Belfast Telegraph

'I promise you this is the first of many': Joel Cooper vows to make winning a Linfield habit once again

Linfield's Joel Cooper and Andrew Mitchell celebrate winning their first Irish League title at the Blues.
Linfield's Joel Cooper and Andrew Mitchell celebrate winning their first Irish League title at the Blues.
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

While the likes of Larne, Crusaders and Ballymena will be aiming to make next season's Danske Bank Premiership a much more keenly fought affair, Joel Cooper has already batted out a big warning to Linfield's rivals.

The Blues got their hands on the Gibson Cup on Saturday afternoon, having won the Irish League crown for only the second time in seven seasons. The fact that it constitutes a relatively barren run says it all about the 53-time champions.

While this season's was a title won with the help of veterans like goalkeeper Roy Carroll and inspirational captain Jamie Mulgrew, it's a first Linfield league crown for as many as 13 of David Healy's panel (counting those who have played during the Premiership campaign).

Among that baker's dozen are the likes of former Glentoran winger Jordan Stewart and ex-Glenavon man Joel Cooper.

Both will openly admit they switched their Irish League allegiances in search of winners' medals. Just like the ones they were presented with on the Windsor Park pitch on Saturday afternoon.

But at age 24 and 23 respectively, they don't intend to end their Gibson Cup count at one.

"That is the first of many - I promise you that now," Cooper blasted on BBC Radio Ulster.

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"This is why I signed for Linfield - for days like this. It's been a long, hard season and to enjoy this today is amazing for me.

"It's just been hard work since the start of pre-season. The gaffer's had a system and we've all had to chip into that system. It's worked - sometimes we haven't played our best football but we've got results. Personally, I just had to stick at it and now we've got out rewards."

For Stewart, who invoked the wrath of Glens fans when he returned from a spell at Swindon to pull a blue shirt rather than a green one in 2017, it's been a long wait to get his hands on the Gibson Cup.

"I grew up round the corner (from Windsor), it means a lot to win the league for this club," he said.

"There is a massive pressure here, there is no second. I have already discovered that when you finish first, it's eyes onto the next season already.

"It is my first league title and it's very special. Throughout the season we've been absolutely unbelievable and we've got what we deserve.

"It took me a while to get going - I was on the transfer list at the start of the season. I'm sick of talking about it really, if the gaffer had played me at the start of the season I would probably have 20 goals by now. I'll say nothing, we're league champions so we'll go and enjoy it."

If Cooper, whose seven Premiership goals all came before the turn of the year (a fact not lost on the man himself), and his team-mates can deliver on his bold promise, a world record could await.

Linfield's 53rd title has taken them just one shy of Rangers' world record of 54 domestic crowns. What odds on it being a tie at the top this time next year?

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