Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Jimmy McIlroy wings way to the Palace at last

Jimmy McIlroy, former Northern Ireland, Burnley Stoke and Oldham footballer, has been awarded an MBE — long overdue and deserved recognition for his services to the game and charity.

Labelled the Prince of Inside Forwards, McIlroy (79) was a superstar, one of the Northern Ireland 1958 World Cup heroes.

His film star profile made him a pin-up boy in the late Fifties and early Sixties.

Capped 55 times, he was the king in an era when the jargon of the coaching manual was unknown — wide men, front runners, tracking back, operating in the channels, impact substitutes.

Forget all that. McIlroy played his football simply, effectivel and brilliantly as did his mentor Peter Doherty and international captain Danny Blanch flower.

The transfer value of that trio in today’s terms would be astronomical. Jimmy, a bricklayer on a building site at Lambeg alongside the late Tommy Casey, another Northern Ireland star, before they opted for professional football, will for ever be synonymous with Burnley.

He joined them as an 18-year-old from Glentoran for a bargain £8000 fee — the start of a 13-year reign, playing 439 matches, scoring 116 goals and a key figure in the 1959 First Division championship win.

When transfer-listed in 1963 by chairman Bob Lord, fans were dumfounded, the shock move creating headlines around Europe. He moved to Stoke, then Oldham, went into journalism, ironically as a golf writer on the local Burnely paper, and then retirement.

His association with Burnley, however, was revived with a stand named after him as well as receiving the Freedom of the Town.

Lisburn, too, honoured this son of Lambeg, with playing fields at Ballyskeagh near the Distillery ground designated McIlroy Park.

Jimmy, a widower who still resides in Burnley, with his family concentrates now on golf, getting frequently into the sunshine of Europe, painting and enjoying life.

His is the story of a local boy made good.

A genius, an immortal of football, symbol of a golden age — and a true gentleman.

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