Celtic set to avoid 12 July Belfast clash

● PSNI want first leg of Euro­pean qual­i­fier with Lin­field to be switched to Glas­gow

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By STEPHEN HAL­L­I­DAY

Celtic’s likely Cham­pi­ons League opener against Lin­field in Belfast will not be played on 12 July – the day of the tra­di­tional Orange Or­der marches in North­ern Ire­land.

Should Lin­field beat La Fiorita as ex­pected in the first qual­i­fy­ing round, they have been handed home ad­van­tage in a first leg against Celtic – which is sched­uled to take place on ei­ther 11 or 12 July.

But fol­low­ing early dis­cus­sions be­tween the two clubs, Uefa and the Po­lice Ser­vice of North­ern Ire­land, the or­der of the tie may now be switched with the first leg at Celtic Park.

Celtic’s likely Cham­pi­ons League opener against lin field in Belfast will not be played on 12 July af­ter early dis­cus­sions in­volv­ing the two clubs, Uefa and the Po­lice Ser­vice of North­ern Ire­land (PSNI).

At Uefa head­quar­ters in Nyon yes­ter­day, the Scot­tish cham­pi­ons were drawn against ei­ther Lin­field or La Fiorita of San Marino in the sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing round. It is a tie which Celtic should ne­go­ti­ate com­fort­ably on the pitch but which they would have pre­ferred to avoid be­cause of po­ten­tial com­pli­ca­tions off it.

Lin­field, whose sup­port is his­tor­i­cally drawn from the Union­ist com­mu­nity, will be ex­pected to over­come La Fiorita in the first qual­i­fy­ing round.

They would then have home ad­van­tage in a first leg against Celtic which is sched­uled for ei­ther 11 or 12 July, the lat­ter be­ing the day of the tra­di­tional Orange Or­der marches in North­ern Ire­land.

Due to the al­ready in­tense pres­sure on re­sources for the PSNI on those dates, how­ever, the or­der of the tie may now be switched with the first leg at Celtic Park.

Both clubs had pen­cilled in the game at Wind­sor Park – where Celtic have never played – for 11 July, pos­si­bly with an early kick-off time. But it later emerged that the po­lice pref­er­ence was for the sec­ond leg in Belfast the fol­low­ing week.

Lin­field chair­man Roy Mcgivern said: “I had lunch with Celtic’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives af­ter the draw and we’ve had ini­tial dis­cus­sions about the games.

“Ob­vi­ously we have a two­legged tie against La Fiorita first and we won’t get ahead of our­selves, but with the sec­ond qual­i­fy­ing round so soon af­ter, it is vi­tal we start think­ing about ar­range­ments now. We’ve also had a chat with Uefa and we had ruled out 12 July for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, purely from a prac­ti­cal point of view.

“Our pref­er­ence is to play the home leg first. For fi­nan­cial rea­sons that’s ob­vi­ously the best thing for us. At this stage the first leg would be on 11 July, po­ten­tially with an early kick­off but there are dis­cus­sions go­ing on at home now with the PSNI to see how that would be man­aged.

“That is the pre­ferred op­tion at the mo­ment but there have been no dis­cus­sions about switch­ing the games at all. Celtic are re­laxed about it and they seem happy enough to play in Belfast on 11 July.

“It re­ally is a ter­rific draw. We have two very im­por­tant games be­fore a po­ten­tial tie with Celtic but it is the best draw we could have hoped for.

“They were the top team in the draw, they’ve had a tremen­dous sea­son and of course

there is the Bren­dan Rodgers fac­tor, too. It’s in­cred­i­ble.”

Lin­field, man­aged by for­mer Rangers striker David Healy, won the North­ern Ir­ish Pre­mier­ship ti­tle for the first time in five years last sea­son. They are odds-on favourites to de­feat La Fiorita in the first qual­i­fy­ing round. The San Marino min­nows have lost all five of their pre­vi­ous Euro­pean ties, scor­ing just one goal in the process.

News of Celtic’s draw broke yes­ter­day just as the club’s new sign­ing Jonny Hayes was be­ing pre­sented to the me­dia.

“There’s your head­line right there, boys,” said the Repub­lic of Ire­land winger who is poised to make his com­pet­i­tive de­but for Celtic in the tie next month.

“I played at Wind­sor Park in the Foyle Cup when I was about 15 years old with a young Ir­ish team and that’s the only time I’ve played there.

“It will be a tough game but, if Lin­field go through, it will be a nice at­mos­phere to play in.

“You al­ways want to play in de­cent foot­ball grounds and at­mos­pheres and, hav­ing spo­ken to Niall Mcginn, he talks about the at­mos­phere there.

“I’m sure that, if we do have to play there, then we will be clued up on what to ex­pect.

“It’ll be in­com­pa­ra­ble to what it’s like at Celtic Park for a Cham­pi­ons League match.

“It will be a good game if they do go through and we’ll look for­ward to it.

“I’d play in the car park to­mor­row if I needed to. I know from play­ing in Europe with Aberdeen over the last few years that there isn’t one easy game.

“I re­mem­ber play­ing a team who were a so-called min­now from Lux­em­bourg and we took a 3-1 lead over there and lost the game.

“They hit the post in the fi­nal minute and that would have put them through on the away goals if it had gone in. That shows that there are no easy games. “I’m sure who­ever plays against Celtic will al­ways raise their game.”

ROY MCGIVERN “We had ruled out 12 July for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, purely from a prac­ti­cal point of view”

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