LINFIELD 1-0 BODO/GLIMT 19.7.2022

There’s probably no better place to spend a Heatwave than somewhere where there is a lot of fans. Sorry.

Some of them were wearing scarves through, very inappropriate for this kind of weather.

This was unchartered territory for Linfield, having got past the 1st Round of the European Cup for the first time since 1993 (although it was the first time they won a 1st Round tie since 1984).

Bodo/Glimt would represent a much tougher challenge.

They are 3rd in the All Time Euro Conference table (ok, it has only been going for one season) having reached the Quarter-Finals after beating Celtic home and away, as well as beating proper teams like AZ Alkmaar and AS Roma.

Bodo struck an early psychological blow when there was a change in the usual attacking ends with Linfield attacking the Railway Stand in the first-half instead of the second-half.

That mean I had to walk from one end of Windsor Park to the other as I like to sit where Linfield are attacking.

I wasn’t the only one. I spotted one of the Sit Where We Attack Crowd as I was walking back and let them know of the change of ends.

Despite that, Linfield weren’t unsettled by this, having an early chance when Robbie McDaid was denied by a last ditch tackle just when it looked like he was going to finish.

The resulting corner saw Kirk Millar hit an effort into the side netting.

Linfield were holding their own, and getting a lot of joy from snapping at Bodo players as they tried to play the ball out from the back, denying them getting anywhere and creating opportunities of their own.

Joel Cooper would have enjoyed playing against this opposition, if he wasn’t injured.

Despite having Linfield players snapping at them, Bodo looked comfortable on the ball. Linfield knew they would have to be “on it” if they wanted to keep the tie alive by the time they went to Norway.

Kirk Millar was most definitely “on it”, a vast improvement on the previous week’s performance.
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Bodo had a couple of attempts at goal, but nothing to worry Linfield. As long as they didn’t do anything stupid defensively, they would be ok.

As well as Linfield were restricting Bodo in terms of clear cut opportunities, Bodo were restricting Linfield just as well.

It did feel that Linfield were having to do more work to deny Bodo than Bodo were to deny Linfield.

Linfield’s other best moment in the first came from a low Kirk Millar cross that Bodo’s keeper was able to grab in time just as Stephen Fallon was trying to stretch out a leg to poke the ball home.

0-0 at half-time, you would definitely have taken that.

Linfield were holding their own in the second-half while being wary of the threat that Bodo had, with a shot from outside the box going just wide while Chris Shields had to get in the way of a shot to divert it behind for a corner.

Ben Hall was then next to deny Bodo at the expense of a corner, making a block after a neat passing move looked to have created the scoring opportunity that would give them the lead.

David Healy turned to the bench, bringing on Kyle McClean (I thought he would have went with Cameron Palmer) for Jamie Mulgrew and Eetu Vertainen for Robbie McDaid.

Straight away, Eetu had a set-to with a couple of Bodo players. Nordic rivalry alive and well in South Belfast.

It looked like Jordan Stewart was going to get the breakthrough for Linfield when the ball fell to him after a free-kick was cleared, but his shot was blocked at the expense of a corner.

Chris Shields was next to be frustrated as his header went just wide. Linfield were getting a sense that they could win this.

They had to be careful at the other end though, with Stephen Fallon forced to stretch out a leg on the line to block a goalbound shot to keep the score 0-0.

You got the feeling that Bodo might score when they got into Linfield’s final third, but never that a goal was imminent. Linfield just had to not do anything stupid and they would keep the tie competitive when the second leg kicked off in Norway.

Whenever Linfield got into Bodo’s final third, they got an energy boost from the crowd, who sensed that just one moment of magic could give them an advantage to take to Norway.

It didn’t come from Daniel Finlayson, who shot over from the edge of the box. Thankfully, no Club Directors were harmed when the ball landed.

Just when it looked like being an honourable 0-0 draw, Linfield got the breakthrough, which came from a mistake followed by a moment of magic.

A Bodo defender overran the ball, giving Kirk Millar a sniff that he didn’t turn down, finding himself through on goal.

I was expecting him to smash it goalwards, but he went for a chip from an angle.

From where I was sat, in the South Stand level with the six yard box, it looked like it was going wide.

