Tribute to Shayne Lavery - by Jamie Megarry

Posted : 8th June 2021 at 21:47:05

Shayne Lavery joined Linfield on May 31, 2019, following his release from Everton, aged 20. At the time he was a highly-rated prospect who had been prolific for Northern Ireland Under-21s, firing Ian Baraclough’s men to a second place finish in the 2019 European Under-21 Championship Qualifiers. Lavery’s goals included a remarkable winner away to a very talented Spain Under-21 team, another goal at home to Spain and a winner away to Iceland. He had also been capped at senior International level by Michael O’Neill, making his Northern Ireland debut against Panama during a tour of Central America in 2018.

Lavery was with Everton for four years and he played development football with the Under-23s under manager David Unsworth and coach Francis Jeffers – both former Everton players. He also made the bench in a Europa League game for Everton’s first team in Limassol. Lavery had a loan stint at Falkirk in 2019 before joining Linfield, but things didn’t really work out in Scotland and effectively David Healy was the one who gave Shayne his real breakthrough in senior competitive football.

Many were surprised that David Healy had managed to capture the signing of Shayne Lavery in 2019. Stats show that so many players struggle and ultimately drift away from the game in disillusion after being released by big cross-channel clubs, but Shayne’s resilliance and attitude was a credit to himself and has ultimately earned him another crack at it with Blackpool.

He made his debut for Linfield in a Champions League First Round Qualifier against Rosenborg and also played in the away leg in Trondheim. Although Linfield lost both games, Shayne hit the ground running and was at the heart of a journey to remember. The Blues dropped into the Europa League Second Qualifying Round and Shayne won the penalty away to HB Torshavn which led to Andy Waterworth becoming Linfield’s all-time leading goalscorer in Europe.

Shayne’s Linfield career truly burst into life after progressing to the Third Qualifying Round to take on Sutjeska of Montenegro. He played a big part in the equaliser in Montenegro before Linfield went on to win 2-1 and then he ran a Montenegro international ragged in the return leg at Windsor Park. That was the night he scored the first of his 47 Linfield goals and a superb goal it was too. The visiting goalkeeper thought he was coming out 30 yards to sweep the ball away but Shayne Lavery turned the burners on and his persistence paid off as he forced the ball off the ‘keeper and Shayne produced a wonderful finish from 25 or 30 yards beyond a backtracking defender who was near the goalline. He was a real pest to the opposition all night and rattled a few cages, typified when he ran a centre half into the channel and the defender knew he was in trouble, so he elbowed ‘Man of the Match’ Lavery out of frustration and received his marching orders. That gave Linfield the platform to go on and progress to the Europa League play-off round which was a fantastic achievement.

What happened next was the stuff of dreams for Linfield supporters. The Blues were not given a hope against Qarabag, an experienced team full of internationals and players with real pedigree in some of the world’s top leagues. In the first leg at Windsor Park in front of around 5,000 fans Shayne Lavery wrote himself into Linfield folklore. First of all, he raised the roof on the stroke of half time when he rose like a salmon to give Linfield a 2-1 lead, heading in from Andrew Mitchell’s corner. Things got even better on 74 minutes when Shayne scored what will go down as a truly iconic goal in Linfield’s history. In many ways the goal is a perfection reflection of Shayne as a player. He chased what looked like a lost cause and didn’t give up, forcing a defender into a mistake and when he got the ball he burst forward, cut inside and from the edge of the box finished superbly on his left foot. Anyone fortunate enough to be inside Windsor Park that night will never, ever forget it. Sadly, Linfield went out on the away goals rule, but Shayne scored another fine goal out in Baku and played a big part in some of our most memorable nights.

In total in his first season Shayne scored 17 goals and assisted 8 in 38 appearances which was a good return for a 21 year-old who was truly sampling competitive senior football on a regular basis for the first time. He contributed to a title win with some great performances, including a hat-trick inside the first 13 minutes against Glenavon! Shayne scored two hat-tricks in his first season, with the other coming against Warrenpoint Town. Despite that, it was a real learning curve for Shayne playing against experienced Irish League defenders in his first season and provided good grounding for further developing his attributes, whilst he also received further senior Northern Ireland caps against the likes of Germany and Netherlands.

The Coronavirus pandemic brought a premature end to his first season and football stopped altogether from March until July. During this period of lockdown Shayne decided he would take on a personal trainer to help him reach optimal fitness and conditioning to improve his game. This brought both physical and mental benefits and Shayne was like a different ‘animal’ in the 2020-21 season. He missed the first month of the domestic season through injury but Andy Waterworth was banging the goals in. It wasn’t until probably mid-November before Shayne got himself into the starting eleven, but he hit the ground running and went on to have a fantastic season. He scored the third hat-trick of his Linfield career, against Portadown in early February

The Lurgan native scored another hat-trick, against Carrick Rangers at Windsor Park in March. He always scored when Linfield needed someone to pop up, and one of a few noticeable improvements from the previous season was that he was producing in big games, with vital goals against the likes of Larne, Crusaders and Cliftonville.

Shayne’s fifth and final Linfield hat-trick came a few weeks before the end of the season in an Irish Cup quarter-final away to Loughgall with three clinical strikes.

He then produced on the big occasion yet again with two second half semi-final goals in a 3-0 win over Ballymena United at Mourneview Park to secure Linfield’s place in the 2021 Irish Cup final

Linfield were back in Lurgan three days later for the Irish Cup final. Larne were the opponents and it was the same outcome as the unstoppable Lavery put The Blues ahead after just four minutes, showing smart movement to volley in from a corner. He really led from the front that night with his desire and work rate to press high and Larne weren’t able to play to their strengths as a result. A goal from Cooper then made it 2-0 and Linfield ended up deserving winners with a 2-1 win to lift the Irish Cup which was a special moment for Shayne who won his first senior cup final.

Shayne’s Linfield career ended on a high as in his last start for the club The Blues clinched the title away to Coleraine with a 1-1 draw which secured a League and Cup ‘Double’.

His last goal for Linfield was that big goal in the Irish Cup final and it was his 30th of the season. That’s some feat, particularly given it took him almost two months to nail down a starting spot. From then on he made the shirt his own and 30 goals in 39 matches for a 22 year-old leading the line for Linfield is a fantastic achievement.

To top everything off, along with a host of other awards, Shayne created history when he deservedly became the first player to ever receive both the Ulster Footballer of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards in one season. He also won NIFWA player and Young player of the year awards as well as the Linfield player of the year award.

Shayne firing Linfield to a League and Cup ‘Double’ with 30 goals is a happy ending, and no less than he deserved. Since taking on a personal trainer he has dedicated his life to it with strict diets and exercise regimes. Likewise, his move back to England is no less than he deserves and one thing for sure is that his attitude won’t be his deterrent. He has been first class on and off the pitch.

It has been a pleasure to have Shayne with us for two seasons. He always emptied the tank every time he pulled the shirt on and his exciting style with electrifying pace will be missed be our supporters. He has helped us to two league titles, an Irish Cup and an incredible run in Europe which will never be forgotten; particularly THAT goal against Qarabag. For all of it we say thank you and wish Shayne every success for the future and look forward to seeing how his career develops. Blackpool have signed an exciting talent with real desire to succeed.

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