In the aftermath of our famous victory in Greece last July, I recall adding a news item entitled "Pride".
I feel a similar sense of pride today.
Firstly, congratulations to every player, every member of staff and every supporter for the role they played in winning the County Antrim Shield last night. It was an absorbing game. Crusaders started brightly and had a few early chances but for the remainder of the game Linfield were on top but just couldn't break down stubborn Crusaders resistance.
When it went to the lottery of penalties, we all recalled our 10-9 reverse to the same side in the League Cup competition earlier this season and we feared the worst. However, on this occasion the fates were on our side and we emerged victorious.
Prior to the game, a minutes silence in memory of Frankie Taylor was respectfully and impeccably observed by both sets of players, staff and supporters. How poignant that Crusaders staff, players and supporters stood to respect a minutes silence for the late Billy Meikle in January and they should do likewise last night for Frankie Taylor. Respect.
Last night was no "ordinary" County Antrim Shield triumph. This was a competition we hadn't won since the famous "Clean Sweep" season of 2005/6 and we'd endured several defeats in the final since then. Only Michael Gault and Peter Thompson possessed winners medals, so there was plenty of motivation among our squad to end a run of final defeats in the tournament and for several new players to win their first ever senior medal.
Then, there was the inevitable spotlight on our manager who'd recently announced his decision to step down at the end of the season. He'd been "stuck" on 30 trophies for rather longer than he and we all would have liked. He had to contend with the pressure of the attention on Roy Coyle's club record of 31 trophies and the inevitable comparisons but he handled this all in a most professional and dignified manner, preferring to focus on winning the next trophy for the club and for the players.
Last night DJ equalled Roy Coyle's fantastic record of 31 trophies. The manager, his staff and the players deserve immense praise. DJ will quickly refocus on 8 more "cup finals" and the attempt to win his 32nd trophy for the club in the weeks ahead. Whether the club lifts the league title or whether it doesn't, the club has been truly blessed to have won 62 trophies under the stewardship of Roy Coyle and DJ. Supporters will have their own view on who was the greater but no one can deny that the real winner with a combined total of 62 trophies has been Linfield FC,
A large Linfield contingent was out in force last night to see DJ equal Roy Coyle's historic achievement but there was another significant reason why Bluemen, women and children were out in force last night willing on the team and that brought with it another pressure for our players and staff to contend with.
Her Majesty the Queen once famously spoke of her "horrible year". Well, the first two months of 2014 have been a very testing and emotional time for all at Linfield FC. Billy Meikle and Frankie Taylor, 2 hugely popular and hardworking directors of the club have passed away suddenly in quick succession, the great Alex Russell has passed away and leading supporters Jim Prentice and Dawson Campbell have also passed away.
In the midst of all this gloom and sadness, there was a burning desire from within all at the club to lift the trophy last night to give everyone a boost and a lift. The team spirit of the players, their togetherness and their joy in the victory celebrations clearly revealed a hunger and a desire to win the trophy last night, not just for themselves and the manager but also in honour of our dearly departed friends and loved ones.
Yesterday in church the Linfield family gave Frankie Taylor the best possible send off. Last night the Linfield players did their bit to give him the best possible send off too. Frankie and Billy Meikle wanted to see trophy winning Linfield teams and their spirit was with the team last night roaring them on. Everyone wanted to win the trophy for Frankie and Billy and everybody knew they were watching from "up above".
How poignant that the Linfield goalkeeper should turn out to be the hero at the end of a long night. Only a few days earlier the club said farewell to one of the clubs greatest ever players in Alex Russell and no doubt, the spirit of the great man from nearby Kells was with Johnny Tuffey last night, as he got down to make those crucial penalty saves to bring the Shield "home again" for the first time in eight seasons.
In the ground last night was Glenn Meikle and his son Luca and the success last night was for Billy, our dearly and greatly missed former colleague, director and friend.
At the end of the game Kate who works in our Shankill Superstore told me that Julie, the precious daughter of Frankie Taylor was with her, beaming with pride. There was only one thing to do. Kate brought Julie to me and I took Julie to our players and staff in the centre circle. In the midst of their own joy and celebrations, they were each THRILLED to see Julie. Our players knew part of this victory was for Frankie up above and how appropriate that his beloved daughter should be there in the middle of the celebrations on this most poignant of days when her own father was sadly laid to rest.
DJ took Julie by the hand as he went up to collect his medal and lift the Shield with Michael Gault. Frankie famously had said that being at the Menin Gate was his proudest day. Well last night must run that a close second. His own precious daughter being with the Linfield manager when the 31st trophy of his managerial career was being lifted up for the Linfield fans to view. Surely, nothing could make Frankie any prouder than that.
There is no doubt that the spirit of Billy Meikle, Frankie Taylor and Alex Russell spurred our squad and staff on in what must have been one of the most emotional of periods in our clubs history . There is no doubt everyone wanted the trophy last night for them. From way up above, our absent friends were watching, cheering us on and celebrating with immense pride when Michael Gault, DJ and Julie Taylor lifted the County Antrim Shield last night.
Everyone at the club is proud that this famous old trophy is back at Windsor Park and everyone is proud that the players triumphed in the end against formidable opposition. That triumph is for the players, the staff and of course the supporters but on this occasion especially, there is no doubt it is an extra special and historic triumph for the manager and it is a most fitting tribute and very sweet boost and source of great comfort for the families of our dearly beloved Alex Russell, Billy Meikle and Frankie Taylor.
A day after we said a final farewell to Frankie Taylor ; the day after the night we lifted the Shield in his honour, this writer somehow has a 51st birthday to celebrate. I wanted the Shield for my birthday and as a tribute to our colleagues "up above" and we lifted the Shield after what has truly been a most emotional and tear filled period. After the pain of the last few weeks, the Shield is most definitely the best possible tonic for us all.
In the words of the famous song - "when Gault went up to lift the Antrim Shield.. We were there". And we all know who was there too cheering the loudest.
Let's get down to Portadown on Saturday and lift that team once more.
Audaces Fortuna Juvat
AC - LFC Media Director