Robert Garrett has waited 18 months to get his hands on an Irish League championship medal — and he doesn’t want to have to put it off any longer.
The Linfield midfielder will enter ‘the biggest game of his career’ this evening and by the end of it he wants to have completed the biggest achievement of his footballing life.
Victory over Cliftonville at Windsor Park — or even a draw — will give the Blues the Carling Premiership crown and end the hurt that the current squad has gone through, with so many new signings since they last picked up silverware almost two years ago.
Garrett is one of those players who have arrived at Windsor Park in the intervening period and he, along with the likes of Michael Carvill, Paul Munster, Mark McAllister and Alan Blayney, are being driven by the desire to put a first medal in their collections.
“All the boys who don’t have a league medal — and there are quite a few of us — are fighting hard to get this first one,” said Garrett, who is a lifelong Blueman.
“It’s getting closer and it would mean everything to me to win the league.
“I’ve been in England with Stoke City and played for Northern Ireland last year, but I haven’t won anything in football since I was a kid with St Andrews, so it would be very special to win the league with Linfield.”
Linfield gained from Stoke City’s decision to release Garrett in the summer of 2008.
The 21-year-old has left the disappointment of his exit from the Britannia Stadium behind and winning the league is all he wanted when he signed for the Blues.
“Like anyone who gets let go by a club in England it was very disappointing for me, but I joined the biggest club in Northern Ireland, if not Ireland and it was great that Linfield wanted me,” said Garrett.
“Winning the league would make up for that disappointment and then we will look to win more.
“It’s been a very frustrating season for me. I had a good pre-season, but then lost form, got injured and couldn’t get back into the team.
“I’ve got my chance over the last couple of months and have taken it and I am enjoying myself.
“Now we just want to get the league won so that there is no more talk about the boys who don’t have a medal.”
There was great hurt for Garrett in his first full season with the Blues. He thought he’d struck an Irish Cup semi-final winning goal a year ago only for Cliftonville to score two injury time goals to reach the decider themselves.
Then there was the strange emotion of being left feeling flat despite a victory over Crusaders on the final day of last season.
“It was heartbreaking to lose to Cliftonville in that semi-final. We couldn’t believe that we’d lost after being in front for so long,” said Garrett.
“On the last day of the league season we won 5-0 at Crusaders and any other time you win 5-0 you’d feel great, but we were all gutted because we’d missed out on the league by a point.
“That hurt is still there, we were so close yet so far away, but we’re stronger now and it’s made us even more determined to be successful and make sure we don’t experience anything like that again.”
The Gibson Cup could already have been adorned with the blue and white ribbons had Linfield won against the Crues on Saturday, but the 0-0 draw means that as long as they avoid defeat tonight it’s title number 49 for the club.
“The game against Cliftonville is even bigger than Saturday’s now,” said Garrett.
“It’s the biggest game I’ve played for Linfield and we know what is there for us if we win.
“We want to get the league wrapped up to take the pressure off us rather than going to the last game, especially with the Irish Cup final a week later.
“There is always pressure in every game with Linfield, but it would be nice to go into Saturday’s game against Portadown without having any real pressure hanging over us.”