IT may only be a second round Champions League qualifying tie, but Wednesday night will bear witness to a titanic night in the history of Celtic and Belfast.

The modest home of Cliftonville, last year's Northern Irish double winners, is known as Solitude, but that will be a misnomer in midweek when about 5000 souls cram into pre-existing stands and specially-installed temporary seating hoping to catch a glimpse of Neil Lennon's side playing their first competitive fixture in the city.

Cliftonville draw many of their supporters from nationalist areas of North Belfast and there is a kinship between the followers of two clubs, who have met many times in friendlies, most infamously in 1984 when the match was abandoned after fans clashed with police.

Thirty years have passed since then, and Diarmuid O'Carroll, the Irishman who came through the ranks at Celtic to end up leading the line at Cliftonville after spells at Morecambe, Airdrie United and in Iceland, says the match will be a source of celebration, not confrontation.

Police are confident enough about the potential ramifications of the fixture to let the clubs swap home and away venues in a bid to keep the tie "live" and maximise TV revenue, even if the decision inadvertently moved the fixture closer to a potential marching-season flashpoint.

"It is one of the biggest games in the club's history," said 26-year-old O'Carroll, from Killarney. "It should be a real spectacle – we could have filled the ground three times over. For me, it is just brilliant to play against the club again. I have obviously done it in games here and there for Airdrie, but never in a Champions League game or a match of this scale.

"A good percentage of our fans are also Celtic fans and will travel quite regularly with supporters' clubs. I know from previous pre-season games against Celtic selects that we have had huge crowds coming from Glasgow. The fans are linked so there will be no problems that way and I know the police and the club are doing everything they can to make sure the game goes off without any trouble from outside."

O'Carroll was a regular member of the Parkhead reserves under Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan, but like many promising players left without a first-team appearance. Even those contemporaries of his from Barrowfield who did make the grade – the likes of Aiden McGeady and Darren O'Dea – have been scattered to the wind, although one, Charlie Mulgrew, has had the rare privilege of being allowed to return and re-invent himself

"It is always tough to tell how a player will turn out, but Charlie always had the size and fantastic ability technically," O'Carroll said. "He was moved around, left midfield, left-back, centre mid, but as soon as he got a stable position he was always going to thrive. He has exceeded all expectations and become a stalwart. I also played with Antony Stokes all the way up in international games so I know him relatively well.

"I got in to the reserves pretty quickly when I was there, and I was there for basically three or four years. So I was always relatively close, but it was just that last step, I never quite got there. I was probably closer to it under Martin O'Neill than I was under Gordon Strachan.

"But you need different things to go for you to get your chance, then you need to take it. Luckily enough a few of my friends took that chance. But I have no regrets. At the end of the day I gave it my all when I was at the club and when I left it was to play first-team football elsewhere."

After a trial under Willie McStay during his short time at Ujpest Dozsa in Hungary, a spell in the First Division under Kenny Black at Aidrie United and a move to Valur in Reykjavik, O'Carroll's career regathered pace when he married a girl from Northern Ireland and went first to Glenavon and now Cliftonville.

Tony Breslin's side are part-timers – O'Carroll works for a company which sources funding for stadium and facilities improvements – but the Reds are worthy of respect. When they won the Danske Bank Premiership last season, for the fourth time and the first since 1998, they lost at home only once. They added the League Cup by beating Crusaders, and came close to a treble, beaten in extra-time by Glentoran in the Irish Cup final.

The real danger men for the Parkhead side may be the enterprising young strike pairing of Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce, the latter now back at the club after a spell at Werder Bremen and a trial at Celtic in 2010.

"They are talented, ambitious young lads who have a bright future," said O'Carroll. "We probably compare to teams in the Scottish First Division, boys who could play SPL, but might catch ourselves out on the fitness side of things. Their results haven't been brilliant in pre-season, although their new recruits look top quality, but hopefully we can catch them out."

In Cliftonville's favour is growing uncertainty over Gary Hooper's future. Neil Lennon has always hoped to keep the scorer of 82 goals for Celtic, but optimism waned when Hooper was omitted from the club's 3-0 defeat to Union Berlin on Friday. With a year left on his current deal, Hooper has so far declined to sign a new one. Celtic have knocked back offers of around £4.5m from Hull and Norwich, but Lennon has hinted his time is up. "Has he played his last game for Celtic?" the Northern Irishman said. "Never say never, but it is looking more and more that way."

O'Carroll owes a particular debt to Neil Lennon. "Lenny was one of the senior players when I was there and boys like him, John Hartson and Stilyan Petrov were always very nice to me," the 26-year-old said. "He is a good lad and even after I left he always had a good word for me as a player. I always appreciated that."

There will be a lot of love in the room when Celtic come to town on Wednesday, but don't be fooled: this Belfast team plan to subject the Parkhead side to a titanic struggle.