The eve of the re-run of ‘Waterworth Week’ - DH memories

Posted : 24th April 2020

It's the eve of ‘Waterworth Week’ - the week when three years ago, two hat tricks by a Linfield striker secured firstly, the Irish League trophy on a never to be forgotten day at Solitude and then secondly, the Irish Cup trophy on an equally never to be forgotten day at Windsor Park.

You can relive the drama of both games with our exclusive As Live broadcasts on Linfield tv on both of the next 2 Saturdays, to help make up for, in some part, the current unavoidable absence of Live football on the field of play.

Several weeks ago, Linfield manager David Healy shared his memories of the week and in part one, he recalls the momentous Solitude occasion where he followed up his first trophy success - the County Antrim Shield - by lifting the Big One - the Gibson cup, amidst joyous scenes at Solitude and later at Windsor Park.

"Everyone remembers the game up at Coleraine where we won 5-1 to go top of the league with just the one game to go - the huge Belfast Derby at Solitude, with the title on the line.

I remember going into the game at Solitude, the mindset all week had been that we had put ourselves into a great position going into the final league game. We had been on an incredible run of results and found the resolve to win games such as the Coleraine game where we fought back from losing 1-0 to earn the maximum points.

We had worked so hard to come from behind to put ourselves in a leading position in the table and the message all week was to ensure that we didn't waste the opportunity. We knew we had the Cup Final on the horizon but it wasn't even discussed, as we were all solely and totally focused on winning the league at Solitude.

Our mindset was that we wanted to win the game at Solitude. We knew with goal difference being in our favour, a point would have been likely to be sufficient but we didn't want a draw. We wanted to win.

The suspension of Paul Smyth from the Solitude game gave us a selection headache. We were on a great run of winning and unbeaten games and the team was virtually picking itself. We brought Chris Casement into midfield, with Mark Haughey slotting in at right back alongside Jimmy Callacher, Mark Stafford and Matty Clarke at the back. Jamie Mulgrew, Stephen Lowry and Niall Quinn occupied the other midfield positions with Aaron Burns and Waterworth further forward. With big Roy in goals, this was a team that had won 13 and only drawn one league game since early January, and the first post split game, a win against Crusaders had put us into real contention for the title.

But we still needed one more big result to see us over the line. Leading up to the Solitude game, the players were excellent and confident. I detected a readiness and a steeliness and I think that had been growing from that game in November where we fought back to draw 2-2, having been 2-0 down at Mourneview, after the early loss of two players to red cards.

Going into the Cliftonville game, the Reds had brought back Tommy Breslin as manager, to try and navigate them through the Europa league play offs and that gave everyone at Solitude a real lift. It's normal that a new manager gets a bounce straight after he's appointed and we had to be wary of the effect and the impact his return would have on our opponents. We fully expected Cliftonville to step up their game in response to the return of Tommy and knew his return would give them the desired positive effect that a new manager brings.

Before the game, we had worked on how we could try and break down Cliftonville defensively and we had worked on dealing with their short corners. So, it was really frustrating that we conceded from one such short corner when Daniel Hughes scored after a cut back. We just seemed to switch off for a second and we relied on big Roy to make a crucial save just before the end of a first half in which we had looked a bit edgy.

At half time we were walking off with the home fans telling us that Crusaders were going to win the league and we were well aware that they were comfortably ahead in their game at Seaview against Glenavon.

We knew we were up against it in the second half but there was no real intensity or panic to our talk in the dressing room. We calmly reminded the players of what we'd been saying all week - some of our players had won the league before but some of those who hadn't won the league may never have recovered as Linfield players, if we didn't go on to win the league, having worked so hard to put ourselves into that position. And I would have included myself in that statement because it was vitally important, when we'd given ourselves the opportunity to go and win the league, that we went out and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It was vital that our players went out in the second half and showed that they had the mental toughness that was required to win the league.

In the second half we were attacking the end where our supporters were packed in. There had been a huge scramble for the remainder of the 700 or 800 or so tickets, after our win at Coleraine the week before and thankfully, we got the equaliser early in the second half just in front of our sell out allocation of ticket holders.

The goal lifted our supporters and it really settled our players. The players realised that they were good enough to get at least the point that was needed to win the league.

Andy's second goal eased matters even more. It was an incredible goal and certainly, one of the most important in the club's history. There was a lot of pressure on the players and there was a lot of spotlight on whether they could handle that pressure.

But Andy's second goal was probably his best goal for the club and it was probably the best goal in my time as manager of the club. It was a huge goal on what was a huge occasion for everyone at the club.

By then, the atmosphere among our supporters was incredible. The return of Tommy Breslin had given Cliftonville a bounce effect and they were certainly up for the game but at 2-1, the atmosphere had changed. It was almost party time with us in control - even more so after Andy was fouled in the box, a red card issued to the Reds player and Andy rolled in what I suppose was the resultant soft penalty.

At 3-1, we were comfortably able to see the game out and it was a terrific achievement for Andy to grab a hat trick to win the game, to win the league and his place in the history books was assured when people would look back on that season in years to come.

On the final whistle, the first to shake my hand was Tommy Breslin. He had won the league with the Reds before and he was very kind and gracious in his good will messages with us. He was a real gentleman and both football and his own family lost a great man with his sad passing last year.

The emotion of the occasion took over - there was real joy among the staff and players and of course, I was keen to seek out my wife, kids and dad who were in the away end that day.

The club hadn't won the league in 4 or 5 years and it was a success that the supporters really enjoyed. The scenes when we lifted the trophy in front of our jubilant fans at the away end will live long in the memory and it's important that you enjoy and make the most of those sort of great occasions.

The club had made tentative provisional plans to host an event at Windsor, in case we won the league and it was great that we were able to implement those plans, by bringing the Gibson cup and squad to a bigger audience of supporters after the game in the Windsor Park Railway Stand, than had been able to get tickets for the game at Solitude.

It was a fantastic and truly memorable day - a great experience to win my first league title as manager and in the most exciting and unforgettable of last day dramas."

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