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McClean is so proud of his place in Steel Cup history

By Keith Bailie

Linfield's forgotten golden boy Andy McClean can be forgiven for reminiscing ahead of today's Toals Bookmakers Steel & Sons Cup final (Seaview, 10.45am).

When Linfield Swifts and Dundela last clashed in the festive showdown on Christmas Day 1997, it was McClean who scored a golden goal winner in extra-time.

It was the career highlight of the striker, who spent a handful of seasons in the Amateur League before drifting away from the game.

However, for one day 19-years ago, McClean was the talk of Irish League football.

Incredibly, the Dunmurry man, who played a handful of games for Linfield's first team under Trevor Anderson, didn't even expect to feature in that year's Yuletide cup final.

"A week or so before the final, the Swifts had a B Division game against Carrick Rangers Reserves," he explains.

"I was down the pecking order at the time due to injury, but the manager (Harry Blair) handed me a start, so I could get some game time. I banged in a hat-trick, which gave Harry something to think about for Christmas Day.

"He told me at training a couple of days before the final that I would be on the bench, which I was more than pleased with.

"Reserve teams were a little different back then. It wasn't all teenagers like now. Jeff Spiers, Darren Brush, Robert Robinson and Pat McShane started that final, they were already well-established Irish League players at the time.

"I was a Linfield supporter as a boy, so to play in a cup final for them alongside guys like that was incredible, even if it was only for the second team.

"It was Christmas Day and there was a huge crowd at Seaview, so it wasn't your average Swifts fixture."

The match itself is arguably one of the most memorable in the history of the famous competition, even if there were no goals inside the 90 minutes.

McClean continues: "It was a really tight game. Pat McShane was sent off in the first half, and goalkeeper Robert Robinson was carried off injured, so we had defender Darren Brush in nets for most of the game.

"Dundela looked more likely to win, so I was sitting on the bench thinking I probably wouldn't get a chance.

"But there were tired legs in the second half, so I think Harry put me on in hope more than expectation.

"He put me on around the 70th minute. He told me to 'go and get the winner' so I was glad I didn't let him down!"

The golden goal itself is etched in Andy's memory.

He recalls: "The Duns were pushing forward trying to get the winner, so when we broke I found myself in a lot of space on the right-flank. I just carried the ball forward down the wing. The full-back showed me inside so I cut in and, when I reached the penalty box, I just hit a shot with my left foot.

"It went past Alan Huxley and hit the inside of the far post and trickled over the line.

"It was crazy, as it was a golden goal.

" That idea only lasted for a couple of seasons, so I'm probably one of a handful of players that scored a golden goal in a cup final. Everybody just went mad when I scored because we knew it was over. I ran to the stand to celebrate in front of my family, but all the players and staff just piled on top of me. It was an incredible experience. Really surreal."

Although McClean's Linfield career didn't last for much longer, he continued his love affair with the Steel & Sons Cup.

"I left Linfield that summer," he says. "David Jeffrey had brought in some new strikers and, being honest with myself, I knew I wasn't going to make it at that level.

"I decided I just wanted to enjoy my football, so I signed for my local club Dunmurry Rec. I actually won the Steel & Sons the next season again. We beat the RUC 2-0 in the final, which was a bit of a shock at the time.

"I played for Dunmurry Rec for a couple of years after that, but family and work got in the way and I just drifted away from football in my mid-twenties. I've no real regrets, though, because I have some fantastic memories from football and particularly the Steel & Sons Cup."

Ahead of this morning's cup final, McClean has encouraged Linfield's current crop to make the most of the occasion.

He says: "This is a really young, talented Linfield Swifts team and I know many of them will have great careers in the Irish League but, for some guys, this will be the biggest game that they ever play in. There's no guarantees in football.

"You've got to be sure you make it count. Give it your all, remember everything and don't let the day slip by."

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