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Thursday 02 May 2024
Linfield’s track record in the Irish Cup

In the run-up to this year’s Clearer Water Irish Cup Final between Cliftonville and Linfield, we are looking back at their respective track records in the competition down the years.

Here Wayne McGuigan looks at Linfield’s performance history in Northern Ireland’s premier cup competition:

Having first entered the Irish Cup just over a month after the club’s foundation in 1886, Linfield’s love affair with local football’s blue riband competition truly began in 1891 when a 4-2 win over Ulster at Solitude secured what was the club’s first ever trophy.

Since then the Blues have amassed a record 44 wins, and countless magical moments.

As it turned out the 1891 victory over Ulster would be the first of four Irish Cup wins in five seasons.

Linfield’s dominance was evident both in its consistency and the sheer scale of the scorelines.

A 7-0 evisceration of Black Watch in 1892 featured four goals from Bob Hill before Cliftonville were beaten 5-1 in 1893 and Bohemians 10-1 in 1895 in what, unsurprisingly, remains the record margin of victory in the decider.

Following another success in 1898, the 1899 final was brought to an abrupt halt as opponents Glentoran walked off in protest at the referee’s rejection of claims a Linfield player handled the ball on the goal line, thus the Blues concluded the 19th century as custodians of the cup.

The first half of the 20th century saw Linfield’s name inscribed on the trophy a further 18 times.

Among the intriguing episodes over those 50 years was the curious case of the Blues being awarded the trophy after the withdrawal of the other competitors from the Irish Football Association in 1912, whilst a decade later the club’s first seven-trophy season was made possible as Glenavon were overturned at The Oval.

One of the most spectacular performances in cup final history came in the 1930 decider when Joe Bambrick emulated Bob Hill’s earlier exploits by scoring four times in a 4-3 win over Ballymena United at Celtic Park, less than two months after netting six in an international against Wales at the same venue.

The goals were more evenly spread four years later when all five forwards found the back of Cliftonville’s net. Alfie Caiels, Billy Mackay, Jackie Donnelly and Harry McCracken joined Bambrick on the scoresheet in a 5-0 win.

The late 20th century brought 11 Irish Cup triumphs, with some of the club’s greatest achievements attributable to success in the competition.

In 1961-62 the Blues brushed aside the season’s main challengers, Portadown, on the way to another seven-trophy season – a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact this was the first time Linfield won the cup with an ‘all-local’ side.

The Blues’ ‘finest hour’ - the famous Windsor win over Manchester City in the Cup Winners’ Cup - would not have been possible without the 1970 victory over Ballymena in the final.

Incredibly only three Irish Cups were among the 31 honours won during Roy Coyle’s trophy-laden time in charge (from 1975-1990). Those successes came in 1978, 1980 and 1982, after which the club embarked on its longest ever drought in the competition.

A brand new, redesigned trophy was the prize when holders Bangor were beaten to end 12 years of agony in 1994.

The first win of the new millennium and the David Jeffrey era arrived in 2002 with Chris Morgan scoring in every round en route to cup glory.

But perhaps the finest final in many fans’ eyes came in 2006. Peter Thompson struck twice to seal a victory over Glentoran which clinched a ‘clean sweep’ of all domestic honours.

That success initiated an unprecedented run of six doubles in seven seasons, and helped heal the heartbreak of five post-war ‘Big Two’ final failures.

A dangerous Dungannon Swifts were dispatched the following year in what has thus far been the only occasion the trophy was decided on penalties, whilst another two goals from Thompson saw off Coleraine in 2008.

A last gasp semi-final loss to Cliftonville in 2009 was the only interruption to the sequence of success which resumed against Portadown in 2010, before Crusaders were conquered in consecutive contests in 2011 and 2012.

To date David Healy’s stewardship has yielded the trophy twice more.

Andy Waterworth’s hat-trick against Coleraine in the 2017 decider came just one week after his three goals at Solitude secured the league title, while the Covid pandemic meant a reduced crowd of circa 1,000 fans were in attendance to witness the club’s most recent success against Larne on a memorable night at Mourneview Park in 2021.

In stark contrast this Saturday will see a sold-out Windsor Park play host to local football’s showpiece occasion, and what the club hopes will be the continuation of Linfield’s proud Irish Cup legacy.

Images in gallery: Linfield Irish Cup heroes of recent years, including Noel Bailie, Lee Doherty, Jamie Mulgrew in 2012, Shayne Lavery and Joel Cooper in 2021, Andy Waterworth after he scored a hat-trick in the 2017 final, Pat Fenlon, Peter Thompson, Oran Kearney, William ‘Winkie’ Murphy and many more.