Irish Cup Final: Linfield stand and deliver in relentless style
Crusaders 1 Linfield 2: The re-shaping of Windsor Park allowed David Jeffrey to enjoy a special moment as his Linfield players celebrated their Irish Cup victory over Crusaders.
The temporary seats in front of the South Stand now mean that there is an easy route from the touchline right up to the highest vantage points.
So, just seconds after referee Mark Courtney had sounded the final whistle, confirming Linfield as 2-1 winners over the Crues, Jeffrey moved as quickly as he has since his playing days, bounding through the aisles and into the Directors’ Box.
He’s scaled quite a few heights as Linfield manager, but this was something new for Jeffrey as he climbed the steps ala Pat Cash when he won Wimbledon in 1987.
Jeffrey greeted his father Ken with a warm embrace before planting a kiss on the cheek of his mother Isobel — both of whom he paid tribute to afterwards.
He wouldn’t be on the planet without them — and he wouldn’t have achieved his success at Linfield had it not been for them either.
“I get immense support from my family. Mum and dad are tremendous people,” said Jeffrey.
“My son Thomas was in the Kop Stand, my brother Billy was there. My other brother Kenny was in Scotland listening, Sarah in England listening and my other son Gareth was in Plymouth listening.
“The support I get from my family is magnificent
“One person I want to give special mention to; I couldn’t do this job without the support of one Gary Eccles. Anyone who considers him just a kitman doesn’t know the man.”
Jeffrey was quick to point out that he’s now won 28 trophies in 14 years as Linfield boss. Symmetry he described it as. Put more simply, he’s averaged two trophies per season.
When those two pieces of silverware are the Irish League title and the Irish Cup it means you’re dominant and the Blues have enjoyed almost total dominance for the last six years — other than two seasons ago when Jeffrey’s rebuilding saw his team finish second in the league and lose in the Irish Cup semi-final.
He’s built a dynasty that can compare to the teams of any era in the illustrious history of Linfield, with this year being the 125th anniversary of their foundation.
At times in the past Jeffrey’s tactical prowess has been questioned, but he changed the shape of the team at least three times on Saturday, with the introduction of Jamie Mulgrew from the bench being a telling moment when the Crues had taken a 1-0 lead.
It was from two of his shots that Linfield scored. Peter Thompson scoring with a header from a rebound and Mark McAllister netting the winner as Chris Keenan failed to hold onto another Mulgrew effort.
“In the preparation we always have Plan A, Plan B and Plan C if you like,” said Jeffrey.
“Prior to the game there is no way you could have left Philip Lowry out due to the goals that he’s scored and, ironically, he also scored in last year’s final.
“We made the decision to leave Jamie Mulgrew on the bench, but no way was Jamie going to be a bit part player. I always knew that at some stage he could come on and he would feature.
“He did so and he did tremendously well.
“If Jamie hadn’t made such a massive intervention the cup was going to the Shore Road. While we had planned things out, ultimately it comes down to the player doing it.”
Ultimately the players have ‘done it’ over the last six seasons, with 10 of the last 12 major trophies having the red, white and blue ribbons of Linfield tied to them
“To win a fifth double is beyond dreams,” said Jeffrey. “We’ve won a double in the club’s 125th year — and five in six years.”
And all that after being 12 minutes from defeat after Declan Caddell’s opening goal. That’s when the attitude of the Linfield players kicked in.
“I keep telling them that if you want to be here you have to be a different breed, a different kind of person,” said Jeffrey.
There was also history from Peter Thompson, his equaliser making him the first player to score in four post-war Irish Cup finals — his sixth goal in a final in total.
“It’s all about staying strong and this squad has character in abundance,” said Thompson. “Players who come to Linfield have to cope with the pressure and you play with that expectation and pressure and there’s only certain players who can handle that.”
Windsor Park will undergo an overhaul in the next few years. Not before time it must be said.
One stand has already been knocked down. Whether anyone can bring the Blues down from their lofty perch remains to be seen, but it will take more than just ability — as it has done to get Linfield to the top.