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Biting back: McCall's painful reminder of the Irish League heyday

By John Laverty

Remember Tony McCall? If you're my age, and have followed Irish League football, you will.

Tony, a good mate of mine, was identified as a special talent even in primary school.

Comfortable on either foot, he had terrific balance, vision and range of passing.

He was mature beyond his years; it was no surprise when he broke into the Ballymena United first team as a young teenager and, for good measure, scored on his debut.

Northern Ireland youth team captain, PFA Most Promising Newcomer, Ulster Young Footballer of the Year and several top flight English clubs sending scouts over to watch him; yes, the world was at Tony's feet.

People likened him to England midfield dynamo Bryan Robson - but, unfortunately, the similarities weren't restricted to the skill level.

Like Robbo, Tony tended to go in where it hurts, and all too often he was the one getting hurt.

Frustrated with persistent fitness problems, he quit playing for a new life coaching 'soccer' in the United States.

That was 30 years ago; he's now been an American for much longer than he's been an Ulsterman.

I was starting to wonder if he even remembered the good old days, and those epic duels with the likes of Linfield's Peter Dornan and Glentoran's Billy Caskey.

And then I saw the gruesome pictures; the aftermath of his major knee replacement surgery... a latent 'gift' from the local game.

No, he certainly won't forget those days in a hurry.

Get well soon, mate. I really mean that... because I don't want to be wheeling you around when you come back 'home' in February.

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