'He's an outstanding talent' - David Healy hails Linfield star after playing key role in Irish Cup victory

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Linfield boss ​David Healy praised Joel Cooper for his starring role in their Irish Cup semi-final victory over Glentoran as he netted for the first time since mid-December to set up a showpiece decider with Cliftonville.

​The 28-year-old, who is undoubtedly one of the Irish League’s most talented players, has struggled since picking up an injury during Linfield’s Boxing Day win against the Glens and has only been able to make three starts since.

His fine first-half volley marked a 14th strike of the season and third versus the Blues’ Big Two rivals after the ex-Oxford United playmaker also netted a brace in November’s BetMcLean Cup triumph at The Oval.

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Now getting back towards full fitness, Cooper could have a major say on the Gibson Cup’s final destination as Healy’s men look to claw back Larne’s two-point advantage at the summit while he’s also searching for a third Irish Cup success having won it with Glenavon before scoring in Linfield’s last victory in 2021.

Linfield manager David Healy. PIC: Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker PressLinfield manager David Healy. PIC: Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Press
Linfield manager David Healy. PIC: Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Press

"I thought Joel was very good - he ran himself into the ground on a tough pitch,” said Healy. “It was a role we needed from our forward players with Joel playing around Fitzy (Matthew Fitzpatrick) that he needed to cover a lot of distance, which he did.

"I'm pleased for Joel and he's an outstanding talent.

"Individually he's a brilliant player and he has been over the time that he has been here.

"He picked up an injury when (Fuad) Sule fouled him on Boxing Day and he probably hasn't been quite right since, but when it gets to games like this and you have someone like Joel leading your forward line...I thought Matthew Fitzpatrick's work-rate was exceptional too.

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"I know he didn't score and people talk about centre-forwards scoring goals, but Matthew has played 95% of our games this year based on honesty, hard work and a little bit of quality that he has also shown.

"There could be other times when maybe Fitzy is scoring goals week in, week out but we're losing, which would defeat the purpose of why you keep playing a player like Fitzy.

"His work ethic, honesty and quality will certainly earn him the right to carry on playing and the boys love him because when the whistle blows he always gives 110%."

Linfield’s previous trip to East Belfast marked their lowest point of the season, losing 4-0 to Warren Feeney’s side, but they bounced back by going on an 11-game unbeaten run, which included that 2-0 Boxing Day reverse.

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While avenging defeat may have provided extra motivation, Healy says it doesn’t make Friday’s win any more more significant with another Big Two clash potentially coming up this weekend.

"Not really, no,” he added. “We came here and lost and there was certainly frustration.

"We were as poor on the night as Glentoran were good and sometimes you catch a team when they're just too good for you on the night, but we reversed that and dominated on Boxing Day.

"For large periods of the game tonight we controlled it and we'll be back here for another huge game soon and we'll look forward to it."