Tributes flow for Ballymena and Larne football hero Davy Smyth
Team-mates and friends have paid tribute to footballer Davy Smyth, the youngest player to win the Irish cup.
A stalwart for both Larne and Ballymena United in the 1980s, he was instantly recognisable to supporters with his trademark long hair and beard. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015, Davy continued playing for the Northern Ireland veteran football team well into this year until his failing health finally forced him off the pitch. Aged just 53, he died on Christmas night after an 18-month battle with the illness.
Yesterday players from Larne and Ballymena wore black armbands during their boxing day matches.
Aged just 17, Davy (right) was a part of the Ballymena team that defeated Glenavon 1-0 in the 1981 Irish Cup final. Remarkably, it was only his third first-team appearance.
He later moved to Larne and became part of the most celebrated first XI in Inver Park history in 1987 when the club won the Ulster cup.
With Davy patrolling the midfield, Larne would reach several other finals.
His footballing career was followed by a successful life in business as he helped to found the Xtra-vision video rental chain.
Paul Carland, Larne's captain at the time, called him "a super guy on the pitch and a super guy off the pitch".
The former team-mates last gathered together for a night with Davy in Lavery's bar several weeks ago.
"Davy looked immaculate as always. He was the best of fun, but we all knew that sometimes there's battles you just can't win," said Paul.
"We were always very tight as a team. Davy actually brought all the boys back to together with a purpose.
"God love him; he did something that was so special."
He added: "He's a super fella, cracking footballer, guts to burn and just never gave up. We were just lucky to have known him."
Ballymena manager David Jeffrey had known Davy since the start of his playing career.
"As a 17-year-old he did stand out," he recalled.
"He was tenacious in the tackle, he worked very hard. Simply a talented and dedicated footballer. He took everything in his stride."
Ballymena assistant manager Brian McLoughlin first encountered Davy as an opponent on the pitch, before he became his team-mate at Larne. "Davy being ill brought people back together again. He was always fighting, his spirit was fantastic," said Brian.
"When we had the reunion for the Larne team and asked him how he was, he said 'not dead yet', and had us in stitches.
"There's a picture of him in the players' tunnel at Ballymena United with the long hair. He kept the hair as well as his personality.
"He wore crocodile boots, cowboy hats and open-neck shirts. He'd take any amount of banter."
Close friend Lyn Kernohan, a former secretary at Larne fC, said Davy never lost his sense of humour
"He always wanted an Aston Martin. We always wound him up saying he thinks he's James bloody Bond.
"But he got one, and when I suggested the insurance must be a fortune, he said: 'Lyn, I just told them I'm dying'.
"Bless him, that was just his brave face on it, he really fought very hard."
Veteran sports broadcaster Jackie Fullerton called him "a very pleasant man" who had become part of Ballymena's "folklore" with the Irish cup win.
"I was working at the derby game today between Ballymena and Coleraine and I was pleased to see the Ballymena players wearing black armbands in memory of a trophy winner of the past. I send my condolences to all of the family circle at this dreadfully sad time," he said.
The funeral of Davy Smyth will be held at All Saints Church in Ballymena, Co Antrim, on Thursday December 29, at 10am.