Having won two of the three trophies they finished runners-up in last season, there was still one more prize up for grabs for Linfield to rectify the disappointments of last season as they faced Coleraine in the Irish Cup Final at Windsor Park, the first to be held at the fully redeveloped stadium.
Despite not winning any of their last four League games, Coleraine wouldn’t have feared coming to Windsor Park, having got a win and a draw in their two League visits this season. That draw saw Linfield get a controversial late equaliser.
There was only one change for Linfield from last week’s title winning game at Solitude. It was an unsurprising one with Paul Smyth coming back in after a one match suspension. Chris Casement was the man who missed out.
Linfield were in control in the early minutes of the game while Coleraine looked nervous. A sloppy header back conceded a soft corner. That resulting corner saw a goalbound Jimmy Callacher header be headed away by a defender in his six yard box.
Just over a minute later, a Mark Haughey header forced Coleraine goalkeeper Chris Johns into a spectacular save.
It wasn’t all one way traffic with Coleraine having their own attacks, but they were usually snuffed out by Linfield, or Coleraine being forced to take speculative shots.
Aaron Burns was looking for a goal, having a shot go over before his header caused a scramble in the penalty area which saw the ball bundled wide by Mark Stafford.
Niall Quinn was next to be frustrated as he headed goalwards from a Paul Smyth cross. He was able to get the ball up but not down in time, as the ball hit the top of the net rather than the back of it.
The game followed a similar pattern to the League meeting two weeks previous. Linfield had most of the ball and were creating chances, but nothing clear cut, while also nullifying Coleraine as an attacking threat. There was no way Linfield could create that many chances and not score.
There wasn’t long to wait for that Linfield goal as Paul Smyth was played in down the right wing and crossed for Andrew Waterworth to score from close range.
It was the second time he had scored in an Irish Cup Final having scored twice for Glentoran in 2013.
Curiously, scoring for two different teams in an Irish Cup Final isn’t a unique feat having been done this century by Glenn Ferguson (1991, 2007) Mark Dickson (2007, 2009) Kyle Neill (2002, 2014) and Kevin Braniff (2010, 2016)
Just as curious, was the fact that it was the first goal scored by Linfield in an Irish Cup tie this season. In fact, going back further, it was only the second time that Linfield scored a first-half goal in their last eleven Irish Cup ties and first in their last eight Irish Cup games.
A few minutes later, Aaron Burns got in behind Coleraine’s defence. His shot was saved but it fell perfectly to Andrew Waterworth to fire home from close range.
It was two goals in the space of five minutes. For the forth successive match, Linfield had taken control of the game with a quick goal spree. Just the two in a short timeframe though instead of the usual three.
Stephen Lowry had a long range shot go wide in first-half injury time as Linfield went in 2-0 up.
Despite this lead, the game was far from won. Coleraine would be attacking their fans in the second-half and knew if they could get a quick goal, anything could happen.
There was no onslaught on Linfield’s goal, as they were able to ride out what Coleraine threw at them. There were crosses into the box that caused concern for Linfield, but nothing more.
Matthew Clarke had a shot saved from a wide angle while Jimmy Callacher headed over from a free-kick as Linfield looked for a third goal that would win the game.
Jamie McGonigle had Coleraine’s best attacking moment but his free header went wide. If he got it on target, he surely would have scored.
As each minute passed, the possibility of a Coleraine comeback became less and less, but Linfield still needed a third goal just to be sure.
Niall Quinn thought he was going to get it, only to see his header go wide.
On 88 minutes, that third goal came when Paul Smyth got free down the right and crossed for Andrew Waterworth to complete his hat-trick from close range. Eight goals in his last three games. He must be gutted the season is now over.
His moment got slightly spoiled when the Stadium Announcer gave the goal to Paul Smyth, i’m not sure how he managed it, before quickly correcting himself.
If that tannoy announcement had Linfield fans confused, the next one gave them all a laugh as it was announced that Football Specials from Adelaide to Coleraine were being brought forward. It’s not as if they would be staying behind to see their team parade the trophy.
A big cheer went up from Linfield fans when it was announced. Ouch.
Cameron Stewart had a chance to make it 4-0 but couldn’t get his feet set up to finish.
The match finished 3-0 and Linfield added the Irish Cup to the League Title and the County Antrim Shield.
Their players walked up the South Stand to lift the trophy, before heading over to a packed North Stand, where the majority of their fans were based.
A few things on the trophy presentation.
Linfield players stood on a podium with their back to the South Stand. It would have been better to have the podium with the players backs to the North Stand for photos, and then for them to turn around to their fans to parade the trophy.
It was also great that there was no pitch invasion. It doesn’t matter if it’s your 1st match of the season or your 51st, we all want to see the trophy paraded.
It was great that fans in the North and Railway Stands were able to see the trophy, bearing in mind previous successes this decade saw the trophy parade ended prematurely due to people entering the pitch.
So, what next for Linfield?
Same again I guess. Oh, and try to win the League Cup. It’s been ten years since we won it.
Hopefully, to try and get to the Third Qualifying Round in the European Cup and hope for a kinder draw in the Scottish Challenge Cup, should we be in it again. And a couple of decent away games in the Scottish Challenge Cup as well.
And there’s our first participation in the Charity Shield since 2000 to look forward to as well.
That is me finished as far as Linfield are concerned, but I still have one more match this season as i’ll be heading to Old Trafford in two weeks time to see Manchester United take on Crystal Palace.
At the moment, i’m not going to the Northern Ireland v New Zealand game in early June, but, you never know.
Just think, if that FIFA Congress in December 2010 had worked out differently, I could have been excitedly telling you that I was going to see Mexico v New Zealand at Villa Park next month in the Confederations Cup. But i’m not.
So, pre-season wishlist time. Away friendlies at grounds I haven’t been to for a while. Larne, PSNI, Moyola Park, Comber Rec then.
Don’t worry, i’ll manage to survive Saturday afternoons over the next few months. I’ve got an audio recording of Roy Carroll shouting “GET OUT!!! GET OUT!!!” which i’m going to play between 3pm and 5pm every Saturday between now and August.