Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir: 700 not out is one Ell of an achievement for Morris

By Billy Weir

It's 5.15pm on Saturday afternoon and players from both teams are emerging from the lofty dressing rooms of Mourneview Park washed, groomed and smelling like a fashionable accessory of a lady of the night.

All but one, that is. One man is still standing in his full kit, gloves in hand and carrying out a succession of media interviews with admirable patience and probably wondering if all the Mister Matey has been used up.

It was that type of day for Elliott Morris, not just another game for the Glentoran keeper, this was his 700th in a remarkable career for the 37-year-old shot-stopper.

It was some 16 years ago that he made his first appearance for the Glens having returned home from West Bromwich Albion, who must have had some pretty handy keepers if he was let go, but the Baggies' loss has certainly been the Cock and Hens' gain.

Now at 37 he is still turning in performances that belie his advancing years. Again on Saturday he was his typical self - unflappable, dependable and the first name on the team sheet.

I dread to think how many managers have come and gone since he first donned the gloves, I dare say a millipede would have the shoes and socks off for that one, but no matter who has come in, one thing has remained constant.

Our game gets a bit of a kicking at times, but the loyalty of players, the 'one club man' is still a refreshing facet which Elliott carries on.

Noel Bailie, the daddy of them all, at Linfield, Portadown had Keith O'Hara, Mickey Keenan, Brian Strain (quite a lot actually), Colin Coates at the Crues, George McMullan at Cliftonville, you could pluck quite a few out of the air.

But they certainly are becoming a rarer breed and, with the likes of the Crues and Larne dangling more semi-professional carrots in front of players, alongside the traditional riches to be had at Windsor Park, then there could be even more reasons to head for pastures new.

Not so for Elliott, he has another target now: the 794 appearances of Colin Nixon, the only man ahead of him in the Glentoran pecking order, and few would bet against him, injury permitting, passing that mark before he calls it quits.

His first appearance was back in August 10, 2002, a 4-1 win and, typically, the 'one' still rankles.

"Institute 4-1 at home was the first one, a deflected goal went over my head," he remembered. "I'm not taking the blame for that - I never take the blame!"

In fairness, he hasn't had to that often down the years, and the respect and warmth shown to him from team-mates, former team-mates, opponents and managers speaks volumes of the man.

Former Northern Ireland keeper Jonny Tuffey was at the other end of the pitch on Saturday, but the Glenavon ace paid warm tribute to his opposite number.

"There's not many better than Elliott to be honest," he began. "He's a credit to himself in the game, the way he conducts himself and how he has looked after himself. To get to 700 appearances is unbelievable.

"The word 'legend' is used very loosely these days but he is a legend, not just at Glentoran, but in the league as a whole, and full credit to him and I hope that he has plenty more appearances to come."

Elliott picked up NI Under-21 and B International honours, as well as a clutch of medals, and former team-mate and now boss at Glenavon, Gary Hamilton, admits he was surprised that he didn't go on to bigger things.

"Glentoran have not been the greatest over the last three, four, five years, and I'm sure there have been many teams looking for a goalkeeper who thought of Elliott, and I am talking top teams as well, and he stayed there," he said.

"Through the years playing against him here at Glenavon I know he has kept Glentoran in games and got them more points than most of the outfield players.

"He's also a great guy off the field and he's a great professional, and one that young lads should look up to and it's just a pity he never got the opportunity at international level like some others or got back across the water, because he had that in him."

High praise indeed and another man who has counted the cost of one of the safest pair of hands in the business, Ronnie McFall, is now thankful that he has him under him at The Oval.

"It's an unbelievable achievement," he said. "He's a credit not only to the game, but to his family and Glentoran Football Club and the way he's going at the minute he'll play for a fair few years yet.

"Mickey Keenan kept for me until he was nearly 50. You need players of his experience and character about the place, to keep the young boys in check and lean on his experience."

But with three League Championships, three Irish Cups, two County Antrim Shields, three League Cups and a Charity Shield winner's medal to his name, while the attention and adulation have been nice over the past few days, it says everything that he wants to sign off with a flourish.

"I think the club stood by me in some difficult times and obviously I stood by them in some difficult times so it's a two-way street," he added.

