Linfield FC have marked their 125th anniversary in perfect fashion after becoming league champions in Northern Ireland for a record 50th time.
Presented with the Gibson Cup following Saturday's 1-0 home win against Portadown FC, manager David Jeffrey hailed the Belfast outfit's success as "a very proud occasion for the club and a very special achievement to secure a milestone championship". The triumph counts as Jeffrey's eighth title in his 14th year as Linfield manager, his charges having finished 11 points clear of second-placed Crusaders FC.
"The pressure and expectation to lift the title in such a special year for the club was immense," he explained. "I have never experienced pressure like it before as a manager, so to secure the Gibson Cup for a 50th time in such a landmark year was very, very special. I am so proud of my players, backroom staff and the club. It was such a demanding season, but the players showed real character and resilience.
"We lifted the title with 74 points last season, so to amass 85 this season is incredible," added the 48-year-old. "To win the league championship in the manner we did was tremendous. We suffered a couple of blips along the way, but we finished the campaign strongly. We completed our league schedule with eight consecutive wins, so the players deserve immense credit."
Linfield, who have now celebrated six titles in the past eight years, will meet Stephen Baxter's Crusaders FC in the Irish Cup final on 7 May. The Blues beat Portadown 2-1 in last year's showpiece and are targeting a fifth domestic double in six years. "It will be another massive game and we'll have to be at our best to retain the Irish Cup," said Jeffrey.
"Another double is up for grabs and that's a massive incentive, but we have already achieved our main target. Our primary concern this season was lifting the league championship and I am so pleased we have achieved that."
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