Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Linfield's two new stars can send Blues back to the top but only if...

By Gareth Hanna

It was always going to take something special for Linfield to eradicate a 24 point gap and beat Crusaders to the Danske Bank Premiership title this season. But it's becoming evident that the Blues might just have landed two special somethings. Might.

One swallow doth not a summer make. And one Seaview success doth not a Gibson Cup make.

While it's important we remember those words, football fans are allowed to get a little bit carried away from time to time. That's the fun of it.

Blues fans could be forgiven for getting a little bit excited by the early season displays of their new attacking duo Daniel Kearns and Joel Cooper.

I was at Seaview on Saturday to see David Healy's men deservedly beat the champions on their own patch and I can confirm - these two were electric.

Cooper netted his second goal of the campaign and set up Jamie Mulgrew's finish while Kearns was involved in the first and added an attractive flair throughout.

"I can't wait to the next game." 🙌🏼 Three games, two goals - Joel Cooper is adapting well to life at Linfield. 👌🏼 He talks scoring start, grabbing the number 9 shirt and beating Crusaders ⚽️

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Saturday, August 18, 2018

Those sort of performances are what Linfield supporters expect. A club that has won 52 league championships is well used to quality players. But the comparatively lacklustre displays of last season mean they're all the more appreciated right now.

Joel Cooper has shown the confidence required by grabbing the club's number nine jersey and is following that up with the striking instinct that he showed to get in position to tap home Chris Casement's first-half cross last weekend.

And he's worth more than that too - his wing wizardry made sure the Blues' fans know all about him already.

This is a player who was hand-picked, alongside a certain Paul Smyth, to travel to France and take part in Northern Ireland training during the Euro 2016 finals. A man with as much football knowledge as Michael doesn't do that on a whim.

With no offence intended to last season's squad, the direct running that left for QPR in Paul Smyth's suitcase was evidently missing for the remainder of Linfield's campaign - even if it was a surprise to me that Jordan Stewart couldn't provide that similar spark. (What a signing he could be for another Irish League team, by the way.)

Cooper has brought it back in abundance.

Take Mulgrew's goal, for a timely example. Cooper picked up the ball halfway inside his own half and had Declan Caddell (a fiersome opponent) back-tracking all the way to his own box before delivering a deft through pass, inch-perfect for Mulgrew to toe-poke into the bottom corner.

And Kearns? Well quite frankly, he delivered a stylistic masterclass of footwork, bamboozling the defence and thrilling the buoyant visiting crowd in equal measure. Kearns is another ex-Glenavon recruit.

I remember when he signed for the Lurgan Blues and had supporters harking back, with straight faces, to Gerard McMahon's performances of the early noughties. Yes, that's former Northern Ireland international Gerard McMahon. I remember vividly being told Kearns was the closest thing to grace Mourneview Park since the man himself.

That was on the back of a stunning run of performances at the very start of Kearns' Glenavon career as he netted three times in his opening six league games.

As Linfield fans are now, Glenavon were convinced they'd unearthed a superstar. Fast forward to the end of that 15/16 season and Kearns had added only another two Premiership goals, making just one league start after February as rumours of injury lingered until he ended up in Sligo Rovers colours in July.

I must admit, having missed those early Glenavon displays, I began to doubt the sanity of those who made the McMahon comparisons. (For the teenagers amongst you, McMahon was one of the league's finest until a horror leg break meant he was never quite the same again. Think Paul Heatley - but better.)

That was until Saturday. I saw it. I saw the skill, I saw the swagger and I saw the football brain that laid the ball perfectly in Casement's path to deliver the cross for the opening goal.

(Spoiler: here comes the qualifying but)

But at 26, Kearns has had seven clubs (not including two loan spells while at Peterborough). Cooper, too, was in and out of form at Glenavon - just two league goals last season are testament to that.

As a football fan, here's hoping the two can finally settle at Linfield, because displays like Saturday's are only good for our beloved league.

After all, who wouldn't want another Gerard McMahon and Paul Smyth on our hands?

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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