Belfast Telegraph

Crusaders' goal king Heatley named as Ulster's finest

By Graham Luney

Paul Heatley has spoken of his pride after being crowned Ulster Footballer of the Year.

Heatley pipped his Crusaders team-mate Jordan Owens and Cliftonville hotshot Joe Gormley - who won the gong last year - to the prestigious prize organised by the Castlereagh Glentoran Supporters' Club.

The classy winger has scored 27 goals in 40 appearances this season, firing Crusaders to their first league title in 18 years.

Heatley will join his comrades at Seaview this afternoon when they will be handed the Gibson Cup - only Crusaders' fifth league championship success in their history.

His personal accolade follows hot on the heels of the news his manager Stephen Baxter has agreed a three-year deal.

"I'm thrilled to receive this award and I'd like to thank the whole club including management, my team-mates and the fans who have played big roles this season," said the former Carrick Rangers favourite who joins an impressive list of previous winners including current team-mate Paul Leeman and Baxter.

"The manager is ably supported by a superb backroom team including Roy McDonald and Jeff Spiers and they get the best out of the players. The club and management have created the best possible environment to help the team be successful and it's nice to be part of all of this.

"Hopefully we can build on this and win more titles.

"We've all been a bit emotional since the title was won and that's a natural reaction because it means so much to so many people and we are determined to enjoy the moment.

"There has certainly been no malice involved in any of our celebrations, even from the wild man that is Sean O'Neill! I think we are entitled to enjoy and celebrate what is a magnificent achievement by everyone at the club.

"I'm looking forward to the party and it could be a long night!"

It's the 65th anniversary of the glittering award which this year is sponsored by Capitol Foods of Lisburn with their brand Piacetto Espresso Coffee.

The independent selection panel included former managers and players as well as members of the media and the panel is chaired by former Cliftonville goalkeeper Bobby Carlisle who won the award in 1984.

Heatley was pictured with the award at Stormont yesterday in a reception hosted by Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure Caral Ni Chuilin.

The Seaview favourite will officially receive the trophy at a glittering bash in La Mon House Hotel on Friday, May 8.

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