When David Healy admitted on Tuesday night that it had been an ‘incredible effort’ for Linfield to clinch a league and cup double, I couldn’t help going back to my childhood and another David.
Dr David Banner was the poor, unfortunate soul who, when something irked him, ruined a perfectly good shirt and a pair of trousers, turned green and went about running amok.
The trigger for this was rage and a perceived injustice of the world, Dr Banner telling us every week, ‘Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry’.
Now, I don’t know if David Healy was a fan of the Hulk or not. He (Healy, not the Hulk) certainly did great things in the green of Northern Ireland and when he sees red at the Blues, then they are a pretty uncontrollable beast.
But it has always been thus at Windsor Park, that siege mentality used magnificently down the recent decades by Roy Coyle, David Jeffrey and now Healy.
He still has some way to go to join the aforementioned pair of legends, but eight trophies in five seasons, the latest brace coming in a campaign like never before, with the demands of Covid, the resurgence of Glentoran, and Larne and Crusaders presenting a full-time challenge, is incredible.
Throw in pesky Coleraine who just refused to go away and Cliftonville also making a decent fist of things in the top six and only a fool would suggest that Linfield didn’t deserve their success.
“The players have battled through everything and they don’t get the plaudits that I feel they should,” an unusually emotional Healy said in the aftermath of the 1-1 draw at Ballycastle Road that secured the title with a game to spare.
“’Linfield know how to win games’ or ‘Linfield get the job done’. I’m thinking, ‘Hang on a minute, we’ve scored 80-odd goals this year in the league, more than anybody, and we’ve won more games than anybody’.
“You can’t do that and just be an ‘up and at them’ type of team, especially this year with the money invested in the league by Glentoran and Larne.”
Criticism of any team this season is hugely unfair. What the players, coaches and management have achieved in squeezing the league in, plus getting the Irish Cup and the likes of the Co Antrim Shield and Mid-Ulster Cup played, is, and there’s that word again, incredible.
Healy now has four league titles, two Irish Cups, a League Cup and a Shield to his name but, and a bit like his old boss Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, those will already be parked to the side and the focus trained on the next one.
The arguments put forward by Larne midfielder John Herron after their cup final defeat by the Blues was like tramping on Dr Banner’s tootsies.
“I read John Herron’s comments about how Linfield managed the game on the long grass at Mourneview, how Linfield played direct and picked up second balls. I was astonished, absolutely astonished that I was reading that,” said Healy.
“I mentioned it to the players on Monday night.”
In fairness to Herron, he did say the Blues deserved to win, but to say a team that contains the mercurial talents of Joel Cooper and Kirk Millar and the predatory instincts of Shayne Lavery is one-dimensional is enough to make anyone see red.
What Linfield do better than anyone else is get the job done. That is not a criticism, that is high praise.
There was much talk that Coleraine and Glentoran, if they won their games in hand, would be right back in it. They didn’t, they played themselves into a stalemate and while second and third spots have been sealed and a trip to Europe beckons, you can’t polish a consolation.
Jamie Mulgrew is also a phenomenon, an all-time great of the club and in those final games of the season just oozed class, determination and a will to win that means he has to fork out on a hell of a lot of Brasso every month.
Niall Quinn never plays a bad game, Jordan Stewart weighed in with some vital goals, Chris Johns has given them a custodian at the back with real presence and in Kyle McClean and Stephen Fallon they have players who can dominate the local game for years.
There are plenty of others who have helped the cause, the likes of Cameron Palmer coming in and looking like he’s been in a blue shirt for years.
Lavery and Cooper are bound for the exit door, they deserve their crack at cross-channel glory, while the move to full-time this summer means the heart of the team is set to be ripped out.
Jimmy Callacher, Mark Stafford, Mark Haughey and Andrew Waterworth are all on their way, which is great news for the chasing pack who will be hovering like voracious vultures to capture their services.
The job to fill those boots is a big one for Healy, and chairman Roy McGivern will be keen to nail down his manager’s services for a lengthy period to dissuade any potential suitors.
Healy admitted it was going to be a huge task on Tuesday night, that Fergie-like determination that ‘we move on’.
“Credit to the players, not only those who are staying but those who have made their mind up that they are going to leave - they leave on a high,” he said.
“How can we replace them? We are trying to bring players in of course but you aren’t going to get those sort of players.”
And that sets up a mouth-watering summer of transfer action.
The ability of Linfield to cherry pick the best local talent, if not at an end, certainly means more jostling in the orchard, with the Glens and Larne likely to speculate to accumulate.
Going full-time will certainly give Linfield the chance to attract players that would have been out of reach previously, but, like Shayne Lavery, the chance to give players coming back home from the professional game across the water another chance could be their main hunting ground.
But that’s for another day. The final say should go to Healy, leader of the worthy and deserved champions.
“To do what we’ve done is exceptional. I’m busted now,” he said, but thankfully docile enough not to have ruined his tracksuit.
October 20, 2020: Linfield 2 Crusaders 1
An early shot across the bows of perennial challengers Crusaders, this was a telling holing of Stephen Baxter's side. Goals from Andy Waterworth (above) from the spot and Niall Quinn were enough for the win, and Adam Lecky's late goal was a scare but nothing else.
November 14, 2020: Coleraine 0 Linfield 2
The first summit meeting of the main title protagonists and again another big statement made against the side who pushed them all the way in the previous campaign. Waterworth and Jordan Stewart ensured a first win at Ballycastle Road since 2017 and made it five wins out of five.
November 24, 2020: Linfield 3 Glentoran 3
That record became six out of six before the visit of the noisy neighbours and what a game it was. Six goals, two red cards for the visitors, Stewart gave the hosts the lead before Paul O'Neill levelled and it was the same story when Jay Donnelly cancelled out Shayne Lavery's penalty. Keeper Dayle Coleing was sent off but Robbie McDaid looked to have won it. But, after Seanan Clucas was also ordered off, Jimmy Callacher popped up in the fifth minute of injury time for a vital point.
February 26, 2021: Linfield 2 Larne 1
Draws at Carrick and Coleraine followed by defeat by the Glens hinted at a crisis, but the ship was steadied with this win thanks to Lavery's double (above), and they went on to have six wins out of eight the following month.
March 27, 2021: Portadown 0 Linfield 1
The sixth of those wins came on a wild day in Portadown when the Blues had to fight the conditions and a spirited home side, but grabbed one of those 'that'll be a big result at the end of the season' results thanks to Jordan Stewart.
May 1, 2021: Glentoran 0 Linfield 0
The Glens had gone on an amazing run of form and were still right in the hunt, but when Chris Johns saved Robbie McDaid's penalty it effectively ended their hopes and gave Linfield another vital point towards title No.55.