Linfield midfielder Sammy Clingan wants to be let loose on the Danske Bank Premiership this season.
The 32-year-old starred on his full competitive debut as the Blues surged to a 4-0 victory over Glenavon on Saturday.
Goals from Josh Carson, Aaron Burns (2) and Sean Ward sealed an impressive win for David Healy’s men at Windsor Park.
Glenavon’s misery was compounded by the sending off of Rhys Marshall in the 62nd minute – the defender receiving a straight red card for a rash tackle on Chris Casement.
Summer signing Clingan was the fulcrum in Linfield’s midfield, the Northern Ireland international showing no signs of ring rust after returning from a year-long absence from football.
After being released by Kilmarnock in the summer of 2015, Clingan spent the next 12 months recovering from a knee injury before signing for Linfield this summer.
“I can’t remember the last time I played 90 minutes of competitive football – it has been a long time,” said Clingan.
“I think my last competitive game was for Kilmarnock against Motherwell. I can’t remember the date, but it was a Friday night game.
“It was maybe May, 2015, so it is a good while ago.
“I am just glad I got through this game unscathed. I felt really good, but I know I have to work on my fitness to get up there.
“ I felt pretty comfortable, and my knee felt really good. So that was very pleasing. And the rest of me feels like a normal 32-year-old should.”
Linfield boss Healy could be forgiven for taking a cautious approach to Clingan’s return to action, but the midfielder is hoping he can feature prominently in the Blues’ title assault this season.
“I just want to play in every single game, if my body lets me,” Clingan smiles.
“I know it will be a tough season, and the style of play here is different. It is more hustle and bustle, and you don’t get a lot of time on the ball.
“You take a few more knocks compared to across the water, and that is something I have to get used to. I am adjusting to it in training. The boys have been brilliant with me and I am really enjoying it.”
Clingan admitted to some pre-match nerves ahead of Saturday’s clash with Glenavon, but insists it is all part of his preparation.
“I wasn’t nervous about the knee, or getting a whack on it. To be honest, I get nervous before any game of football I play,” he said.
“It could be a kick-about with mates on the street, or coming out here today. The nerves are always there on a Saturday morning.
“I was actually talking to my girlfriend about it coming to the game today. She asked if I was nervous, and I said ‘yeah, I am’. It is just the way I have always been.
“But once I get over the line, and get a few touches of the ball, I am grand.”
Blues boss Healy hailed the display of his former Northern Ireland team-mate following Clingan’s impressive performance on Saturday.
“I brought Sammy into the club, and I feel fortunate to get him,” Healy said.
“No disrespect to the Irish League, or to Linfield, but if Sammy had been fit for the last 18 months, he would not be playing here.
“I thought his quality today and his passing was superb. He hasn’t played for a long time, but you could see the quality Sammy has today.
“His vision and the balls he picks, he is different class.”
Carson broke the deadlock in the fourth minute with a close-range finish before Aaron Burns doubled the lead shortly after the break with a low drilled shot.
Marshall then saw red for a late tackle on Casement in the 63rd minute, and Ward twisted the knife with a long-range strike nine minutes later to make it 3-0.
Burns headed home the fourth in the 80th minute, and was denied by the woodwork not once but twice as the hat-trick escaped him.
“We were brutal from start to finish. Linfield were hungrier than us and they wanted it more,” Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton said.
“They got down the sides of us, their backline played high up the pitch. They were first to the ball at both ends and deserved their victory.
“They were very good, and we were very poor.
“I told my players it wasn’t good enough, and that it wasn’t acceptable.”