Before you could scream “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING???” the ball dropped down into the back of the net, and Linfield were 1-0 up.

That probably explains why Kirk Millar is a Professional Footballer and I am not.

Was it greedy to wonder if Linfield could get a second in the ten minutes that remained?

David Healy wasn’t taking any chances, bringing on Niall Quinn for Jordan Stewart.

They were able to hold out for a 1-0 win to take to Norway.

Sadly, i’m pessimistic when it comes to European games, and all I could think about was the narrow aggregate defeat to AIK in 2014.

This win leaves Linfield just 90 minutes from securing Group Stage Football of some description.

That would see them play at least 57 games this season.

A couple of cup runs could take that to near 70.

The price of success I guess.

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HARLAND AND WOLFF WELDERS 1-8 LINFIELD 16.7.2022

Even though they had a big European game coming up, Linfield travelled to East Belfast for the Official Opening of Blanchflower Park, even though it has been hosting matched since October 2021.

A new ground for Harland and Wolff Welders, I had this earmarked to visit, and I was hoping that the worst case scenario, there would be a Linfield visit as part of pre-season preparations in the Summer of 2022 in order to get me that visit.

Although, I did manage a visit already, for an Irish Cup tie in January 2022 against Annagh United.

Despite that, I wasn’t going to miss Linfield’s first visit there, when this game was announced.

As it was a special occasion, gifts were exchanged on the pitch between Club Directors before the match. That would be as generous as Linfield got.

Welders first game there, in October 2021 was against Knockbreda, with an unknown Ethan Devine. He’s not unknown anymore.

He was though, not involved from the start in this game, as were all the starters from Wednesday night, with Linfield now using weekend friendlies to give gametime to players not involved in European games from the start so that they can be ready when needed, be it in Europe or when the domestic action starts in August.

Despite eleven changes, there were still quite a few big names on the pitch, and quite a lot on the bench, a bench that was far stronger than it was the previous Saturday against Knockbreda.

One of those big name starters was Eetu Vertainen, who was ineligible for the TNS games and was looking to kick on from his goal against Knockbreda.

It didn’t take long for him to do so, smashing home a volley in the penalty area in the opening minutes to put Linfield 1-0 up.

Within a few minutes, he had his eyes on a second goal as he gestured to the bench to be allowed to take a penalty awarded for a foul on Josh Archer.

It was a clear foul on Archer, the only question was in or outside the box.

I was unsure from my position, though TV replays confirmed in was a correct decision.

Josh Archer stepped up to make it 2-0, and Linfield almost had the game wrapped up inside the opening ten minutes.

A good start for Linfield, and the half got even better as they appeared to be having their own Goal Of The Season Competition.

After Andrew Clarke guided the ball home to make it 3-0, Jordan Stewart then fired home low from outside the box to make it 4-0.

One person not participating in the Goal Of The Season Competition was Daniel Finlayson, as his long range effort went over the bar and narrowly avoided hitting Roy McGivern, which meant he narrowly avoided being dumped on the next boat back to Scotland.

Andrew Clarke then got his second goal to make it 5-0. Jordan Stewart looked like he was going to get his second goal when he skinned everybody in the box, but he managed to skin himself just as he was about to score.

There would be long to wait for a sixth Linfield goal, as Chris McKee slotted home just before half-time. Bit rude to ruin the hosts big day like that.

In the early minutes of the second-half, The Welders got a goal back, and a comeback was on.

Those hopes didn’t last long, as Linfield made an instant response, with Jordan Stewart making it 7-1 a few minutes later.

With the game long won, Linfield decided to make a few subs.

Imagine being 7-1 down and seeing the opposition make a series of subs, and thinking to yourself “Well i’m glad they’re taking it easy now”, only to see Chris Shields, Kirk Millar, Jamie Mulgrew, Kyle McClean and Robbie McDaid getting ready to come on. They would be joined by youngsters such as Diego McGann, Ewen McCoubrey and Jack Montgomery.

Unsurprisingly, the game meandered for a while, although they was still time for another Linfield goal, Kyle McClean making it 8-1.

Number 8 making it 8, and now i’m trying to think of games where the scorer’s number has matched the number of goals scored by Linfield.

