Belfast Telegraph

Linfield will come out fighting, blasts Blayney

By Graham Luney

If Cliftonville’s stunning 6-2 demolition of Linfield was the stuff of dreams for hat-trick hero Rory Donnelly, it was the stuff of nightmares for anyone associated with the Blues.

And the two men who will remain haunted by the Halloween horror show more than most are goalkeeper Alan Blayney and his manager, David Jeffrey.

Jeffrey spoke of the humiliation and embarrassment felt by the players and management and he was right to draw a comparison with the Manchester United hangover after the 6-1 derby rout dished out by their city rivals.

It was a bitter pill to swallow on the night and the after effects of the County Antrim Shield semi-final shocker will shake Windsor Park to its very foundations.

For Jeffrey it was the first time in his managerial career that he was hit for six and for Blayney it was the first time in his senior career he picked the ball out of his net on six occasions.

Rory Donnelly wrote his name in the Cliftonville history books — becoming only the second Reds player to hit a treble against Linfield after Noel Hamill (pictured below with Rory) grabbed the headlines in 1990. But for the Linfield players and manager it was a crushing low point in the history of the most successful club on this island.

Former Ballymena United stopper Blayney could do little about Donnelly’s clinical finishing and he was also beaten by Stephen Garrett and George McMullan, while a late mix-up that led to an Albert Watson own goal summed up a thoroughly miserable night at the office for the Carling Premiership champions.

“It was one of those nights when everything that could have gone wrong did,” said Blayney.

“It was a major shock to our system as we had been defending very well and had looked solid but it seemed that every time they came forward an opportunity to find the net arose.

“Albert (Watson) and Steven (Douglas) have been brilliant for us and at both ends of the pitch it was just one of those really bad nights when nothing went right.

“It was a totally bizarre game but young Donnelly took his goals very well and the last one was just a mix-up when Albert came towards me and it was one of those unfortunate incidents when the ball goes past you and it epitomised the night for us.

“I’ve no doubt though that we’ll regroup and bounce back. This is a kick up the backside you sometimes get and it’s similar to the Donegal Celtic defeat last season.

“You put an experience like that in the bin and come out fighting. I have never conceded six goals in my senior career so it was a horrible first for me and of course it’s not acceptable at a club like Linfield.

“When I was about 12 and playing for a Newtownabbey team Northabbey I would have let in up to six goals but not since in my career. It’s not a nice memory to have but we have not become a bad side overnight.”

Up next for Linfield is a home game against Dungannon Swifts tomorrow — a side who were thumped 5-0 by Glentoran last weekend.

While the manner of the defeat to Cliftonville will haunt Linfield for some time, the harsh reality is that the Blues have now been dumped out of two knockout competitions. That leaves the Premiership title and the Irish Cup to shoot for and Blayney added: “We are top of the league and still hoping to get to a final.”

The Shield semi-final tie was the first time the Reds had hosted Linfield in a cup match for more than 44 years and, ironically, one of the club’s guests on the night was Noel Hamill.

His hat-trick against Linfield came in a 4-1 victory at Windsor Park on February 10, 1990 — 738 days before Donnelly was even born!

“It's unbelievable to think only one Cliftonville player has ever done that before and it's an honour to join him,” said Donnelly.

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