Review of 2017 - Part 2 - By Jamie Megarry

Posted : 29th December 2017 at 10:08:44

Last week Jamie Megarry of Linfieldfc.com commenced his review of 2017 with a detailed look back at January - April, in Part One of a three part resume of the year that is now drawing to a close.

Here, Jamie takes a look back at May - August, in Part 2 and he will conclude his review with Part 3, featuring September to December after tomorrow's home game against Crusaders.

May

The Linfield players had to keep a lid on their title celebrations for at least another week in the knowledge that they’d have one more big push required to top off a memorable season.

Coleraine had been in top form since the turn of the year and it all geared up for an exciting Irish Cup final between the Blues and Oran Kearney’s Bannsiders on May 6. The showpiece occasion saw the biggest crowd since 2001, with 12,551 fans filtering through the gates of Windsor Park to see Andrew Waterworth become the first player since 1969 to net a hattrick in an Irish Cup final. The Blues added the Irish Cup to the Gibson Cup and County Antrim Shield to finish off a memorable treble-winning season in style.

The Club then wasted no time in showing their faith in manager David Healy, as he was rewarded for his success with a contract extension to keep him at Windsor Park until the end of the 2019/20 season.

The month of May was a busy one at Linfield in terms of transfers. No less than 12 players departed the Club as Ross Gaynor, Sammy Clingan, Jonny Frazer, Sean Ward, Michael McLellan, Kevin Amuneke and Kris Bright all moved on, whilst TJ Murray, Adam Salley, Seanna Foster, Ross Glendinning and David Kee wouldn’t return to Linfield following loan spells elsewhere.

David Healy also announced three signings. Winger Jordan Stewart signed for his boyhood Club following his departure from English outfit Swindon Town. Andrew Mitchell joined following the expiry of his contract with Crusaders, whilst Robert Garrett returned for a second spell following a three-year stint at Portadown FC.

Linfield Swifts were beaten 3-1 in the Intermediate Cup final by Limavady United and it would prove to be Alan Dornan’s last match in charge, as he stepped down to be replaced by former Academy coach David Dorrian.

The club held a very successful end of season awards night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in South Belfast. Players, staff, directors, ex-players, fans and guests were all in attendance as Roy Carroll, picked up the main award - the Linfieldfc.com Player of the Year trophy. Stephen Lowry won the Malcolm Brodie Players' Player of the Year award and Paul Smyth won the Bobby Braithwaite memorial Young player of the year trophy. The Billy Meikle Memorial trophy went to Mark Stafford and Paul Smyth won the Goal of the season award. The merit award went to long serving backroom staff member Andy Kerr MBE and he also picked up a similar award at the NIFWA awards dinner.

The Club’s Annual General Meeting saw directors Andy Conn, Jonathan Lamont and Stephen Dickson elected for a three-year period. Billy Kennedy was elected for a 1 year period.

Club President Peter Lunn MBE was re-elected for a further term of office.

It was a mixed month for Linfield Ladies - a 5-0 league win away to Sion Swifts, a scoreless draw at Seaview and a 2-1 defeat at Newry. A 2-0 Irish Cup first round defeat at Sion was a disappointment for the holders but there was progress in the League Cup after a 5-1 home win against Sion and a 3- 1 win against Crusaders in the County Antrim FA Cup.



June

Linfield returned to pre-season training on June 13 after five weeks off and were straight back into action, as they travelled to Wales to take on Bala Town in a friendly on June 17 as a warm-up for their upcoming Champions League fixtures. Goals from Andy Waterworth, Aaron Burns and Cameron Stewart gave Linfield a 3-1 win and much needed match fitness.

As Champions, Linfield would enter the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2012 and the draw took place on June 20. The Blues were drawn against San Marino opponents in the form of ‘La Fiorita’, with the winner going on to play Scottish giants Celtic FC in the next round.

The first leg of Linfield’s first round tie with La Fiorita was played at Windsor Park and the San Marino Champions ‘parked the bus’. It looked like they were going to hold onto a 0-0 draw, and they even saved a Linfield penalty 20 minutes from time. However, in the dying minutes, Jordan Stewart produced a moment of magic on his competitive debut to slot home the winner, after dazzling his way through with tidy footwork.

The Club and kit partners Umbro revealed and released the new home kit at the end of June and it was a popular purchase from the Linfield superstore.

David Healy made his fourth signing of the summer by securing the signature of defender Josh Robinson after he departed York City and he was allocated the number 4 shirt.

