It’s ‘mission accomplished’ for Andy Waterworth ahead of Linfield exit
Andy Waterworth’s final few days as a Linfield player will be absent the fairytale finish of scoring decisive goals but he certainly walks away from Windsor Park with plenty of memories alongside the medals.
May 2021 will forever hold a special place for the forward following events off the field that managed to trump even the achievement of winning an Irish Cup and Premiership title inside a matter of days.
The 35-year-old rushed away from Linfield’s Irish Cup final in Lurgan against Larne to support wife Lisa and welcome the birth of daughter Mia Faith.
On Tuesday, he was given minutes off the substitutes’ bench to help Linfield get over the line with a title-winning point in Coleraine that confirmed another league winner’s medal for Waterworth and second domestic double.
“I actually said to the gaffer (after the call to go to the hospital), I wouldn’t say I panicked but I had brain freeze, I explained the reason and I said I might be back for the second half,” said Waterworth. “And he looked at me and said ‘Andy, you’ll not be back’.
“I realised very quickly when I got to the hospital I wouldn’t be back!
“I knew I wasn’t starting (in the Irish Cup final) so I wasn’t one of the most important ones in the squad.
“Some things are more important than football and that was certainly the case with my wife and now we have a wee daughter and that is where my priorities lay and it puts things into perspective.
“At the end of the day, I’ve dedicated everything to football but some things are more important.
“I was confident we were going to win on Friday.
“They (the Linfield players) had a point to prove after being battered the week before because of the defeat (to Larne in the league)...there was a real steeliness about the squad.
“I can honestly say it is the best changing room I’ve ever played in.
“They aren’t just my team-mates, but my friends for life.
“Even after the match I had loads of missed calls from my team-mates and I knew they couldn’t fully celebrate until they had good news from myself and that just shows you how close I am to them.
“Fair play, Larne players texted me and even on Tuesday night there wasn’t one Coleraine representative who didn’t shake my hand or congratulate me - they are a classy club and I’m so proud to be a part of this league.
“It’s been unbelievable...people have always said to me you’ll never experience anything like it, and it’s so true.
“(Former Linfield secretary) Ken Greer actually said something to me which was a great thing, ‘in 2017 you scored a hat-trick in the Irish Cup final and in 2021 you have a baby daughter - you’re Irish Cup magic’.
“That meant a lot.
“When Lisa was in labour I was still refreshing my Twitter to see how we were doing, I was nervous about it.”
A summer exit, following Linfield’s move towards a full-time model conflicting with his work commitments, marks the end of eight years in which Waterworth cemented his status as a modern Irish League great.
For his first double, to cap the 2016/17 season, Waterworth was the hero with hat-tricks to secure both Premiership and Irish Cup glory for the Blues.
It stands as a personal highlight in the scrapbook of a striker who admits it took time to adjust to life in the Linfield spotlight.
“To leave on a high...I knew I was leaving in December and had the conversation with the club, I can remember the conversation when I came to the club, people were saying when I went to Linfield I’d end up on the bench or in the reserves,” he said. “But I sort of feel now it’s mission accomplished for me.
“I wanted to leave Linfield at the top, I wanted to be a part of the team at the top and I feel like I’ve done that.
“Now it’s on to the next generation and the next team to do that and I’m absolutely delighted.
“Winning the title and the double is great, not just for myself but for everybody involved with the club.
“This year has felt like two seasons, with Covid and everything - playing Saturday/Tuesday every week - I’m just delighted.
“I told (kit manager) Gary Eccles I wanted to do my job and add to the illustrious history of this club...and I’ve done that.
“Now it’s up to someone else to take it forward.
“If you ask someone at Linfield they will probably say they always want more.
“But I came to this club to win big trophies and add to the illustrious history.
“I was nervous the first couple of years when we didn’t win trophies and there was a rebuild on.
“You certainly feel pressure when you play for this club and you feel it’s your duty to keep them at the top and I definitely felt that over the years.
“It’s a nice place to be and I wanted that and I have certainly felt that.”