Portadown on the opening day had been problematic for Linfield twice in the past decade, but thankfully not today.

If Linfield are planning to be managing a calendar of domestic and international competition through September and October, it’s probably a good idea to get as many points on the board in August.

There was one eye on the Euro Conference game against RFS of Latvia, with some changes to the Linfield starting eleven, as like the Starship Enterprise, they were led by Captain Kirk, with Kirk Millar being captain in a week that saw him make his 350th appearance and celebrate his 30th birthday.

It was Robbie McDaid who had the first chance of the game for Linfield when Joel Cooper pulled the ball back to him, but he couldn’t control the ball to get the shot away when a goal looked certain.

There wasn’t long to wait for Linfield to take the lead.

It came indirectly from Joel Cooper who was able to flick on an overhit pass, turning keeping the ball in play into an art form by setting up Eetu Vertainen to cross for Kirk Millar to fire home via a Portadown defender trying to stop it on the line.

At the ground, it looked like the ball was going in, so we’ll give it to him.

Having seen a replay on the BBC, i’m not so sure. It might have been hitting the post so it technically should be own goal.

It was his birthday week, so he should be awarded the goal. I think that is a rule.

Linfield were in the mood for getting this game wrapped up as soon as possible, and almost got a second when Joel Cooper chipped an effort just wide.

Stephen Fallon then had an effort saved while Ethan Devine had a bicycle kick go just wide as Linfield searched for a second.

Linfield were then denied when a goalbound shot by Ethan Devine was accidentally blocked by Robbie McDaid, such is his luck at the moment. He never hid though.

Portadown did have some possession in Linfield’s half and a few shots at goal, but nothing that was going to trouble Chris Johns making his 100th appearance for Linfield.

Ethan Devine then had a shot blocked at the expense of a corner while Joel Cooper headed over from close range as Linfield looked to kill the game off.

1-0 at half-time and it was looking like a repeat of the League game in February.

Although Linfield won that game, it was a bit nervy at the end.

Sam Roscoe then had a headed chance early in the second-half when he headed against the post (In real time, I thought he had headed straight at the keeper) from a few yards out.

Thankfully, there wasn’t long to wait for a second goal for Linfield, when Kirk Millar pulled the ball back for Ethan Devine to hook the ball in just over the head of a Portadown defender.

Even though 2-0 isn’t a definitive lead, you felt that would be the game for Linfield.

Although, such confidence was almost misplaced within minutes as Portadown had a clean through opportunity which was blasted well over the bar.

You felt they wouldn’t have as good an opportunity to score again, they really needed to make the most of any chances that came their way.

It looked like Linfield were waiting for the opportunity to make some changes ahead of the big European game.

Jamie Mulgrew and Daniel Finlayson came on at 2-0. Most were expecting David Healy to wait to see if Linfield could go 3-0 up to be absolutely sure and make all five subs at once.

There wasn’t long to wait for that 3-0 lead, when Kirk Millar, who scored the first goal and set up the second goal crossed for Ethan Devine, who scored the second goal and now set up the third goal by heading across for Eetu Vertainen to head into the empty net.

The way the Score/Assist thing was going, it would be Vertainen’s turn to set up the next goal.

That goal was the signal for more substitutions, with Cameron Palmer, Andrew Clarke and Chris McKee coming on.

Jethren Barr made further saves, from a Joel Cooper shot and then an Andrew Clarke shot on the line.

From where I was, I thought it was in, the lack of a vociferous protest by Linfield players following up suggested that I was wrong.

Replays proved that to be the case.

Robbie McDaid would be next to be denied by Barr as he looked to squeeze the ball in from a tight angle.

McDaid would sort of have the last laugh when beat Barr to a header to set up Andrew Clarke to put Linfield 4-0 up.

Still time for a fifth, which would put them top of the League.

It was not to be, as they had to settle for four which left them 2nd.

No need to panic, there are still 37 games to get the points to finish top.

Thoughts now turned to the European game in Latvia. The first 89 minutes were good. Let’s not talk about the rest of it.

However, the reserve game between the two sides saw a very interesting name in the Linfield eleven for that game in the shape of Jimmy Callacher. A welcome return as he continues his recovery from injury.