Linfield Ladies won 10-0 against Ballymena but a home 1-1 draw with Crusaders was a setback. A 2-0 League cup semi final win away to Glentoran was pleasing but unfortunately, the 4 in a row County Antrim FA Cup holders lost their grip on the trophy, following a penalty shoot out reverse at the hands of Glentoran.

Kingsway LSC Treasurer and stalwart Gerry Stewart sadly and suddenly passed away on June 3.



July

Linfield and a number of faithful supporters made the trip to San Marino for the second leg against La Fiorita. It was Linfield’s first ever fixture in San Marino and the hosts put up a good fight but Linfield held out for a 0-0 draw to progress 1-0 on aggregate, meaning they would be taking on Celtic in the next round – a test akin to climbing Mount Everest, according to the manager.

The Blues welcomed Hearts to Windsor Park and the Jambos had three Northern Ireland internationals in their squad – Michael Smith, Aaron Hughes and Kyle Lafferty. The Jambos ran out 4-1 winners, despite Linfield taking the lead through Jamie Mulgrew, but a worthwhile exercise nonetheless, as 21 Linfield players got a runout.

Then came the historic tie against Celtic. It was the first time Linfield had met British opposition in European competition since September 1970, when they were narrowly knocked out by Manchester City on away goals. Celtic hadn’t lost for a year and went in as big favourites and despite an excellent performance from Linfield, the Hoops ran out 2-0 winners, which many viewed a very respectable scoreline.

58,100 spectators filtered into Celtic Park to see Linfield playing Celtic in the away leg. Again, the Blues worked very hard but Celtic came through winners, 4-0 this time, on a memorable night for the Linfield support in Glasgow.

Attention returned to preparation for the domestic season as Linfield wrapped up thumping friendly victories over Bangor [4-0], Sheffield United U23 [5-1] and Newry City [6-0]. Then the Blues travelled to the Oval for the first ever ‘Big Two Cup’ game with proceeds going to charity. The game was a stalemate and went to a penalty shoot-out and a bizarre one at that, as Linfield won 1-0 after nine penalties.

Linfield Ladies won the 2017 NIFL Premier League Cup final after a 6-3 victory against Newry City at Solitude, thanks to goals from Kirsty McGuinness (3), Amber Dempster (2) and Alison Smyth.

A 3-1 league win away to Glentoran and an 8-2 home win against Cliftonville kept Linfield in the hunt for the league title which was going right down to the wire in a shoot out with Newry.

The month ended on a sad note with the passing of Billy Corrigan, a founding member of the 1st Newtownabbey LSC and a popular, well known and greatly respected figure in supporter circles.



August

The Mayor of Ards and North Down held a Mayoral Reception for Jamie Mulgrew, Captain of Linfield in Bangor Town Hall on Wednesday 2nd August 2017, in recognition of his achievements and the hugely successful season just concluded which culminated in Jamie being awarded the Ulster Footballer of the Year award and the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Player of the Year honour.

The Blues wrapped up pre-season with wins over Dundela and a victory over Coleraine in the Charity Shield at the Oval. The Champions began the defence of their league title at home to Carrick Rangers on August 12 with a 2-0 win, before wins over Ards [2-0], Dungannon Swifts [4-0] and Ballymena United [1-0] made it four wins and four clean sheets from the opening month of the season.

The last week of the transfer window saw two departures and two new arrivals. After much speculation, Paul Smyth finally sealed a deserved move 'across the water' as he headed to Queens Park Rangers with the best wishes of everybody at Linfield. As part of the deal, 19 year-old striker Brandon Adams headed the opposite way on a season-long loan. Also arriving was former Plymouth Argyle striker Louis Rooney. The Northern Ireland U21 international signed a one-year deal and made an immediate impact, coming off the bench to net an eight minute hattrick on his debut in a 6-0 win over Lisburn Distillery in the League Cup! Defender Reece Glendinning agreed a season long loan with Ards.

Linfield Ladies experienced UEFA Champions League action for the first ever time. The Ladies were paired in a group with Shelbourne, PK-35 Vantaa of Finland and KKYK Medyk Konin of Poland. Although the Ladies lost their three group matches, they put up a good fight against tough, higher ranked opposition and went on to finish the month in style, beating Newry Ladies 4-1 in a winner takes all league decider to be crowned back-to-back Premier League Champions and qualify for the 2018 UEFA Champions League. 2 goals apiece for Kirsty McGuinness and Alison Smyth ensured the Premier League trophy remained at Windsor Park and sparked joyous title winning celebrations at Rathmore.

Linfield's Louise McDaniel scored a late equaliser for Northern Ireland under 19s in their UEFA European Championship tournament game against Scotland at Mourneview Park.

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