Not quite the scoreline that Harland and Wolff Welders had in mind for their big day, but it was a good day all round.

Goals for Linfield, minutes in the bank and a chance for a lot of fans to visit a new ground.

Now, to get ready for Bodo/Glimt.

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Harland and Wolff Welders v Linfield 2012

Harland and Wolff Welders v Linfield 2016

LINFIELD 2-0 THE NEW SAINTS (AFTER EXTRA TIME) 13.7.2022

Having already taken over Northern Ireland, Ethan Devine has his eyes on taking over Europe. He’s already taken over Shropshire.

When the draw was made, The New Saints were seen as winnable, despite them beating Cliftonville and Glentoran in Europe in the past decade.

Even despite a 1-0 first leg defeat, the tie was still winnable.

I didn’t go to the game. If i’d known how close Oswestry was to Liverpool, I probably would have. Lesson learnt for future reference.

Radio Shropshire it was for me, albeit only for the last twenty minutes, and it seemed to be Attack v Defence, with Linfield doing all of the attacking.

That continued in the early minutes of the game, with Linfield being camped in TNS half. You felt like they might get an early goal. If they did, it would be so vital.

Kirk Millar had an inswinging free-kick that was easily saved by the TNS keeper, while he almost accidentally set up an opener when his low cross going straight to the keeper was slashed over the bar by a TNS defender, narrowly missing his own goal.

When it’s your night, that gets smashed right into the back of the net.

It wasn’t a great night for Millar. As well as poor delivery of set pieces, there were two instances of him collecting the ball when he was off the pitch. It seemed like it would be a matter of time before Jordan Stewart would be introduced.

Spoiler Alert – Things got a lot better for Millar in the next home game.

Daniel Finlayson was just unable to get his head on the end of a cross, before he eventually did, but his effort was easily saved by TNS keeper.

Finlyson then had another header where he made a cleaner connection, forcing TNS keeper into a save.

It was Linfield’s best attacking moment of the game, but it was another moment where they would be frustrated.

Robbie McDaid was next to be frustrated, this time with a header.

The cross was too high for a shot and too low for a header, but he had to pick one. He picked the header and the keeper made the save.

Chris Johns was also adept at saving headers, making a great one midway through the second-half to deny TNS from going 1-0 up on the night.

Even though there was still plenty of time left in the match, it was hard to see where Linfield were going to get the two goals to take it to extra-time, nevermind the three to win it. It was a huge save.

TNS did have occasional moments in Linfield’s attacking third, but nothing too troublesome. Well, apart from the big save that Johns had to make.

Jordan Stewart came on for Kirk Millar as Linfield continued to chase the goal that would at least bring extra-time.

They didn’t help themselves by being wasteful at set pieces.

A lot of them were straight to the keeper. Any that were of a decent height, were usually cleared by a defender.

Frustratingly, there was no deviation. It was inswingers every time. A big of variety would have been nice when it was clear this wasn’t working.

There was even more frustration when Jordan Stewart chipped an effort narrowly wide.

That sense of it being one of those night got even worse when Ethan Devine hit the top of the bar in the opening seconds of injury time.

If he can’t save Linfield, who can?

There would be six minutes of that injury time, which perked up the crowd.

Linfield still had time to at least take the tie to extra-time.

Halfway through that injury time, Linfield got the goal they craved, from an unlikely source.

Chris Johns had come up for a corner kick, but it wasn’t him who scored it.

The corner was cleared to Jamie Mulgrew, who smashed home from 25 yards out.

Windsor Park erupted in celebration.

Jamie Mulgrew usually makes things happen, but not that. Not that anybody in Windsor Park cared.

The momentum was all with Linfield now, it now felt there was only going to be one winner.

There was still enough time for it to come without the need for extra-time.

However, they couldn’t get a goal in the three minutes that remained, which meant they would have an extra thirty minutes to do so.

Just a few minutes into extra-time, Linfield went in front for the first time in the tie when Chris McKee kept in a through ball on the touchline, and played it back to Ethan Devine to finish from a few yards out.

Even though the Away Goals Rule has been scrapped, there was still a lot of anxiety amongst the crowd. What if TNS pull one back and level the tie?

