After months with Crusaders in the spotlight then all eyes on events at Solitude on Saturday afternoon, the culmination of the title race centred on Windsor Park and Linfield’s celebrations of a 52nd Irish League championship.
The wait of five long years to bring the Gibson Cup back to Linfield was decisively settled in 13 second-half minutes as Andy Waterworth fired home the three most significant goals of his career to realise the Linfield fans’ dreams and reward the squad’s determination over 38 high-pressure fixtures.
David Healy’s scrapbook is packed with highlights from a playing career which left his name forever associated with some of the greatest moments in Northern Ireland football history.
The Linfield manager watched from the sidelines on Saturday as Waterworth made his mark with a treble against Cliftonville - an achievement Healy is certain means his forward will “forever be remembered as the man who scored the hat-trick to bring the league title back”.
Waterworth was quick to extend the mutual appreciation between strikers past and present.
“It’s brilliant to play under David and over the season he’s worked quite a lot on my game and how he wants me to play,” said Waterworth. “He has stuck by me at times when I’ve been poor and I know how much it means for David to win this trophy.
“We knew on Saturday at half-time and 1-0 down that an early goal would change the game and credit to the boys.
“There is no one person who has been pivotal, collectively we have been superb but that is what is needed.
“At Linfield you are always living in the shadow of past glories and former players but, hopefully, there’s a bright future for this squad.”
Roy Carroll has praised the professionalism at Linfield that led to full-time focus in pursuit of the Danske Bank Premiership prize.
Carroll can now add a league winner’s medal from his home nation to past title honours collected in England and Greece.
The goalkeeper’s return home to Northern Ireland last summer handed Carroll a reunion with former international team-mate Healy that ended in lifting the Gibson Cup on Saturday.
“Whatever level you play at, winning the league is a major thing in your life and the way we’ve done it is amazing,” said Carroll. “In any job you need to be concentrating all the time for success and this is part-time football but the boys are out training three times a week.
“We knew the league was never over and we just had to keep going to the end.
“If someone made a mistake we got over it and just worked harder, which you could see on Saturday in the second half.
“You see it across the game, it takes time to rebuild and the fans appreciate that as well.
“Confidence is a massive part in football and that can come from concentration and working hard.
“When I came over from Notts County I did not know what to expect but, as a club, the whole place is very professional and David, as manager, is a big believer in doing it right on the training pitch.
“As a manager it is important to keep the pressure off the players and he takes that on his shoulders, with help from a good backroom staff.
“You cannot have the players going out to play but feeling on edge and David knows what to say at the right time.
“I remember David coming into the Northern Ireland international squads as a young boy and it is just brilliant to see him become a manager.”