Meanwhile, Aspects Festival in Bangor (always worth keeping an eye out for) have an event for a book about Northern Ireland’s 1982 World Cup campaign.

Unfortunately, the date might be inconvenient as Linfield might be playing in the Scottish Challenge Cup that day.

That would take priority but i’ll keep an eye out and wait to see if I can make it.

Staying in North Down, Ards have announced that a lease has been agreed for a new ground on the Portaferry Road in the town.

Oooh, lovely, another new ground to look forward to visiting.

As well as Moyola Park in the very near future, thanks to the League Cup draw.

Photo Album


This has been something i’d been wanting to do for a long time.

However, as soon as I decided to take the plunge, we had two Summers of restrictions.

I know I have a car, but i’d prefer to do it by public transport as I don’t know where i’m going. Let the bus doo all the work.

So, armed with a couple of Translink timetables, I decided to head off and do some Mourne Ramblering.

I had originally planned to do this during the second Bank Holiday in July, Wednesday 13th July.

The timetables weren’t on my side as I was going to the Linfield match that night.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to go rambling and make it back to Belfast by public transport for the match, so that plan bit the dust.

Thankfully, that Linfield match, was worth giving up Mourne Rambling for.

As well as that, my Plan B for that day, a trip to North Down Coastal Path was also worth it.

Although, I did miss another Linfield match, a 2-0 defeat to Crusaders in the Charity Shield. I think I can live with that.

Another football match it turned out I missed was Newcastle FC beating 18th Newtownabbey Old Boys (yes, actually) in the Steel and Sons Cup.

No, I didn’t even know there was a Newcastle FC. Everyday is a schoolday. One to add for the pre-season wishlist perhaps.

I wasn’t going to let Summer 2022 go without doing some Mourne Ramblering, so I put aside Saturday 6th August as the day to do it.

The weather was kind. Dry, that’s all I ask for. Sunny in bits but dry. I can’t really emphasise the importance of it being dry.

Part of that day would be spent in Newcastle Town Centre killing time.

The timetable for Mourne Rambler isn’t that frequent, only three a day, leaving at 9am, 12.30pm and 3.30pm from Newcastle Bus Station.

For me, it would be the 12.30pm bus as there was no bus from Belfast that would get me there in time for the 9am bus.

I left Belfast at 9.30am, arriving in Newcastle just before 11am, meaning I had just over an hour and a half to kill.

No problem, just do a charity shop tour (managed to get some Thomas The Tank Engine books for my nephew) and a walk along Newcastle Beach before heading back to the Bus Station.

Incidentally, when I purchased my ticket at Great Victoria Street Bus Station, I was able to get an all day ticket (I was expecting to have to buy a ticket to and from Newcastle, and then another one within Newcastle) for £9.50 which covered my journey to Newcastle back, my connection within Newcastle, and a Metro within Belfast if I wanted to use it.

Excited, I decided to head to Mourne Mountains for the first time.

I decided to head to Spelga Dam.

The bus stop that served it was actually twenty minutes away, dropping you off at a layby at the side of the road and you had to walk the rest.

This meant I had just over two hours to work with.

Miss my bus back to Newcastle, and my options will be:

A) Sleep the night in the Mournes and get the first bus the next day
B) Hitch hike back to Newcastle
C) Walk it back to Newcastle

None of which seemed that appealing. In short, I simply could not afford to miss my bus back to Newcastle, scheduled for 3.56pm.

I went for a walk around Spelga Dam, before heading down the road beside it to see where it went.

The answer, was nowhere, so I headed back to Spelga Dam.

While walking back, I remembered that I won a map of Mourne Mountains in a competition last year. I didn’t bring it with me because I had totally forgotten that I had it.

Time for another walk around Spelga Dam before a walk up a hill across the road.

It was about twenty to thirty minutes up, not particularly demanding.

Unfortunately, if I wanted to have a sit down when I reached the top, it was probably best avoided as the whole trail was covered in sheep poo.

I did say hello to some of the sheep as I walked up.

