Football/Soccer

Europa League cash windfall would give Clifonville a massive boost: defender Jamie Harney

Pacemaker Belfast 13-3-18.Linfield v Cliftonville - Tennents Irish Cup Qtr Final.Cliftonville's Gary Breen and Jamie Harney celebrate after tonight's game at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo by David Maginnis/Pacemaker Press.

Europa League play-off semi-final: Cliftonville v Coleraine (tonight, Solitude, 7.45pm)

CLIFTONVILLE'S Jamie Harney says it's inevitable more Irish League clubs will go full-time over the coming seasons and says a Europa League cash windfall might put the Reds on that path.

With Crusaders, Larne, Linfield and Glentoran edging towards being full-time, Harney believes the Reds will go down the same route “sooner rather than later” in order to challenge for domestic honours.

“Since Paddy has come in we're actually training three or four times a week,” Harney said.

“As soon as Larne introduce full-time football and then Linfield I just think it will have a domino effect where every team will have to go that way in order to compete. We're going to have to go that way.

“I'm not sure what Cliftonville are planning but I think it will happen sooner rather than later because Cliftonville, as a club, need to be challenging for titles.

“And that's why these Europa League play-offs are so important because of the European money that's available and that would help in terms of wanting to go full-time. It's a lot of money for an Irish League club. It will also make the league better and teams will be more competitive in Europe.”

After losing last season's Irish Cup final, the Reds, managed by Barry Gray back then, qualified for the Europa League by beating Ballymena United in the semi-finals and edging Glentoran in a nail-biting decider to net the club £200,000.

Despite clashing with Barcelona's Champions League semi-final, second leg, with Liverpool this evening, Harney still expects a big turn out for the visit of Coleraine.

“I remember the play-off games last year were two of our biggest attendances all season, especially after losing the Irish Cup final a few days earlier,” said the Reds defender.

“Playing at Solitude certainly helps us. Every time we have the crowd with us I don't think I've ever lost because it's a daunting place for a team to come to.”

The Reds enter tonight's Europa League qualifier after losing back-to-back league games to Glenavon and Linfield where they conceded a combined nine goals.

Coleraine, meanwhile, rounded off their league campaign by beating Crusaders (4-2) and drawing with Linfield (1-1), although in their last visit to Solitude at the beginning of April they twice squandered a lead and eventually lost 4-2.

“We had a good talk about those two losses [to Glenavon and Linfield] and Paddy [McLaughlin] told us that those performances weren't good enough but there's enough quality in the team to turn it around.

“I know we are in bad form, as such, but we also know we can get over that and we're hoping the experience of the Europa League play-offs last season will help us.”

The 2018/19 campaign has been one of the most frustrating in the 23-year-old's career after manager Barry Gray was replaced by Paddy McLaughlin in January.

“If we get a European place it would be a successful season,” Harney insisted, who had spells with West Ham United and Colchester United.

“We definitely would have taken that in January, put it that way. Coleraine are going to be physical, they're going to be in our faces. So we have to be solid. We had to come from behind twice against them [on April 6] and that shouldn't be happening, especially at Solitude.

“At least we showed a bit of character coming back and getting the win, but it's definitely going to be a difficult game.”

With Linfield, Crusaders and Ballymena United all securing European football next season, Glenavon and Glentoran will fight it out in the other Europa League play-off tonight to see who advances to Saturday's £200,000 winner-takes-all decider.

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