Two Irish League giants leave stage
The Irish League family bids farewell to two legends of the game today. Defenders William Murphy and Ronan Scannell walk off into the sunset with a firm pat on the back from everyone with a passing interest in our domestic game and they leave behind some golden memories.
It's difficult to find the words that could do justice to two men who have earned the respect and admiration of supporters across Northern Ireland and further afield regardless of their club loyalties.
Murphy made 639 appearances over a glorious 16-year period for Linfield, a chapter which included nine league titles. The towering centre-back considered retiring in 2013 but he found a new lease of life at Glenavon where he helped guide the club to Irish Cup glory the following year and he bows out after the Lurgan Blues sealed a third place finish in the Danske Bank Premiership and Europa League qualification.
Gifted left-back Scannell, a Solitude legend like his brother Chris, was part of the greatest Cliftonville side ever as they won back to back league titles and League Cups.
Since announcing their retirement plans the tributes have poured in for both warriors and in Murphy's case the words of his former comrade Noel Bailie MBE say it all.
"As an all-round defender, he was the best one I played with," said the former Blues skipper who made 1,013 appearances for the club.
"He was just brilliant whether it was headed clearances or knowing where to be to make that crucial tackle.
"I was fortunate to play alongside some great defenders like John Easton and they were quality players but Winkie was a huge and commanding presence on and off the pitch. He commanded respect and it shouldn't be forgotten that he could score plenty of goals as well.
"We had a great partnership and understanding.
"He was a leader too and vocal in the dressing room. With him and Steven Douglas around it was never going to be quiet! When Winkie spoke people listened because he knew what he was talking about and they respected him.
"I watched him play for Glenavon before Christmas and I thought he played as well as I can remember him playing since he moved to the Lurgan Blues. He looked as fit as a fiddle and he produced his trademark headers and strong tackling."
Murphy, now 41, has always been interested in coaching the next generation of talent and although Scannell earned coaching badges earlier in his career he's focused on quality family time for now.
"I'm 35 going on 36 and it was the stage of my career when I was not certain to play and it can be hard training all the time but then not be selected," said Ronan.
"That's what happens to players my age but I felt it was time to bow out now rather than carry on and perhaps regret not making that decision.
"I'm physically fit and could play on for another year but, mentally, I'm not ready to throw myself into it anymore and when you aren't always enjoying the game the time is right to move on.
"I've a young family, four kids and they are also into their sport so I can enjoy more family time and enjoy some free time. People don't realise the sacrifices players make, even at a part-time level.
"Chris (his brother) told me I would miss the game and he recommended me looking at playing for another club at a lower level, but I don't think I could get the feeling back I had at Cliftonville so that wasn't an option."
Ronan singles out his brother as the best player he has played with, with honourable mentions to Liam Boyce, Joe Gormley and George McMullan. He was emotional during his final appearance at Solitude last weekend and he's steeling himself for more tears this afternoon when he takes on Glentoran at The Oval.
"I was emotional last Saturday and choking up a bit so it could be even worse this weekend," he adds. "The fans have been brilliant and you won't hear any complaints from me on that score. They are loyal to the club and if you have the club at heart they will hold you in the hearts and it felt good to repay their faith in me.
"Winning back to back titles in my thirties was incredible and losing the Irish Cup Final in 2009 was probably my biggest regret but there's no argument I was part of the greatest ever Cliftonville side. That's a pretty good memory to take away with me."
Tributes have also been pouring in from Linfield fans after the club confirmed it was releasing long serving striker Peter Thompson, a former Northern Ireland who enjoyed extraordinary success alongside Bailie and Murphy. The 30-year-old scored 230 goals in 417 games for the Blues and his legendary partnership with Glenn Ferguson was one of the great strikeforces in Irish League history.
Linfield's six doubles in seven seasons under former boss David Jeffrey sit proudly in the history books and amazingly, 'Pistol Pete' never lost an Irish Cup match.
Blues boss Warren Feeney said: "I want to thank him immensely for his integrity in the most dignified manner in which he accepted what must have been a difficult decision for him but one I believe he will recognise is the right decision for the club at this time.
"The club will never forget the glorious chapters Peter has written in the history books but the club has to identify and sign players who are going to write the next chapters in the proud history of this wonderful club."