That anxiety wasn’t helped when Joel Cooper went down injured when tracking back. You could hear a collective groan go around Windsor Park.

With all six permitted subs made, Linfield would be finishing the match with ten men.

As if the nervousness and anxiety inside Windsor Park couldn’t get any worse.

Thankfully, Linfield would see out the game and the tie, getting to the Second Qualifying Round of the European Cup for the first time, guaranteeing at least six more European games this season.

The difficulty setting would go up a level, with Euro Conference Quarter-Finalists Bodo/Glimt due in Belfast just six days after this game, meaning there would be little time to dwell on or celebrate this result.

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NORTH DOWN COASTAL PATH – JULY 2022

Before anyone asks, no, I didn’t see Pierce Brosnan.

I think i’m the only person in Greater Belfast who hasn’t had a photo taken with him, or got a selfie at Craigyhill Bonfire.

It had been a year since I was at North Down Coastal Path, so it was a welcome return.

I had been waiting for the right moment, but every day I want to go, the weather was dull.

Who wants to take photos of a dull sky? That would be a waste of time.

I’d planned to go on The 12th, get out of Belfast and have a bit of a quiet day.

It turned out that the much hyped heatwave didn’t arrive, so it was the bike instead for me.

I was up early enough to get out and back before things start.

Living near a Train Station, I might as well make the most of it.

I decided to try again on the Wednesday, and the weather was on my side.

When you have scenery this beautiful, you might as well capture it at it’s best.

Although, I was planning to go on the Mourne Rambler, but the timetable didn’t suit as i’d be rushing to get back to Belfast for the Linfield v TNS match.

Thankfully, the Linfield match was worth giving up hiking in The Mournes for.

That trip, all being well, will be at the start of August.

I have until the end of August to make the most of the bus being in operation.

After a relative lie-in, I got on the train (City Hospital Train Station was a bit of a mess after the previous day’s festivities. Seriously folks, how much effort does it take?), cheating a wee bit by jumping off at Cultra, two stops down the line from the starting point at Holywood.

There’s not much excitement inbetween the two, so I didn’t miss much.

My plan was to go out for an hour (I arrived there at 9.40am) and see where it takes me before going back. I ended up going out for slightly more than an hour, ended up at a junction where I could have walked up a path that would take me to Crawfordsburn Country Park.

Maybe some other day, as i’m curious to see what it is like.

Having headed out for one hour, it was time to take the one hour journey back to Cultra.

When I went last year, on the way back, I continued my walking into Holywood Town Centre, to do a quick tour of the Charity Shops and have a bit of lunch.

There would be no repeat, as I headed back to Cultra Train Station.

I didn’t have a look at the timetable but I knew that I surely wouldn’t have that long a wait for the next train.

As I arrived at the platform, my train was only two minutes away.

There needs to be a name for the phenomenon of arriving at a train station unaware of the timetable, and your train is only a couple of minutes away, but not close enough to panic, just take a leisurely stroll to the platform and have a short wait.

I had decided to give Holywood a miss as my feet were sore. The sore feet were worth it for such an enjoyable walk.

That meant I missed out on visiting The Cove, as endorsed by Pierce Brosnan, who recently visited it.

I’m usually indifferent on the whole Best Bond Ever debate, but I think I might now be swayed to have a favourite.

Although, if George Lazenby or Timothy Dalton make a visit to Empire Exchange in Manchester, I may have to reconsider that.

So, what are my plans for the coming weeks?

With Linfield having away trips to Newry and Carrick in August, I may be tempted to sneak in visits to Carlingford and Whitehead around those games.

I also intend on doing Cavehill and Lisnabreeny Hill, as well as my day trip on the Mourne Rambler before the football season starts up again.

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North Down Coastal Path – June 2021

KNOCKBREDA 1-2 LINFIELD 9.7.2022

And a pre-season win for Linfield at the third attempt, as players continued to get minutes ahead of the new season, and more pressingly, big European games, this game being sandwiched inbetween Linfield’s tie with TNS, with the Salopians winning the first leg 1-0.

For Linfield, this would be a first visit to Breda Park since 2018. It’s not the easiest to get to, especially if you were relying on Public Transport.

The ground was so middle of nowhere, there was even a cow from a nearby field watching the game.

