The Martin Donnelly story is an inspirational tale for any young footballer.
Many of our talented players have tasted rejection at clubs in England and came home disillusioned, never to kick a ball again.
Not all are as talented as George Best was, but that doesn’t stop them dreaming. Donnelly (pictured) was rejected by Sheffield United and Rochdale and last year his career came to an abrupt and painful halt.
Several Irish League clubs, who are now consumed with regret, chose not to give the 20-year-old a chance, but Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter told his father Gerry: “Bring the lad down and we’ll have a look at him.”
Donnelly’s first season in the Irish League is a footballing fairytale. He has been an integral member of a Crusaders team which has finished third in the Premiership, qualified for the Setanta Cup and Europa League and tasted Irish Cup glory.
On top of his domestic achievements, international selectors have taken notice as Donnelly would have played for the Northern Ireland B team against Scotland last week had he not been preparing for the cup final against Cliftonville.
Last night he crowned off a memorable debut season with the Harp Northern Ireland Football Writers Young Player of the Year Award and the good news for Crusaders is he can only get better.
Meanwhile, Knockbreda Parish were also celebrating last night after being named Junior Team of the Year.
Knockbreda are the first club from Division 1A of the Amateur League to win the Intermediate Cup after beating Dergview, Armagh City, Portadown and Donegal Celtic.