of Sweden or Shamrock Rovers and, although tonight’s Danish visitors are strong favourites to progress over the two legs, Catney is far from throwing up the white flag.
“Obviously, they are a better team,” he added.
“They play a better standard of football, they’re from a stronger league, they’re full-time and they’re fitter than us, but we want to do the best we possibly can over the two legs. We’re going out to give a good account of ourselves and get the best result we can.”
New signings Conor McMenamin and Ryan Curran may make their competitive debuts for the Reds at Solitude tonight.
Elsewhere this evening, Coleraine manager Oran Kearney and his assistant William Murphy will both miss the Bannsiders’ Europa League first leg away to Spartak Subotica. The pair have not made the trip to Serbia for the first leg of the first round qualifier as they are both on family holidays.
John Gregg, Coleraine’s head of youth development, will lead the side at the Subotica City Stadium. Kearney is set to return to the dug out for the second leg on July 19. He will be assisted by coaches Trevor McKendry and Paul Owens, the former Limavady manager who was added to the Irish Cup winners' coaching staff in May.
Dundalk, meanwhile, have confirmed the signing of Sam Byrne ahead of their first leg clash with FC Levadia in Tallinn.
The 22-year-old joined the Louth club before the beginning of the current League of Ireland campaign on loan from Everton and has now signed an 18-month contract at Oriel Park following the expiration of his deal with the Toffees. Byrne spent four seasons at Goodison Park after having a year at Manchester United.
Stephen Kenny’s side are currently four points ahead of Cork City at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division and they warmed up for this evening’s qualifier with a 3-1 win away to St Patrick’s Athletic last Friday night.