Michael Carvill believes Crusaders’ success in the Champions League has bolstered the Irish League’s growing reputation in Europe.
The Crues earned a 1-1 draw against Levadia Tallinn in Estonia on Tuesday to progress to the second qualifying round of UEFA’s elite competition.
It follows the Shore Road club’s heroics in the Europa League last summer when they defeated Lithuanian outfit FK Ekranas 5-2 at the first qualifying stage.
Linfield also progressed in the Europa League 12 months ago, with Warren Feeney’s men looking to repeat the feat tonight when they take a 2-0 lead to the Faroe Islands against NSI Runavik
“Tuesday was a great result for Crusaders, but it was also a great result for the Irish League,” said Carvill – who scored Crusaders’ goal in Estonia.
“I honestly think the league has improved in recent years and results in Europe are proving that.
“I came back to the Irish League seven years ago and I’ve noticed a big improvement. Gradually, local clubs have got closer and closer to other European nations.
“I hope this result is a statement that the local game is improving and that the quality of the league is on the rise. I think it shows that local players are stepping up to the challenge and showing their quality in this stage.
“Some people look down at the Danske Bank Premiership as a part-time league, but this shows we can go to places like Estonia and get a result in the Champions League.”
Crusaders have already landed a lucrative cash windfall in the region of £500,000 for progressing to the second qualifying round.
They now meet KF Skenderbeuin, with the first leg in Albania next Tuesday.
“It’s a quick turnaround and a bit surreal that we’ll be playing the away leg of the next round on Tuesday,” Carvill added.
“One of the consequences of a part-time league is the fact a lot of lads are now trying to ensure they’ll have time off work and so on.
“It’s great for the club to be in the next round and it’s a real credit to Stephen Baxter and the rest of the coaching staff.”
Carvill – who joined the Crues from Linfield this summer – says he is settling into life at Seaview.
“I want to do my best for the club and make a good impression so scoring in Tallinn was great,” he said.
“It probably lifts the pressure a bit.”