Thankfully, there would be no pitch invasion, like when a cat ran onto the pitch at Warrenpoint in 2018.

Linfield’s starting eleven was players not involved from the start away to The New Saints.

All eleven were known to Linfield fans, no Trialists.

The bench, not so well known, made of of youngsters whose names appear regularly on Swifts Round-Ups in the club website.

Numbers on shirts caused some confusion, no names, just numbers, and not always corresponding with the regular squad numbers.

I got caught out seeing Number 6 on the pitch, being relieved that Jimmy Callacher was on the comeback trail after injury, only to realise it wasn’t him.

It was, in fact, Cameron Palmer, a welcome return from long-term injury himself.

Unsurprisingly, the early minutes of the game saw lots of Linfield pressure.

It didn’t take long for that pressure to be rewarded with a goal, a header from Jordan Stewart.

Another headed goal, he’s starting to get a reputation as an aerial threat.

That was soon followed by a finish (no pun intended) from Eetu Vertainen.

Both Stewart and Vertainen were showing their class, which bodes well for the domestic season.

Even at this early stage, it was already looking like a question of how many Linfield would score.

When the sides met in a friendly in 2018, Linfield went into an early two goal lead and the game meandered after that.

With each passing minute in the first-half, it looked like the same was going to happen here.

Andrew Clarke had an effort go wide while Chris McKee headed the ball agonisingly wide from close range when the whole ground expected him to score.

You could hear the fear in the voices of Knockbreda defenders every time Jordan Stewart got the ball, with “Stop the cross!!! Stop the cross!!!” being a favourite shout.

It wasn’t that easy to do though.

Knockbreda couldn’t get out of their half much, it was mostly Attack v Defence.

That continued into the second-half, with Connor Pepper firing an effort over the bar.

As a result, there was a frantic search for the ball as that area behind the goal is a No Man’s Land that Club Officials have access to in order to retrieve footballs.

They were helped out by a Linfield player not in the squad but watching as a Spectator, a level of class you expect from Linfield Football Club.

Just as the previous Saturday, the second-half was a non event due to the sheer volume of substitutions.

That didn’t stop Knockbreda from pulling a goal back with just under ten minutes to go.

Despite the slender lead, Linfield were able to comfortably see the game out and register a 2-1 win.

Now, it was all about TNS.

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Knockbreda v Linfield 2018

LINFIELD 1-2 ST MIRREN 2.7.2022

And i’m back into the madness of it all. That was an enjoyable three weeks off.

My first game of 2022-2023, although it wasn’t planned that way.

A friendly against St Mirren is better than usual offerings, but it’s the sort of game that you would be more excited about if it was away.

That was, until it was announced that admission to this game would be free, then my arm was twisted.

Before you ask, I didn’t get my face painted pre-match.

This would be my second time seeing St Mirren, having seen them face Hibs when I went to Edinburgh Fringe in 2019.

I did lurk about trying to find a decent spot to sit for the first minute of the game, getting into my seat just in time to see St Mirren go 1-0 up with a close range finish from Alex Greive.

It would have been natural to start to wonder if this was going to be a long afternoon.

Thankfully, that was not to be the case as Linfield worked their way back into the game.

Joel Cooper had already been torturing St Mirren defenders for a few minutes when his cross found it’s way to Daniel Finlayson to score against his parent club.

That is one way to get their attention when you are out on loan.

You just know that South Standers are going to get his name wrong and think that he’s called Finlay Danielson.

Cooper’s performance would have been worth the admission fee alone, if there was one.

Picking up where he left off, a good omen ahead of the domestic season.

For the rest of the half, Linfield were on top and looked the most likely team to score.

Naturally, it would be St Mirren who got the third goal of the game when Jonah Ayunga created space in the penalty are to fire home.

Linfield were actually relived to be only 2-1 down at half-time as St Mirren missed a headed chance from a few yards out in the final minutes of the half.

Both teams made changes at the start of, and then during the second-half, which basically made the game a non-event.

Despite that, the game still had it’s moments.

Daniel Finlayson curled an effort just wide as he looked to send further messages to his parent club.

St Mirren hit the bar while Robbie McDaid and Chris McKee forced St Mirren’s keeper into a save.