"A few people have asked me about the record and stuff over the last couple of weeks but I'd take a trophy before I take the record, I really want to lift another trophy with the club. To get my hands on another trophy would be special."

And few would begrudge him one more moment in the spotlight, let's just hope he has finally had a shower!

Never mind Denmark, something stinks at Reds

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Cliftonville boss Barry Gray.

"It's easy for me to come out here and keep pointing fingers back at the players. Did I expect us to be in a different position at this stage of the season? Yes. Are we? No, but that's my job and my responsibility."

The words of Cliftonville manager Barry Gray. No, not on Saturday after their toothless display against Newry City but almost a year to the day ago when it was Groundhog Day in another 1-0 loss, this time at Ballymena.

"But I can't take responsibility for performance levels as I don't dictate them, but I'll take responsibility for where we are at the minute and what we have to do going forward," he added that day.

And, after a while, they did go forward, the goals started to flow, the Reds performed brilliantly to reach the final of the Tennent's Irish Cup and win the Europa League play-off.

But the slovenly start to this year's campaign means they are already slipping off the pace and once again the manager has been laying into his players.

While I'm not sure if he is a fan of Hamlet, things may have been rotten in Denmark - where, ironically, the Reds' Euro adventure took them - but they are, in his words, 'stinking' at Cliftonville.

"Our boys came into the game like they have in every game so far, their attitude was stinking and it has been stinking," he fumed last Saturday.

"The attitude is completely wrong from inside our team, right across the board.

"It's boys bluffing themselves as well. Bar two players, one that played in the back line and one that played in midfield, everyone else was a pure and utter disgrace to the Cliftonville badge today." Strong words, but maybe too many people have taken their eye off the ball at matters on the pitch with protests about anthems, accusations of harsh treatment by the powers-that-be and Shakegate at Solitude a fortnight ago.

As rumour upon rumour keeps emerging from the club, it's time for the sniping to stop and the winning to begin - and means tomorrow night's game against Institute becomes huge to stop the rot.

Out on the wing

Not a Brad way to bow out at the Bannsiders

As final curtains go, bidding farewell after a 3-0 thumping of the champions on their home patch was quite a way for Brad Lyons to take his leave from Coleraine.

It is with mixed emotions that we wave one of our own away into the big, bad world of the professional game, but the lad from the Toon will bring some good and an immense talent to Blackburn Rovers.

Those choirboy looks and politeness come of a grounded upbringing in Ballymoney, and the love of the Bannsiders fans for the ‘local boy done good’ was reciprocated by the midfield dynamo.

“I’ve always supported Coleraine and the boys are all best mates and the fans are brilliant,” he said this week.

“At Seaview, I was walking off the pitch and I got an amazing reception which meant a lot.

“Every Saturday I will be checking how Coleraine have done. Just because I’m across the water, it doesn’t mean I won’t be following them.

“They are my childhood Irish League team and always will be and hopefully some day I’ll come back and play for Coleraine.”

 I hope so too, but not before you have made the mark you deserve to make in the game.

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On the move: Coleraine ace Brad Lyons

Super saver Sam is proving quite a catch

There is clearly an old head on very talented young shoulders (and hands) in the shape of Ards goalkeeper Sam Johnston.

The 22-year-old has been earning rave reviews this season with his displays for the North Down men and was at it again on Saturday as the former Linfield youth player kept his old team at bay at Windsor Park.

But is he getting carried away? Not a bit of it.

“It’s my job. Colin (Nixon) always wants his keepers to be dominant and come and take crosses,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, that is what I’m there to do, and if I can take a bit of pressure off the back four then that’s great.”

And Nixon couldn’t be happier after his gamble of signing Johnston from Harland and Wolff Welders has paid huge dividends thus far.

“I think there may have been a few raised eyebrows when we made him number one, but we firmly believed in him,” he said.

“I’m proud of the entire team, but Sam’s performance was top drawer.”

Ards are in safe hands, but holding onto Sam now might prove slightly trickier if he keeps this up.

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Safe hands: Sam Johnston claims control with Linfield’s Andy Waterworth lurking

Final word

After all the hype about Larne, Portadown et al, who would have thought that wee Dundela would be riding high at the top of the Bluefin Sports Championship? Four wins out of four, scoring goals for fun and not letting many in, Wilgar Park has never had it so good. Long may it last.

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