A few weeks ago Jamie Megarry of official Linfield media caught up with popular former Linfield forward Paul Smyth who shared his memories of “Waterworth week” - the week when 2 Andy Waterworth hat tricks brought the Irish League and Irish Cup trophies to Windsor Park.
As part of Linfield TV’s ‘As Live’ initiative, we have been showing full ninety-minute replays of the thrilling climax to the 2016/17 season when ‘The Blues’ won their 52nd Irish League Championship, as well as their 43rd Irish Cup, on top of their 43rd Co. Antrim Shield which David Healy’s men won in February of that season.
Linfieldfc.com has been catching up with Paul Smyth, the mercurial attacker who was one of many star players that season. Smyth – who’s now at Wycombe Wanderers, on loan from Queens Park Rangers – started by reflecting on the penultimate League fixture when Linfield travelled up to Coleraine, a point behind leaders Crusaders.
Paul was instrumental, scoring the goal to put Linfield ahead and then winning a penalty, as David Healy’s team went on to win 5-1.
Crucially, that was the day that Crusaders slipped up at Ballymena – something Paul was made well aware of by the boisterous travelling support.
“I actually recently watched the Coleraine game on Linfield TV. It was a brilliant day out for both fans and players! We went 1-0 down but during that season, we went 1-0 down at times previously and came back, so we knew we could do that again. To score to put us 2-1 up that day was an amazing feeling. To be honest, yes, I was aware of the Crusaders score because of the fans singing about David Jeffrey. The atmosphere was electric and the fans were brilliant.
The Blues then travelled to the north of Belfast the following week to take on Cliftonville. Tickets for Solitude were snapped up in no time, with fans eager to see Linfield lift the Gibson Cup for the first time in five years, knowing that a point would clinch it. All went well, with Andy Waterworth’s hat-trick inspiring Linfield to a 3-1 win. The only downside for Paul was that he missed out through suspension, as Chris Casement moved further upfield with Mark Haughey shifting to right back and Mark Stafford was brought into the starting eleven.
“It was heartbreaking to miss the game at Solitude, as we went on to win the league that day. The funny thing about it was, when we were playing Glenavon at home in the split, I spoke to the gaffer about my yellow cards, knowing I was 1 card away from a suspension, so I knew I had to try and avoid picking up more yellow cards, to ensure I didn’t miss the Cliftonville game and the chance of winning the Irish Cup final a week later
Andy Waterworth was being Andy, as we all know him. He is a serious goal scorer and to score in that style at Solitude on the day, knowing we had to win, was amazing to witness and watch.”
That wasn’t the end of Smyth’s season, however. The now 22 year-old would have his chance to shine on another big occasion a week later, as Linfield took on Coleraine in the Irish Cup final. Smyth certainly made the most of it, after being brought back into the team, starring again, as he set up two of Andy Waterworth’s three goals that afternoon.
“The team that year was unreal, so knowing I had to miss that Cliftonville game, I just had to hope that I got my chance in the final the following week and it was a nerve-wrecking wait. When I read the team sheet that day, I was full of mixed emotions! I would say it was one of my best performances because I had to show the fans a good performance after missing the last League game of the season and I feel I did that!
Asked what he felt was the most special day of the football calendar Paul replied “Well, it’s between two games - Boxing Day or the Irish Cup final – for me it would be the Irish Cup final! It’s a massive day out for the fans, players and club in general.”
Finishing off, Paul reflected on the great times he had that season and says he’s still keeping tracks on the Club from England where he’s represented Accrington Stanley, as well as Queens Park Rangers and Wycombe Wanderers, since making the move from Linfield to Loftus Road in August 2017.
“It was one of the best times I had playing football, being a part of that team in the 2016/17 season! I think it was the Glenavon game away from home when we went two men down in the first 9 minutes and to come back and draw 2-2 in that game gave us so much motivation and so much belief that we could do anything that year!
Everything is going well for me here in England, I’m playing football and that’s all I really wanted! Of course, I check up on Linfield every week - I have them on my live scores, so that after my game, I can see how they do on a Saturday.”
Many thanks to Paul for the interview, and for the many great memories he left the Linfield faithful with.