It was an odd week of build-up to the showpiece of Northern Irish football as all the pre-match discussion was centred around the man in the middle. Dungannon based referee Raymond Hetherington was the original choice to officiate the match but was struck down with illness in the week prior to the final, his replacement was named as Keith Kennedy – a former Linfield FC season ticket holder. As it turned out the arguments were much ado about nothing as Kennedy’s day was routine with no major calls to make here or there.
The main talking point switched as kick off approached, as Coleraine manager Oran Kearney had opted to play three up front with an aim to take the game to the Blues from the off. As things transpired it was an error of judgement from Coleraine, as was admitted by coach (and ex-Linfield player) William Murphy during the half time interview.
It was just around the 30-minute mark that Linfield broke the deadlock. Andrew Waterworth laid the ball off to Paul Smyth on the right wing who had his cross deflected straight into the path of Waterworth, who had continued his run and finished coolly past Chris Johns in the Coleraine goal.
Linfield’s prolific front man only had to wait a few minutes to double his tally as Aaron Burns shot was parried by Chris Johns straight to Waterworth’s feet, and the in-form striker made no mistake in sidefooting home to make it 2-0.
Coleraine attempted to bring themselves back into contention before the break but could only manage to create a couple of half-chances at best.
Into the second half and it was Coleraine who pushed forward, pinning the Blues back into their own half for large periods of time but they could not capitalise on this pressure. Jamie McGonigle’s headed chance just before the hour mark was Coleraine’s best chance of the half, but McGonigle failed to get his effort on target. McGonigle and Eoin Bradley, a winner last year with Glenavon, both worked themselves into decent positions in the Linfield box but weren’t able to register a shot on goal.
With just minutes to go Linfield broke again. Paul Smyth ran onto a long clearance and picked out that man Waterworth again. From close range, Waterworth couldn’t miss and registered his hat-trick, the first Irish Cup hat-trick since 1969.
The final win meant Linfield secured a League, Country Antrim Shield and Irish Cup treble. It was a fitting end to what was an incredible run of form for Linfield in the closing stages of this season. The Blues are now unbeaten in their last 19 games in all competitions. A lot of credit must go to David Healy who most certainly had his doubters in the early stages of the season.
David Healy found himself a lot of success at international level at Windsor Park during his playing career, and has carried that tradition into his first managerial role as he brings silverware back to the Windsor trophy cabinet for the first time in two years, in his first season in charge. Healy has also been joined at Linfield by another man who has enjoyed many a fine night at Windsor Park, Roy Carroll, who must surely be the only man to win an English FA Cup and Irish Cup medal, and has delighted fans by agreeing an extension to his deal at the club for another season.
With just the European playoff and promotion/relegation deciders to go, many eyes have now turned toward next season already. Could David Healy be kickstarting a Linfield resurgence to bring them back to a point of local dominance again?