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Healy places Waterworth among Irish League greats as striker's treble helps Linfield cruise to victory over Carrick

 

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Linfield striker Andy Waterworth celebrates an opening day hat-trick

Linfield striker Andy Waterworth celebrates an opening day hat-trick

Linfield striker Andy Waterworth celebrates an opening day hat-trick

Linfield boss David Healy believes striker Andy Waterworth is like a good red wine - he improves with age.

The 34-year-old once again demonstrated that he is still one of the best in the business by snapping up a stunning hat-trick against 10-man Carrick Rangers as the Danske Bank Premiership champions got their new campaign off to the best possible start.

There may have been merely 500 fans dotted throughout the international arena, but they gave Waterworth the ovation he deserved at the finish.

Defender Jimmy Callacher also got in on the scoring stakes along with substitute Ryan McGivern, who converted with his first touch only seconds after being introduced for the injured Conor Pepper.

Niall Currie's Rangers did threaten to make a fist of it when Caolan Loughran converted from the spot in the first half, but any hopes of a revival were dashed when skipper Mark Surgenor was red-carded 10 minutes after the break following a challenge on Pepper.

Healy admits Waterworth has worked hard to be a more complete footballer.

"Andy is now a better player," said the former Northern Ireland international striker. "When you compare any striker's goal-to-game ratio, Andy is up there with the best of them.

"I've spoken to him over the past few years, urging him to adapt his game a little bit and be a bit brighter. He's certainly done that and he's by far a better player by a country mile.

"Andy hadn't to prove anyone wrong, especially me. He has played 80 or 90% of the games since I've been at the club and I'm now five years here. He's phenomenal and he showed he is still one of the best in the League."

Although Healy's boys made a whirlwind start, they took their foot off the gas.

"We started well, similar to what we did against Carrick in midweek," he added. "But we got sloppy for 15 or 20 minutes and you could sense they were going to score, albeit through a soft penalty.

"We had a chat at half-time and we began the second half on the front foot. They may argue the turning point was the sending off, but I always thought the next goal would come from us."

Waterworth began his demolition job after only three minutes, finishing off a Pepper cross.

And the same pair combined 10 minutes later which produced a similar outcome.

Loughran reduced the deficit from the spot after Blues goalkeeper Chris Johns hauled down Alex Gawne, but it was all one-way traffic after the break, especially after Surgenor's exit.

Callacher touched home a Niall Quinn free-kick before McGivern powered a header past Aaron Hogg from another Quinn cross.

But the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for when Waterworth expertly guided home a Navid Nasseri cross with a flick of his head. It was the touch of a master - he deserves a glass of red after that.

Sunday Life