The latest player to reflect on Linfield’s 2005 Setanta Cup success is Paul McAreavey. The battling midfielder cemented his reputation as a fan-favourite at Windsor Park with performances such as the one he put in, in Dublin that evening.
“It was an unbelievable experience. I remember going down on the Friday, staying in the Hotel in Malahide, trained on the Saturday morning before the game with a light session. There was still disappointment at losing the league to Glentoran and the manner of it, but it galvanised us. We went to The Oval and beat Glentoran 4-2 the following week to help us reach the Setanta final. That gave us real confidence going down to Dublin, although we were going down as big underdogs, playing against a fantastic Shelbourne team with top players through the team; a full-time outfit and Pat Fenlon as manager – they were beating everyone and almost qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stages.”
Linfield were the 3-1 outsiders, something which you don’t hear often, and this is why that night is still talked about and cherished. Looking back, ‘Maccers’ explains the Linfield approach that night and hails the Linfield support as the team’s twelfth man.
“I don’t think many people gave us a chance, but we believed in ourselves. We went about it in a European fashion where we knew they’d have plenty of the ball. It was the end of our season - we’d probably played 50 games and were pretty tired. It was the first Setanta Cup and we were busting to go down and put in a good performance and give Shelbourne a good game, and we did that.
“On the day we kept two banks of four and stayed solid and we broke quickly on the counter-attack. Luckily ennough, we had ‘Spike’ Ferguson and Peter Thompson up front and they scored two brilliant breakaway goals from two fantastic balls into the box and finishes to match. They did that regularly for Linfield, they were outstanding strikers. We also had a fantastic goalkeeper in Alan Mannus, the back four was superb and the midfield four played really well.
“Once we got those two goals, it gave us a real focus to hold on and sit tight and try not to let Shelbourne break the lines which I thought we were outstanding at that night. We expected a second half onslaught from Shelbourne, as we knew they weren’t happy as we were beating them 2-0 in their own back yard. I think they were turning up thinking they’d do us easily. We gave them the shock of their lives and the one thing that stands out from that night was the Linfield support. They were down in their droves and the place was absolutely pumping! They were singing right from 45 minutes before kick-off, right through the game, they never stopped. People talk about the ‘twelfth man’ - they were our twelfth man.
“The performance the team put in for the fans was unbelievable. That was one of my best days in football, an experience I will never forget. From 1 to 18 in our squad, the backroom staff, the board; everybody gave their all. I am very proud to be a part of the first Linfield team to win the Setanta Cup. Looking back on it, I absolutely loved it – it was a fantastic time and great, great memories. It’s hard to believe it’s 15 years ago but the memories will last a lifetime. I will look forward to watching the game this Saturday evening with all the Linfield fans, it will be great to see. Unbelievable memories and great to be part of a fantastic, fantastic Linfield squad. Enjoy the game, all the best.”