Belfast Telegraph

Healy urging stars to earn place alongside club greats


By Graham Luney

David Healy has challenged his Linfield players to step out of the shadow of the club's legends and make their own special history. The Blues can celebrate a league and Irish Cup double for the first time since 2012 today if they conquer Coleraine in the Tennent's Irish Cup final at Windsor Park.

Linfield have already lifted the County Antrim Shield and Gibson Cup this season but aren't finished yet as the players and management are desperate to make up for last year's Irish Cup final loss to Glenavon.

Blues fans have watched the big prizes, including league titles, slip from their grasp since the club parted company with legendary boss David Jeffrey but under Healy the players are writing a new successful chapter.

Boyhood Linfield fan Healy, however, says the club must stay on the glory trail and he wants his players to become even bigger legends as they restore pride to the Irish League's most successful club.

"It (three trophies) would be a big turnaround for the players because they have earned it," said Healy. "You hope the players perform on Saturday and are mentally strong enough to get the job done.

"The players have to take huge credit this season because a lot of people wrote them off, saying they maybe didn't have that wee bit to get over the line.

"They said maybe we weren't as good as the Clean Sweep or double-winning teams.

"I think it was Andy (Waterworth) who said that sometimes at this club you live in the shadows of former great teams, players, captains and managers and everything else.

"Hopefully in two or three years' time, if we are successful, people at Linfield might start talking a wee bit about these players."

Northern Ireland's record goalscorer may be basking in the glory of the club's 52nd league championship but you get the feeling last year's Irish Cup final loss to Glenavon will haunt them until the men in blue lift the trophy.

It's disrespectful to the Lurgan Blues to say that Linfield didn't turn up in the 2016 showpiece but Blues players felt they underperformed and paid a painful price, sparking much soul searching at Windsor.

"Immensely," said Healy when asked how much that 2-0 defeat to Glenavon hurt. "I spoke to the players about it on the pitch during the week. It's not a nice feeling losing a final.

"It's certainly not a nice feeling losing a final at Windsor Park, home of Linfield.

"The players are well aware we let ourselves down slightly last year.

"We started like a house on fire for 20 minutes and for whatever reason for 60 or 70 minutes after that, we underperformed and underachieved.

"We ended up finishing the season with no trophies, so if I was a player and part of that last year, I'd certainly want to turn up this year.

"People will ask 'I wonder how Linfield will turn up in the Cup final? Have they been out partying? Has the league trophy gone to their head?'

"I can assure you, the players are ready to go."

Healy and his players clearly learned a lot from last year's horror show and they will be dreading lightning striking twice but they should not underestimate this Coleraine side who have already won at Windsor this season.

"Coleraine are a very good side," said Healy. "They are youthful and have got good energy and legs. They also have good experience in their team.

"When you look at the manager and assistant manager, they have won trophies galore as players, they'll know what it means to get the players prepared to come to a place like this and play in a Cup final.

"It should be a good game. They are a really good side and Oran has done a fantastic job.

"There was talk maybe last year that the knives were out, but fair play to (chairman) Colin McKendry who had a vision not only in what he wants for his club, but also in his manager to be patient.

"They have got into Europe which is a huge statement to make, considering where they were in November and December.

"With ourselves, they are probably the form team in the league. Listen, if the boys aren't confident at the minute, they'll probably never be confident with the run that we've been on.

"It's a Cup final and anything can happen.

"Sometimes players freeze, like we did last year because we hadn't been to an Irish Cup final.

"But the players are certainly full of confidence and that's due not only to the run we've been on but the amount of goals we've scored and the lack of goals we have conceded.

"Also the fitness levels of the players because I've said all along these lads are the fittest team in the league. I firmly believe that."

Linfield have put their foot to the accelerator in 2017, clocking up 18 victories and a draw in their last 19 matches.

"I've been delighted with the response of the players and how they went about it," added Healy.

"Even after the Portadown game which we drew 1-1 here, questions were being asked about this Linfield team not being good enough.

"To see the response of them and how they finished the season, especially the post-split games, they were really tough games but they beat Coleraine away, Ballymena away, Cliftonville away, Glenavon and Crusaders the champions at home.

"They were really tough games, but they proved they were more than capable of winning those games."

Does Healy now feel he is a better manager than a year ago?

"I don't know," he added. "I'll let other people judge how I manage and how I do things.

"I judge the players and they will judge me with the decisions I make.

"It certainly makes me hungrier to win the Irish Cup final on Saturday, having felt the hurt of last year.

"I felt that hurt for months last year after losing that final. I was really hurt with the way we lost the final and knowing with 15 or 20 minutes to go that we weren't going to get back into it.

"We have made changes and brought a few new faces in and it has certainly given us a spark."

Linfield have got their mojo back and that's bad news for their biggest rivals.

Belfast Telegraph

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