Belfast Telegraph

How Andy Waterworth made his Irish League breakthrough against Ballymena

By BillyWeir

Like many men I have my own little den, a place euphemistically or perhaps optimistically known as 'the study'.

I confess that not a huge amount of studying has been done in it in recent times and it has become more akin to Stig of the Dump's weekend place when he wants to be a tad more through-other.

This can often lead to healthy debates with your significant other who fails to grasp the vital importance of keeping hold of that Men Without Hats single, that motorbike helmet pencil sharpener I used to pretend was Joey Dunlop or the Roland Rat pencil case that brought me so much pleasure whilst studying. In Sixth Year.

What the hell has this all got to do with the price of onions, I hear you cry? Well, after Andrew Waterworth's goalscoring exploits of Tuesday night to book Linfield's place in next month's Co Antrim Shield final, it got me thinking - I wonder if I still have the notebook from his first headline-making act?

And after a huge amount of hoking, where I found all of the above mentioned items first, from the depths of a box that hadn't been opened since a house move eight years ago, there it was in all its sky blue glory - my reporter's notebook.

Now this was 2004 and the entry I was looking for in particular was in October of that year and the visit of lowly Amateur League Kilmore Rec to the Showgrounds to play Ballymena United in the first round of the Co Antrim Shield.

This was to be a mere formality for Kenny Shiels' side, a team that had drawn away to Danish side Odense in the Intertoto Cup during the summer and just three days before the Kilmore tie had ended a 15-year, 33-game wait for a win over Linfield at Windsor Park thanks to Dominic Melly's winner.

It was a no brainer, there could only be one winner, and Kenny had put out a decent side, the likes of Gordon Simms, Tim McCann, Rory Hamill and two men called Oran Kearney and Gary Smyth - I wonder what ever became of them?

Not much jumped out of the page from Kilmore's line-up, a good, honest bunch of lads mostly playing for their hometown club and a young Crossgar teenager called Waterworth on the bench.

My notebook reveals that he made his bow in the 47th minute, coming on for Philip Rogan. The fresh-faced No.14 made a promising start, taking off on an excellent run and crossing to the back post but John McCarthy failed to control and the chance was gone. Probably still a bit out of sorts having been released from Beirut...

That was in the 54th minute and in the 72nd he was at it again, this time bursting through to create a chance for Johnny Cheevers but his lob over keeper William McFrederick was cleared off the line by Smyth.

Ballymena had their chances too, Hamill going close with an 'audacious' lob. I didn't realise I knew words like that - the value of having a study, I suppose - and Jamie Marks having a half-volley tipped round the post.

Kearney then hit the post with three minutes to go and extra-time was looming before that pesky No.14 decided enough was enough.

"14 out-paced the defence, took it round the keeper and slotted home as Simms tried to get back," was how it was recorded and with that an Irish League goalscoring legend was born.

It is a word that is bandied around with alarming alacrity these days but when it comes to the writing of Linfield Football Club's updated history, there will be a page or two devoted to Kilmore's former No.14.

Tuesday night's win at the Showgrounds was a timely closing of the circle on a momentous achievement, his 250th appearance in the blue, or red in this case, of Linfield and goals 144 and 145 - a remarkable record.

But the 32-year-old, of course, had been a scourge for local defenders long before putting pen to paper for the Blues in May 2013.

A lack of opportunities at Glentoran and Ards saw the on-loan move to Kilmore before he really started to make people sit up and take notice with his exploits at Lisburn Distillery.

So much so that Scottish Premiership outfit Hamilton Academical took a chance on him and in 2008 the 21-year-old Waterworth crossed the Irish Sea but a combination of bad luck with injuries, a lack of match time and probably a wee bit of too much, too young meant after just 10 games and despite scoring on his debut against Dundee, he was on his way back home.

And to Glentoran, where he had been frustrated before, but this time they could see what they had on their hands, and with the likes of now Larne boss Tiarnan Lynch helping him adapt back to the part-time game, he found his feet and his shooting boots.

He admits himself that the 'dream' move became a bit of a nightmare and with the likes of Mark Sykes, Gavin Whyte, Brad Lyons and Bobby Burns now setting off on their own cross-channel adventures, a word with Waterworth may do them no harm at all.

"I found it really tough," he said in an interview recently. "Homesickness was a big issue for me. Back home I was used to walking down the street and meeting someone I knew but over there I had a lot of free time between matches and training, which I found difficult to deal with.

"It was - and is - a huge regret of mine. If I could go back and change things I would stay for longer. I felt I had the ability."

I don't think anyone who has had the pleasure, or dread if he was on the opposing side, of watching him over the years would argue with that.

He scored 66 goals in 214 appearances for the Glens, including two in the Irish Cup final win over Cliftonville in 2013, his last game before crossing the city to join the 'old enemy'.

And it has been a move that has paid handsome dividends for club and player alike, his home debut marked with a hat-trick against, yes, you guessed it, Ballymena.

The end of the 2016-17 season was just ridiculous, a hat-trick to clinch the Danske Bank Premiership title was followed by another in the Irish Cup final defeat of Coleraine. Still, makes a change from Ballymena.

And that brings us nicely up to date, and those two goals on Tuesday brought his tally for the season to 22. Not bad considering he wasn't in the starting line-up at the beginning of the campaign with Michael O'Connor and Daniel Kearns firing on all cylinders.

But the former No.14 now No.9 doesn't look like he's going to relinquish his spot anytime soon, certainly if manager David Healy is to be believed.

"He has been a massive player since I came to the club," he said.

"I can look back at important league deciders, cup semi-finals, cup finals, Andy is always the go-to man. He proved that again."

He certainly did. There will be plenty more goals to come, I just hope I remember where I left the notebook when it comes to that book they'll want to write.

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