Jamie Mulgrew tips Linfield to rule again
Linfield star Jamie Mulgrew has insisted that the Blues will become kings of the Irish League again and the Windsor Park hero believes it is not far away.
The classy midfielder is celebrating his 11th season and testimonial year at the club he supported as a boy and although Linfield have not won a league title since 2012, he feels they remain the side all the others want to beat most.
And the 29-year-old includes Crusaders and Cliftonville in that - the two teams who have dominated the Danske Bank Premiership over the past four campaigns.
Crusaders, with a game in hand, are seven points clear of second-placed Linfield in this season's title race.
Mulgrew admits it will be difficult to close the gap, but is confident that under manager David Healy the Blues can resurrect the glory days and become Northern Ireland's top dogs in the near future.
When Mulgrew joined the Blues in 2005 as a teenager, with David Jeffrey at the helm, they were just about to embark on an extraordinary run of SIX league titles in seven seasons, which included a domestic clean sweep of trophies in 2006. Few would have thought back then that a championship drought would follow.
"Even now, despite us not being champions for a few years, we are the team that everyone else in the Irish League wants to beat more than any other," said Mulgrew.
"That was the case when I joined the club and it is still the case. In my view opposition sides like to beat us more than Crusaders, Cliftonville or other teams. You can see it in the way they celebrate if they win.
"It is up to us to have the character to be ready for that challenge week in, week out.
"I think for the past few years people have seen us as a bit of a soft touch in big games. Under David Healy we are starting to lose that tag and have become more nasty which you need to be if you want to be number one.
"Crusaders have that nastiness about them and other qualities which is why they are the league leaders.
"We are still in there fighting for this season's title but it will be tough to overtake them. I do believe though that we aren't far away from Crusaders.
"Next season when David has had a full pre-season to work with us I can see us being really strong.
"Lots of people involved in Irish League football do not want to see us win the title any time soon but I believe we can do it again."
Mulgrew, who has won five league titles, five Irish Cups, one County Antrim Shield and one League Cup with Linfield, intends to be around to play his part.
"The last few years have been tough but never once have I ever thought about leaving," said the Belfast man who runs his own company called Supreme Sports, coaching children in schools and at summer camps.
"I have been offered more money to go elsewhere but to me playing football has never been about the money.
"I would love to stay here for the remainder of my career. I recently signed a contract for another two years which would take me up to 13 years at Linfield.
"And just as I have done for all of my career here, I will give total commitment."
Mulgrew has played under three managers - Jeffrey, Warren Feeney and Healy - at Windsor since moving from Glentoran in 2005.
He recalled: "Roy Coyle was the manager of Glentoran when I was there. We had a meeting about my future and it wasn't satisfactory at all from my point of view. Glenavon and Crusaders were interested but once Linfield came in that was it for me.
"I've had so many good times and to be part of the clean sweep season was incredible. I had a bad knee injury that year but still played around 20 games. What a team that was to play in. The main man was Glenn Ferguson. He was a different breed."
Later this year Mulgrew, a huge favourite of the fans, will have a testimonial game at Windsor Park. On Saturday he has his testimonial dinner.
To mark the occasion, Jamie has selected his fantasy XI of players he has played with.
Here's his dream team: Alan Mannus; Jim Ervin, William Murphy, Noel Bailie, Pat McShane; Tim Mouncey, Michael Gault, Paul McAreavey, Oran Kearney, Peter Thompson, Glenn Ferguson.
• Jamie Mulgrew's testimonial dinner takes place at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast on Saturday. Ex-Premier League referee Jeff Winter is the guest speaker. The cost is £45 and includes a four course meal, the Carl Frampton v Scott Quigg World title fight shown on two big screens and entertainment. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.