Linfield's Bailie still hungry for more Big Two battles
Don’t mention the ‘R’ word to Noel Bailie. Retirement is not on his mind - you just can’t picture the Linfield skipper shopping for bargains on a Saturday afternoon when there are titles to be won and lost.
At the age of 37 and after more than 20 years at Linfield, Bailie is still performing one of the most demanding jobs in domestic football — marshalling the Blues defence.
With more than 950 games under his belt, even Carol Vorderman would struggle to produce a figure close to the number of Big Two battles the centre-back has been involved in. And there is no sign of the legend showing any desire to put his feet up.
There are too many football matches and trophies to win to ponder life after a glittering career and like his manager, David Jeffrey, you get the feeling nothing satisfies Bailie’s soul quite like a win over the old enemy.
He could write a book on his Oval adventures and it would be a fascinating read full of extraordinary highs and desperate lows.
Titles have been won and lost. Hearts have been broken and dreams fulfiled.
Tuesday’s County Antrim Shield win over Crusaders was an epic battle in the wind and rain but it was nothing new to the one-club man, the Ryan Giggs of Linfield.
Games against Glentoran are never meaningless and often decisive on the road to winning silverware and Bailie knows he only has a handful of Big Two dates left on his football calender.
“I’m not thinking of finishing my career,” he said. “That thought is at the very back of my mind and it is for another day in the future.
“I haven’t time to think about that — it’s a distant thought. There are too many big games ahead to think about anything else. I’m as hungry as I have ever been and when you have Big Two battles to worry about thoughts of retirement will not enter my mind.
“Big Two games seem always to be massive and this is another one as it’s first v second. There’s no such thing as an insignificant match between the two sides.
“I’ve had plenty of highs and lows and who can forget ‘Morgan Day’ when Chris Morgan sealed the title for the Glens but two Linfield titles were effectively won at the Oval as well. They won the last Boxing Day fixture but we enjoyed a convincing win in the previous festive fixture in east Belfast.”
There will be a whiff of revenge in the east Belfast air today as Bailie and his Linfield comrades were forced to lick their wounds after the Glens hammered them 4-1 in the Setanta Sports Cup last month.
Bailie admits he “doesn’t do revenge” but he accepts the Blues fans will want to avenge that horror show at Windsor Park.
“Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say the better team won,” he added. “Games between the Big Two are normally tight affairs and it’s never nice to be on the wrong end of a scoreline like that but these things happen in football. Generally you get it out of your system in the next game and we went on to beat Bangor 5-0 but I suppose the fans will want us to avenge that result.
“Revenge doesn’t interest me and I never think that way but I just hope there isn’t a repeat performance at the Oval. The Glens played well and Michael Halliday took his two goals very well. They had a mixture of young and experienced players who played well and after half-time they picked us off.
“Apart from their defeat to Cliftonville this week the Glens have made a pretty good start to the season and there is no doubt they will be a big threat to us as we try to retain our title.”
Bailie has been part of the fixtures and fittings at Windsor Park since he was a fresh faced teenager in 1986 but Jeffrey, who recognises he has an ageing squad, is building another side.
The revolving door has been busy with new players such as Paul Munster and Michael Carvill handed an opportunity to prove their worth.
But, despite the changes and the departure of Peter Thompson, the champions remain the classy outfit who other teams have to hunt down and Bailie admits there will be “no excuses” made for a failure to win the title.
“The manager was short of strikers but that issue has been addressed and the squad is good enough to win the league again,” added the Blues skipper.
“Around seven new players have come in and everyone can see they have the quality to do the business. The manager has more options now although our injury list has grown. But this team can win the title again.”
The fans will be expecting another epic battle at the Oval and a repeat of Tuesday’s thriller could lead to an upsurge in hospital appointments.
“People who don’t go to Irish League games and criticise it annoy me,” added Bailie. “I have no time for that attitude — it’s pathetic but I’ll take another epic as long as we win.”