The game then fizzled out and St Mirren won the game 2-1. Not that it mattered, it was all about getting minutes in the bank for both teams and for the younger fans, getting their face painted and meeting their favourite player.

There’s been quite a lot to digest during the close season, so here goes:

This game would be followed up on the next two Saturdays with friendlies away to Knockbreda and Harland and Wolff Welders.

Not quite Bray and Stranraer, but still decent. A trip to a ground Linfield haven’t played at since 2018, and a first ever trip to Blanchflower Park for Linfield, although I have been there for a match.

It was confirmed that Linfield will enter the Scottish Challenge Cup once again, beginning in September.

Their game will be on the same weekend as Northern Ireland v Kosovo, so i’m presuming (hoping) that Linfield will be away, presumably on the Sunday.

If it is, ideally Stranraer (if they beat FC Edinburgh) would be perfect.

Or just anywhere that is easy to get to. Might be tempted to make a few days of it depending how things work out.

Talking of Football Trips, the scheduled for Euro 2024 (I know, nothing like forward planning) has been confirmed, and there is a match every day in North Rhine for the opening week.

That is the area of Western Germany that covers Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Cologne and Gelsenkirchen. It’s the only geographic cluster amongst the host cities.

Unfortunatley, i’d have to travel from Dublin Airport (hopefully, they’ll have security queues fixed by 2024) because Belfast International Airport actually isn’t that international.

The schedule for games in that area in the first two matchdays is:

15 June 2024 Group A Cologne
15 June 2024 Group B Dortmund
16 June 2024 Group C Gelsenkirchen
17 June 2024 Group D Dusseldorf
18 June 2024 Group F Dortmund
19 June 2024 Group A Cologne
20 June 2024 Group B Gelsenkirchen
21 June 2024 Group E Dusseldorf
22 June 2024 Group E Cologne
22 June 2024 Group F Dortmund

A game every day for the first week of the competition.

My plan is to fly to Cologne or Dusseldorf for the 14th June 2024, and then travel about over the next three to four days and try to take in as many matches as possible.

By now, fixture lists have been published.

The first thing I can saw is, for fuck sake!!!

I’m going to The Oval on my birthday. I might become the first person in history to get a Football Banning Order for throwing a birthday cake at an opposition player.

The start is generous for Linfield, a great opportunity to get points on the board early on.

It also allows for possible day trips by getting the away games I wanted in August, and on Saturdays (broadcast scheduling permitting).

Whitehead before Carrick away and Carlingford before Newry away. Bring it on.

Talking of that birthday, it’s a milestone one.

I really want to do something special to commemorate it. I’m planning on owning being an old fart.

The plan is a weekend away in Mainland Europe. Ideally a city that I can explore and watch football.

There’s not many options from Belfast because Belfast “International” Airport is shite.

Amsterdam looks the most likely, although Ryanair have just announced some new routes.

One of those is Bergamo, an hour away from Milan, but also home of Atalanta. Great chance for a double header as Bergamo looks nice in it’s own right.

Yes, i’ve already been looking up travel videos on Youtube.

Hit me up with suggestions.

Talking of travel, i’m hoping to get to one of United’s European Group games, as well as the Wolves game in May.

Hopefully, flight prices will be friendly for that first one to make it happen.

I won’t be doing my usual visit to Edinburgh in August as it will be an absolute Covidfest. I’ll try again in 2023.

If you’ve ever been, you’ll know what i’m talking about.

Which is a pity, as the weekend I would have went would have seen a double header of FC Edinburgh v Dunfermline Athletic and Hibs v Hearts. Especially keen to see a game at Meadowbank Stadium, even if it looks grim for football (athletics track and way too big).

Talking of Football Travel, by pure coincidence, a video series i’d watched a few videos on Youtube, Footy Adventures turned up at Windsor Park for this game.

Their video of the match is here.

They also visited Drumahoe. You can see the video here.

You can see my blog from when I visited in November 2019 here.

Meanwhile, a date has been confirmed for the Northern Ireland Programme Fair, Sunday 11th September.

I presume i’ll see you all there.

And finally, Andrew Waterworth announced his retirement, so here’s a flashback to his finest hour (well, fifteen minutes) at Solitude in 2017.

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