Belfast Telegraph

A look back at Northern Ireland and Manchester United great Sammy McIlroy's career

 

By Graham Luney

While the great and the good of Irish League football are celebrated at the Northern Ireland Football Writers' end of season bash, there is always an international flavour to proceedings and there was a very special addition to the Dr Malcolm Brodie Hall of Fame.

Former Northern Ireland and Manchester United favourite Sammy McIlroy received the prestigious honour, and the Belfast man was thrilled to soak up the warm applause at the Crowne Plaza Belfast.

McIlroy's magnificent international career came to a close in October 1986 against England. It was a journey that spanned almost 15 years, 88 caps, five goals, two World Cups and a victory in the last British home Championship.

The 62-year-old shared some of those golden memories with the audience last night and it's easily forgotten that at club level McIlroy also gave phenomenal service to United.

He was just 15 when Sir Matt Busby made him his last ever signing for the club.

Sammy spent 11 years at Old Trafford, playing 391 times and scoring big goals at crucial times, and he has a suite at Macclesfield Town's Moss Rose stadium named after him.

Whether for club or country he gave his all for the cause, and his 88 international caps leave him sixth on Northern Ireland's all-time appearance list.

McIlroy played in all of the 1982 World Cup battles when Billy Bingham's side rocked the host nation Spain and advanced to the quarter-finals, while he also captained the side at the 1986 World Cup.

He was also honoured to manage Northern Ireland from 2000 to 2003, though the team struggled to secure wins.

His managerial career included spells with Northwich Victoria, Macclesfield, Stockport County and Morecambe.

He managed Macclesfield for six and a half seasons, culminating in their promotion to The Football League in 1997.

Among Sammy's highlights at United was an FA Cup triumph in 1977 and winning the Second Division title in 1975.

His distinguished playing career also took him to Stoke City, Manchester City, Örgryte in Sweden, Bury, Admira Wacker in Austria and Preston North End.

He was a Belfast boy who lived the dream, played for one of the world's most famous clubs and represented his country at two World Cup finals. Little wonder he got a standing ovation from the football family last night.

The NIFWA International Personality of the Year nominees were Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and Steven Davis, and it was West Brom's experienced defender 'Big G' who claimed the prize.

McAuley made his international debut at 25 but has now amassed 71 caps for his country, scoring nine goals.

The popular Larne man wrote his name in the history books when he scored Northern Ireland's first goal in the now famous 2-0 victory over Ukraine at Euro 2016 in Lyon and he is also the highest ever scoring defender for his country.

And the 37-year-old remains a key member of Michael O'Neill's side as they chase down a cherished place in the World Cup finals in Russia.

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