Curiously, when I reached the top, I got a message from Vodafone welcoming me to the Republic Of Ireland.

In the interests of balance, I should point out that I still had “Vodafone UK” on my phone screen when I visited Carlingford in March.

As someone who would happily turn up at an airport hours in advance, I headed back to the layby turned bus stop (ten minute wait for the bus) to go back to Newcastle.

I wouldn’t usually turn up this early for a bus, but it’s the last bus out of the middle of nowhere, I think I can be excused on this occasion.

Frustratingly, I noticed a hill beside the layby, a decent trek too. Wishing i’d done that one instead to be honest.

I got on my bus which ventured to the other drop-off points, one of which was Silent Valley, which I definitely plan on visiting the next time I go Mourne Rambling.

There definitely will be a next time, although it might not be until 2023.

When I do it, i’ll do Silent Valley first.

As much as I enjoyed Spelga Dam, I get the feeling I missed the most spectacular part of The Mournes.

You can accuse me of being Belfast centric, but surely it is worth testing out a direct bus from Belfast to Mourne Mountains, even on a trial basis next Summer.

Even a more frequent Mourne Rambler Bus Service in terms of per day and how many months it runs for. Why not add May and September?

You can’t exactly boost domestic tourism if you make it hard for people to visit places, it’s not rocket science.

I am tempted by the idea of an overnight stay in Newcastle, so I can have a day in the Mournes, then get the 9am bus the next day to do some more.

Not at the Slieve Donard Hotel though. I’m not made of money.

12th July is on a Wednesday next year, so there is the option of a Wednesday to Friday getaway.

Although, I did observe Murlough Nature Reserve from the bus going into Newcastle, a stop of two before Newcastle.

That looks like somewhere that looks worth exploring. I definitely intend on doing that before 2022 is over, especially as i’ll probably be using up a lot of Annual Leave days in the final months of the year.

So, overall, a very enjoyable first visit to Mourne Mountains, but it felt like a warm-up.

Now that I know how to get there and where to go and how to get there, i’m ready to go again and see more of it.

Although, that probably won’t be until the Summer of 2023.

I’ll try to remember to bring my map with me.

That wasn’t the end of the Saturday Shenanigans, as the following week, I headed to Bangor for Seaside Revival.

It wasn’t as big as it was in 2019, but it was still an enjoyable day out, doing a charity shop tour before heading to the main action in Bangor Marina.

On the train back, I am 99% certain I saw Eric Bell of Thin Lizzy.

Which was a bit of a strange coincidence as I got myself a photo of the Thin Lizzy mural in Bangor. It hadn’t been painted when I got some photos of Bangor Street Art last year.

I took a detour on the way home to Helen’s Bay for a quick stroll.

As a result, i’m going to put this on my Walk Hitlist, get the train to there and do that leg of the North Down Coastal Walk, walk for an hour, see where it takes me and get some photos.

Looks like i’ll be busy in the final months of 2022.

Newcastle Beach Photo Album

Spelga Dam Photo Album


Having decided to give Edinburgh Fringe a miss this year due to it going to be an absolute Covidfest, it would have taken something quite spectacular to change my mind and make me go.

Linfield playing Hearts in the UEFA Cup would count as something spectacular enough for me to go and navigate my way around Americans standing about in Pleasance trying to spot the Loch Ness Monster.

Unfortunately, a 2-0 home defeat to FC Zurich meant that dream died quicker than an Alex Salmond Chat Show in Assembly.

The frustrating thing was, Linfield could have been going to Switzerland level if they had taken their chances. A harsh lessons in fine margins at the highest level.

This was always going to be a step up for Linfield from Bodo/Glimt, who incidentally beat Zalgiris Vilnius 5-0 at home the night before.

FC Zurich had an Italian international in their starting line-up. An actual current one, not one in his 40s like La Fiorita in 2017.

They also lost their manager to Hoffenheim, and are beginning to adapt to life under former Austria manager Franco Foda.

During his time as Austria manager, Foda visited Windsor Park twice, winning in both 2018 and 2020.

He was hoping to secure a third successive biennial win in South Belfast, and then start making plans for 2024.

