'What a difference a year makes!' - Linfield ace Kyle McClean on the best season of his career so far

​Almost 12 months ago to the day, Kyle McClean was coming off the bench for a two-minute cameo at the end of another dominant Linfield victory having started in just 14 matches across competitions, but now he’s transformed himself into perhaps the club’s most important player.
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​The 25-year-old scored a brace in Friday’s Irish Cup semi-final victory over Glentoran, bringing his season goal tally to 13 – his previous best return was just three.

Having also been named man of the match as the Blues celebrated BetMcLean Cup success – the first step in what could still be treble delight for David Healy’s side – McClean has earned rave reviews throughout this campaign with both his manager and captain Jamie Mulgrew dubbing him the Irish League’s top performer.

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"I'm over the moon with my form,” said McClean. “What a difference a year makes!

Linfield midfielder Kyle McClean is enjoying the best season of his career. PIC: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.Linfield midfielder Kyle McClean is enjoying the best season of his career. PIC: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.
Linfield midfielder Kyle McClean is enjoying the best season of his career. PIC: Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

"Last year I was struggling to get a game and this season I've played more or less every minute which makes a big difference.

"You grow in confidence when you know you're going to play so you can try things and I'm loving playing at the moment.

"I think that's 13 in all competitions now this season and my best before that was three!

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"I've certainly improved on it and that's something I've worked on with the staff and gaffer to get into better areas and thankfully it's paying off."

Skipper Mulgrew has had a major influence on the whole Linfield changing room, but particularly the likes of McClean and 20-year-old Josh Archer, who are the long-term heirs to the midfield throne that the stalwart has occupied for the best past of two decades.

If the 37-year-old gets his hands on an eighth Irish Cup crown on May 4, it would mark a 24th major honour of his career – or perhaps even 25th if the Blues can claw back Larne’s current two-point advantage at the Premiership’s summit.

"Since I've been at the club Jamie has been somebody you can look up to,” added McClean. "I do remind him that when I used to go and watch Irish League matches that he was even playing back then!

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"He's somebody you can lean on and take wee bits of experience from him.

"He's proved with his performance and over the last few months, where he's probably played more than he thought he was going to at this stage of his career, that he's still more than capable of putting in a great performance."

It has been a week to remember for Archer too, following up his Northern Ireland U21 debut by playing a key role in another cup success in what is his first campaign as an established member of Linfield’s squad.

Spending last season on-loan with Portadown and playing alongside the likes of Mulgrew, McClean and Chris Shields has helped fast track Archer’s development and his teammate is confident there’s plenty more to come.

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"I think Josh is so underrated,” said McClean. "You hear about a lot of young players in the league rightfully getting plaudits, but Josh's name should be right up there.

"He has been a credit since he came in. He got thrown in here in the League Cup in Shieldsy's place and he was outstanding.

"He has grown from that and rightfully deserved his U21 call-up.”