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County Antrim Shield Linfield v Ballymena United: Sean Ward is eager to unwrap an ideal birthday gift

By Graham Luney

Published 12/01/2016

Fighting spirit: Sean Ward says Linfield never lost their belief
Fighting spirit: Sean Ward says Linfield never lost their belief

Sean Ward is hoping to make it a 32nd birthday to remember tonight by lifting the perfect present - the County Antrim Shield.

The Linfield ace is going for a fourth Shield success but Ballymena United stand in the way of David Healy winning his first trophy as a manager.

After conquering the Sky Blues in the Irish Cup on Saturday, the Windsor Park men are desperate to unlock the trophy cabinet for the first time since March 2014 when David Jeffrey's Blues defeated Crusaders on penalties at the Ballymena Showgrounds to lift the Shield.

There's definitely a feeling that a corner has been turned in south Belfast with Linfield moving on from a bleak November.

The outlook is much brighter and confidence has been restored but for a club that's history is littered with tales of trophy success, a victory at Windsor this evening is demanded.

"It's my birthday on Tuesday so hopefully I'll still be celebrating at the end of the night," said former Glentoran defender Ward. "If we don't win, the day will count for nothing."

Ward admits the Blues' confidence was fragile at the end of a turbulent November but the tide has turned dramatically.

"When the results don't come you sink into a low ebb and while I would not say we lost belief it was clear that our confidence took a hit," added Ward who has been shining in midfield.

"People say the harder you work the luckier you get and we didn't throw the towel in, we kept fighting. I wouldn't say we have turned the corner yet but we are moving in the right direction.

"This Linfield squad is not packed with household Irish League names, it is younger now but there is still plenty of quality. We've got to show that and keep doing the right things."

Ward is gutted for promising teenager Paul Smyth, who is denied his first final experience through suspension.

"Paul has been outstanding for us and I am gutted for him," he added. "He's come into a Linfield team when things weren't going well and played out wide but the manager has been great with him, not putting him under pressure and Paul has really impressed. He will miss this final but I've no doubt he will enjoy many more in his career."

If Linfield win the Shield tonight, Ward will also be delighted to see the smile on Healy's face after some stinging criticism came his way earlier in the campaign.

"David is a national hero and respected because of what he achieved in the game as a player. He's had a phenomenal career, particularly with Northern Ireland, but it was tough for him coming to the club and keeping us on the right path after Warren Feeney left," added Ward.

"I think we were unfortunate is some matches, particularly the Cliftonville one, and when things are not going well the manager is the first person who gets the criticism. The manager is the first to get the blame but as players we know we let ourselves down.

"But we are winning matches again and winning is all that matters at this club."

Belfast Telegraph

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