The NI Football League’s first two participants in the UEFA Europa League kick off their campaigns in the competition as the Preliminary Round first legs take place this evening.
Barry Town United v Cliftonville (venue: Leckwith Stadium; kick-off: 6.30pm)
Paddy McLaughlin takes charge of his first European game in charge of Cliftonville tonight in Wales, as the Reds have made the short journey to Barry Town United.
Cliftonville qualified to the Europa League by the virtue of the playoffs, but will be looking for a repeat of their heroics in the same competition three years ago when they defeated Luxembourg side Differdange in the first round.
McLaughlin welcomes a number of new faces to his panel in Conor McDermott (Derry City), Seanna Foster (Warrenpoint Town) and Ronan Wilson (Institute) ahead of the first competitive game of the season, against a side that lost 2-1 to Ballymena United last Saturday in a friendly.
In the other dugout Barry Town manager Gavin Chesterfield has led a resurgence of the club with three promotions under his belt leading his side from the Welsh Third Division back to the Premier League. They finished third last season to qualify for Europe for the first time in 16 years.
Ballymena United v NSÍ Runavík (venue: Ballymena Showgrounds; kick-off: 7.45pm)
European football returns to the Ballymena Showgrounds tonight for the first time in 15 years, as David Jeffrey’s side take on NSÍ Runavík from the Faroe Islands in the Europa League.
The Sky Blues have never won a tie in Europe and have to go back to 1984 for their last goal in continental competition, as no-one has found the net since George Beattie against Hamrun Spartans in the old European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Jeffrey welcomes some new faces into his squad for the new season who could be in line for debuts tonight at the Showgrounds; Declan Carville (Newry City), Josh Kelly (Ards), Kenny Kane (Dervock) and the most recent arrival Ross Lavery (Cliftonville) may feature. Jonny Addis, Andrew McGrory and James Knowles will be unavailable for tonight’s game.
Runavík will be no strangers to Northern Ireland, they faced Linfield in the Europa League in 2015 and also came up against Hibernian of Scotland last year, however, like their opponents the Faroese side have never won a European tie in twelve attempts. Their main threat is likely to come from captain Klæmint Olsen, the 28-year-old striker scored for the Faroe Islands against Spain earlier this month.