Foda would spend the opening minutes of the game worrying about halting Linfield’s momentum as the hosts made a bright start.

It looked like Linfield were going to get a dream start when Matthew Clarke primed to head home, only to be denied by a Zurich defender getting a touch to divert the ball away from him.

That would have been nice early birthday present for David Healy, the day before his 43rd birthday.

Kirk Millar was a few days away from turning 30, but would be watching this match from the stands after his red card against Bodo.

Within a few minutes, Linfield’s good start was undone when Zurich took the lead when Aiyegun Tosin was played through and made no mistake.

It was one of those, you just know he’s going to score as soon as he starts bearing down on goal.

Having just lost 8-0 to Bodo, you did fear that Linfield could still be scarred by that result. This had the potential to be a long evening.

Especially when they couldn’t get the ball for the next ten minutes. Thankfully, there were no clear opportunities for Zurich, but it looked like they were biding their time, waiting for that opportunity to come.

Thankfully, Linfield were able to hold out, and then found their feet in the game, the crowd reacted to it, giving the players a much needed energy boost.

It was as simple as winning a free-kick in Zurich’s half. They were able to kill the game for a few seconds, and have some territorial possession in the opposition half.

They almost made the most of it.

A free-kick fell perfectly to Robbie McDaid a few yards out, but Zurich’s keeper was able to make himself big.

I’m not sure McDaid realised how good a chance it was, he probably thought he had to hit it first time, expecting Zurich defenders to be swarming around him.

Sam Roscoe then headed across the six yard box but nobody in a blue shirt was able to get there first.

Another agonising moment of frustration for Linfield.

Eetu Vertainen then had a cross come shot that forced Zurich’s keeper into a save.

Zurich replied with a long range shot that went over the bar.

1-0 to Zurich at half-time, but a half in which Linfield held their own despite the early setback.

The teams left the pitch to the sound of Running Up That Hill on the tannoy, which is what it felt like Linfield were doing at times.

They were needing to reach some Wuthering Heights in the second-half to get something to take to Swtizerland.

A 1-0 home defeat wouldn’t have been terminal for Linfield, but you felt that they had to go to Switzerland at least level.

Getting a one goal win there could be doable if a lot of things fall into place, but a two goal win would be too much to ask for.

Linfield made a bright start to the second-half, with Eetu Vertainen having a low shot saved, but it was Zurich who almost scored on the counter, too many touches allowing Linfield to eventually clear the danger.

An injury to Robbie McDaid saw Joel Cooper introduced as a substitute, earlier than expected after being stretchered off against TNS three weeks previously.

David Healy wasn’t expecting him to be involved, stating so in his programme notes.

He was very much involved in all of Linfield’s attacks, getting in behind Zurich, making things happen for Linfield.

As soon as a Linfield player got the ball, they had sure they got the ball to him as quickly as possible.

Just as in the first-half, Linfield were left to rue not making the most of it when they had the ball, when Wilfried Gnonto got in behind Linfield’s defence and made no mistake to make it 2-0.

Similarity to the first goal, you just knew what the outcome would be as he headed towards goal.

He’ll be hoping that this goal will be enough for a place in the squad for Italy’s next match, a sentence you don’t normally write when describing a goal in a Linfield match.

That goal secured the match, and probably the tie, as the goal deflated Linfield.

They almost issued a response when a pull back found Stephen Fallon but he fired over.

At the time, I thought it was a shocking miss.

Looking back at the TV replays, i’m probably being too harsh, as he had a Zurich defender bearing down on him to try and block the shot.

If only it had went in, we might have had a grandstand finish.

We didn’t, and Zurich went home with a 2-0 win, their players heading to the North Stand to celebrate with a relatively sizeable (eight days notice of the match and nor direct flights) and very noisy away support, some of whom came home from Belfast with souvenir match worn shirts, thrown upwards by players who headed into the Bottom Deck of the North Stand.

It was always likely to be the case that Linfield’s best chance of Group Stage football would be the Euro Conference.

And so it proved, winning the second leg 3-0.

That means Linfield will face RFS of Latvia for group stage football in the Euro Conference.

One last push for one great prize

Photo Album