Linfield's hat-trick hero Andy is Waterworth his weight in goals
HAT-TRICK hero Andy Waterworth sipped his beer in the Windsor Park press room on Saturday evening and was the picture of contentment.
It tasted much better than this time last year when he was trying to come to terms with losing an Irish Cup final to Glenavon.
The Linfield striker won't forget the last seven days in a hurry.
He scored three goals against Cliftonville last Saturday to seal the league championship and he followed up with another hat-trick to see off Coleraine in Saturday's cup final, bringing his season's tally to 30.
“First and foremost, commiserations to Coleraine,” said Waterworth.
“I know what it feels like. I sat in this very seat last year and it was hard to take. You're sipping your beer and you're in very bad form.
“For the four years I've been at this club, we've been living in the shadow of former players and former teams.
“But we knew we were building something special and today was the icing on the cake.”
It's hard to remember a more
one-sided cup final than Saturday's.
It turned out to be a walk in the park for David Healy's players as they celebrated a league and cup double at sunny Windsor Park.
Waterworth hit two goals in the 29th and 33rd minutes to send the Bannsiders reeling and the former Kilmore Rec player bagged his third in the dying embers of a desperately disappointing decider.
Coleraine, who were rank outsiders to win their first Irish Cup since 2003, never got out of the traps and bowed meekly out of this contest long before the final whistle had sounded.
Their remarkable rise to third spot and superb run to the Irish Cup final was the stuff of dreams for everyone attached to the north west club.
But Saturday must have been a horrible experience for Oran Kearney and his players.
They never threatened Roy Carroll's goal at any stage.
From the first minute, Linfield took a firm grip of proceedings and were far superior in every department.
They were solid at the back, clever in midfield and devastating in attack.
And the Linfield players must have minded themselves very well too after last week's title celebrations.
They couldn't have imagined a more comfortable afternoon in winning their first Irish Cup since 2012.
Driven by the pain of last year's cup final defeat, Blues boss David Healy felt his players were ready to perform and round off a memorable season with another bit of silverware.
“I mentioned one word to the players before the game – redemption,” said Healy.
“And, boy, did they go about it the right way today. Three-nil certainly didn't flatter us.
“Roy [Carroll] had no saves to make and Mark Stafford made an outstanding tackle [in the second half]. Our back four were solid – not only today but throughout the season.”
Jamie Mulgrew and former Coleraine player Stephen Lowry controlled the midfield for Linfield while the movement of Waterworth and Aaron Burns set all sorts of puzzles for the Bannsiders' defence.
And the pressure finally told when the dangerous Paul Smyth found Waterworth at the near post to put the Blues ahead just before the half-hour mark.
And with Coleraine still reeling from Linfield's opener, they found themselves two goals down four minutes later and virtually out of the game.
Burns latched onto Mulgrew's clever pass but Chris Johns was alive to the danger.
The rebound, however, fell kindly to Waterworth who kept his cool by side-footing the ball into the unguarded net.
Afterwards, Kearney acknowledged the influence of Mulgrew and Lowry in central midfield.
“They are probably the two top end players in the league,” said the Coleraine manager.
“Ciaran [Harkin] is 21 and Brad [Lyons] is 19, whereas Mulgrew and Lowry have maybe 10 years more experience than them and it showed at stages today.
“But our lads have to start somewhere. The defeat will hurt them but what they've gained from that experience they'll be able to use it towards other wins in the future.”
Coleraine strikers Eoin Bradley and James McLaughlin fed off scraps all afternoon and neither man got a sight of Carroll's goal.
“We never really created that chance to get a goal back,” said former Derry GAA ace Bradley in the mixed zone afterwards.
“Fair to play to Linfield, they've been the best team in the league all year and all you can do is congratulate them.
“We didn't get going; we didn't get passing. But you can't win them all.”
The second half of Saturday's final was a non-event.
Linfield kept the ball and when Coleraine had it they were too anxious to get it forward rather than trying to build through their midfield.
And when the ball did reach the Coleraine front line, Linfield's defensive trio of Mark Stafford, Jimmy Callacher and Mark Haughey dealt with everything that came their way.
“If I hadn't scored three goals I think Mark Stafford was man-of-the-match,” said Waterworth.
“Some of his tackles were timed brilliantly and they were at crucial times. To have that composure and desire to win the ball was unbelievable.”
Linfield's third goal was well deserved too.
Raiding down the right flank, Smyth set up Waterworth for his hat-trick in the 87th minute with another simple finish.
Mulgrew, voted Player of the Year, added: “We turned the corner after the [league] split and we reached another level.
“Yes, we've won these three trophies [the league, Irish Cup and Co Antrim Shield] but the season is probably ending at the wrong time for us because of the form that we're in.”
Linfield are certainly building something special – and plan to announce “three or four new signings” over the coming days to strengthen their grip after reclaiming top spot again.
Next season, the chasing pack will have a job on their hands staying with them.
Andy Waterworth (Linfield)
What an unforgettable seven days Waterworth has had. Three goals against Cliftonville to win the title one week, and another three the following week to win the Irish Cup.
Aside from his three clinical finishes, the Linfield striker's work-rate and clever movement was a lesson to every aspiring young striker. A class act on and off the pitch.