BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
LINFIELD talisman Andrew Waterworth will always cherish his apprenticeship alongside luminaries like Alex Neil, James McCarthy and James McCarthy – but admits he blew his big chance in Scotland.
Now the Blues goal machine hopes to make up for lost time by stunning “scary” Celtic.
Waterworth, 31, was on the books of Hamilton for an unsuccessful six-month stint in 2008 and, coming from a rural background in Crossgar, County Down, concedes he struggled to cope with the switch across the water and the step-up to full time football.
After 10 appearances and one goal, he returned to his homeland, where he went on to enjoy a prolific career with Glentoran and Linfield.
Waterworth said: “Hamilton was a good learning curve for me, I was actually speaking to [Linfield manager] David Healy last week about my time in Scotland.
“I was a part-time rural person coming to a full-time set-up. I was uneducated in terms of football, but I struggled as I was homesick too.
“I played in the Accies team alongside James McCarthy, James McArthur and Alex Neil was the captain.
“They all went on to become big names in Scottish football as well as in the game and it was great to be part of that professional environment.
“If I could go back I would change things. I would stay over there and work harder and get my head down.
“But it was brilliant just to get that taste and I really enjoyed it.”
The tie against Celtic will be a particular thrill for Waterworth, who confesses he is still irked by the fact he never had the experience of crossing swords with either half of the Old Firm during his Accies adventure.
He lapped up his debut against Aberdeen at Pittodrie, but expects hosting the Hoops on Friday night, before travelling to Celtic Park, to be truly unforgettable.
He continued: “I saw for myself how big Scottish football is. There was real history attached to the clubs and the passion of the fans was great.
“I made my debut away to Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup which was great but I always wanted to play at Celtic Park or Ibrox but I did not get that opportunity and I will get that chance in the return leg.
“It would mean a lot to score against Celtic in the Champions League.
“My role will be not just about scoring goals but to be the first line of defence in a very disciplined performance, but you do dream and if you did not have those kind of romantic thoughts then why be involved?”
Waterworth has earned a reputation as the man for the big occasion, netting a hat-trick as Linfield won the league title against Cliftonville last term before repeating the feat in the Irish Cup final to down Coleraine – sealing the Treble.
He is also just one goal shy of Glenn Ferguson as the club’s all time record European goalscorer with five. If anyone can trouble Celtic, he can.
Nevertheless, he is under no illusions regarding the size of the task, particularly following Saturday’s 4-1 reverse against a Hearts side which finished 60 points adrift of the Hoops last term.
Waterworth continued: “People will probably expect us to get tanked against Celtic, if we are being realistic.
“We know how good we have to be to not to get hammered. As a team will have to approach the game with caution but also with a bit of belief on our side.
“We are well aware of how big a club Celtic are and how big the task is but we want to try and keep the scoreline down as much as we can. That is not being negative, but it is a scary prospect.
“Linfield are a long way off being a professionally run full-time outfit and, while there are times when we can compete and cause upsets, Celtic are at a different level altogether.”