Belfast Telegraph

Open your eyes and see heroes on and off pitch

By Graham Luney

2013 certainly finished with a bang and I don't mean the fireworks.

It was a personal honour but also a magnificent result for the Irish League.

Think of Dungannon Swifts and Joe McAree's name immediately comes to mind.

The former Swifts boss will soon be packing his bags for a trip to Buckingham Palace and a date with the Queen.

After being awarded an MBE in The Queen's New Year Honours List, Joe will be grinning from ear to ear but it was news that spread joy across our football family.

Here is a man who has devoted 40 years of life to the development of the game in Dungannon – yes, 40 years! Nearly as long as I have been around!

This country, for understandable reasons, gets a bad press and we often knock it ourselves but when you glance through the list of recipients earning New Year Honours, it's a timely reminder we live among many heroes.

Within a South Tyrone community there was one man who recognised he could make a positive difference to the lives of so many young people.

McAree put in the hard graft to see youngsters fulfil their potential on and off the pitch.

Of course, Joe – like other men and women in similar positions – don't throw their heart and soul into these projects for personal reward. Their willingness to nurture others and move them along the pathway towards their dreams is humbling.

They are the ultimate 'unsung heroes' and the Irish League – thankfully – has plenty of them.

Joe's commitment, loyal and dedicated service over four decades has now rightly been acknowledged.

He will repeat the journey Linfield legend Noel Bailie embarked on when he collected his MBE at Buckingham Palace last year.

Players often get a negative press too. Critics mock the stand of the Irish League but in my view the standards have never been higher because of increasingly professional attitudes to training and fitness.

And, believe it or not, we have many players who are unsung heroes too.

Here's a question for you – who do you think is the biggest unsung hero of the Northern Ireland Football League?

Which player, above all others, doesn't get the praise they deserve?

We can rule out the strikers as they get all the glory.

Perhaps it's a midfielder who does all the untidy and unglamorous work in the middle or more likely, a defender who's not afraid to make a crunching tackle.

Goalkeepers rarely get the credit they are due – but sometimes a world class save can shape the outcome of a game.

There are unsung heroes everywhere in football – you just have to look hard enough. Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick used to be one until the Old Trafford faithful began to digest his importance to the team.

Not everyone can be a big name superstar and there's a real value in going about your business in a quiet, dignified and committed way.

Honourable mentions to Chris Casement at Portadown, Eamonn Seydak at Cliftonville, Billy Joe Burns at Linfield and Marcus Kane at Glentoran.

But my unsung hero of the Danske Bank Premiership is Crusaders stalwart David Magowan.

The 30-year-old has been at the Shore Road club since switching from Bangor 10 years ago.

Despite missing the 2009 Irish Cup final due to suspension, the versatile defender never moaned or groaned about it.

Throughout all those years he went about his business in a professional manner, producing top drawer performances.

After playing against Dungannon Swifts last night, 'Mags' is now only two games shy of making his 400th appearance for Crusaders.

The game isn't just about goalscorers – take a bow David... I gave the Queen your mobile number.

Belfast Telegraph

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