Belfast Telegraph

Davy Smyth a talented player hugely popular on and off pitch

By John Laverty

Just before Christmas last year Davy Smyth was invited to a function at Inver Park, home of Larne Football Club.

Ostensibly, it was billed as a reunion for the players who featured in Larne's finest hour, the 1987 Ulster Cup final victory over Coleraine. When Davy arrived, however, he quickly realised that his former colleagues were wearing Larne shirts with his name on the back.

More: Tributes flow for Ballymena and Larne football hero Davy Smyth

The game was up. Those ex-team-mates were, in effect, there to celebrate the life of someone who hadn't actually died yet.

It could all have gone horribly wrong, but Davy wasn't offended in the slightest.

'Any excuse for a party' was his motto and, in typical style, 'Smicker' partied the night away.

He was visibly moved by how many turned up that night even though, deep down, he knew they were there principally to say goodbye.

A few months earlier, in the summer of 2015, the legendary and hugely popular midfielder, instantly recognisable on Irish League football pitches courtesy of his long hair and beard, had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

At one stage the medics feared he might not live to see Christmas 2015, but Davy Smyth was as driven and determined off the field as he was on it. He loved life, and he wanted to live a little bit more of it.

He didn't quit work, he didn't even give up football - turning out regularly for the Northern Ireland veterans team until his failing health made it impossible to continue.

He bore a merciless, cruel illness with dignity, stoicism, courage - and his trademark dry wit - prior to his death, at the age of 53, on Christmas Day.

David John Smyth was born on November 27, 1963, the eldest of four children who grew up on a farm just outside Ballymena.

Although his talent for football was obvious at an early stage, he concentrated on getting a good education at All Saints Primary and then St Louis Grammar School, where he ended up as head boy.

Football kept calling, however, and in 1979, aged 15, Davy starred in the Northern Ireland schoolboys' team that made history by winning the European Championship. His illustrious team-mates that year included future Manchester United star Norman Whiteside and the late Northern Ireland senior international captain Alan McDonald.

Two years later he would make history by becoming the youngest player ever to win an Irish Cup medal when Ballymena United defeated Glenavon 1-0 at Windsor Park.

Seventeen-year-old Davy had only played a handful of times for the Braidmen but was drafted into the team after an injury sustained by one of his best friends, Tony McCall. The teenager was determined to make a big impression in local football's showpiece game and rattled the Glenavon crossbar early with a fierce shot while his proud mum Philomena watched from the stands.

A late Sammy McQuiston winner secured Davy's place in the record books.

He would reach two other Irish Cup finals with Larne, savour the club's Ulster Cup success and ultimately rejoin Ballymena, but had no real interest in pursuing a career in professional football.

He believed he could make a good living from his business acumen, which had been forged at Queen's University.

And he was right; before he had reached his mid-20s Davy Smyth and two other businessman had set up the Xtra-vision video chain empire in Northern Ireland.

Later in his life he would found and run the Forevercare organisation, an army of home helps improving the lives of elderly people throughout Northern Ireland.

He was no fan of social media and didn't understand the concept of 'cyber friends', yet a quick look at Facebook will reveal the huge number of people, including this writer, whose lives he touched and who are mourning his loss today.

Sympathy is extended to his father David Snr, mother Philomena, brothers Paul and Kieran, sister Bronagh and partner Lesley.

The funeral of Davy Smyth will be held at All Saints Church in Ballymena, Co Antrim,  on Thursday December 29, at 10am.

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