A 3-1 win for Linfield was the result of this afternoon’s clash, but in truth there were plenty of positives for both sides to take from what was a great occasion on a glorious day in Gwynedd.
‘We’re delighted with how today’s gone.’ Former Northern Ireland striker Healy told WPL.Cymru. ‘We don’t normally have this standard of opposition to play against when building up to a European game, so hopefully today has given us that extra boost. Bala have shown themselves to be a good side, they worked very hard, and we just shaded it in the end. We looked good in the first half, strong, composed, but Bala came back into it in the second half and they’ve got some good players on their books who can really hurt teams to be fair, but yeah, it was a very good fixture for us today.’
Fielding a number of trialists and a substantially weakened side, Bala’s Caton was as delighted as his counterpart with how the fixture had helped his side and opted to look at the bigger picture when considering how valuable this afternoon’s match may prove to be in the weeks to come.
‘Linfield were very good in the first half, they were very aggressive and they caught us off guard early-on really. We did well to fight our way back into the game, but today wasn’t about the result, it was just about minutes and getting lads back onto the pitch, finding that match intensity again in a very good fixture against tough opposition; it’s give us a real test, and it’s done us good!
‘They’re the champions of Northern Ireland, you know, they’re a really good side, they have a really good squad – we missed players today, but this week’s preparation and next weekend’s game will give us valuable minutes and opportunities for players to find match fitness before we go into our European fixtures and the result really count.’
With Bangor City facing Coleraine United and Connah’s Quay Nomads coming up against Ballymena United today, Bala’s battle against Linfield was just one of a number of WPL-NIFL clashes scheduled to take place this weekend, with further fixtures scheduled in a week’s time.
The relationship between the two countries from a footballing perspective is clearly one that could be very fruitful for the game in both Wales and Northern Ireland, and both managers waxed lyrical about the initiative that saw the fixtures come to fruition.
‘This relationship that is developing between our respective leagues, with a couple of Welsh teams playing over in Northern Ireland today and next weekend too, will benefit both leagues when it does come to Europe.’ Healy said.
‘Certainly, we’ve got a leg up on where we were at this point last year already because we’ve played such a top team in this environment, we’re very pleased with the whole trip, the welcome we got, everything. I thought the standard was really good, it is tough to judge off one game and both sides were missing players, but I thought it was a really competitive game and a very valuable experience.
‘This certainly ticks the box for us, we got everything we wanted out of coming here because we’re playing against good opposition, we can prepare ourselves well and, I’ve got to say, when there was first talk of this fixture being set up I was delighted there was a chance to come over here and play a Welsh Premier League team.
‘Especially playing away, because playing locally all the time means everything becomes quite structured and standard, whereas coming here to play has meant we’ve actually had to treat it like a potential European game, going away for a couple of days and preparing as we would do for one of the qualifiers, but coming here has certainly helped us measure where we’re at and we’re very grateful to Bala for having us and our fans, I think it was a great occasion for all involved.’
With friendlies at this stage of the season often very difficult to arrange given that teams not competing in Europe are usually taking time away from the pitch, Bala’s boss was equally excited when talking about the possibility of such fixtures becoming a mainstay in seasons to come.
‘It’s fantastic to see such a relationship developing between the two leagues, definitely. It is so hard to get quality friendlies at this time of year, because there’s rarely anybody available to play, but to play Linfield here today and welcome their following to Maes Tegid is great for both clubs. This is their only pre-season friendly before going into the European games, so it’s great for both Welsh and Northern Irish clubs and the development of the game in both countries.’
As has become the norm under Caton’s leadership, The Lakesiders will be looking to make further folkloric success in the weeks to come with their sights set on reaching The Second Qualifying Round of The UEFA Europa League. As Healy prepares to launch Linfield into UEFA Champions League action, he offered his best wishes to every Dafabet WPL team as they discover their European opponents next week.
‘100%, I will be wishing every Welsh Premier League team the best of luck in Monday’s draw. Hopefully the draw is favourable to them, Bala look in good shape at the moment but in another 10 days they’re going to much more prepared than they already are, so they’ll have a good chance of progressing if the draw is good for them and I wish them and all the Welsh teams the best of luck!
‘Financially, for a club like Linfield, it would be huge to get through the first round, but even to do that will be very difficult because these other teams are champions of their respective countries, and they’ve not done that by accident, whether they’re minnows or not. It’d be nice to progress into the second round, from a financial standpoint for the club, but also for the players and staff who have worked so hard to get to this point too, of course.’