Belfast Telegraph

Comment: A quirky A to Z of a thrilling Irish League season

OK is okay: Coleraine lifted the cup and manager Oran Kearney on Saturday
OK is okay: Coleraine lifted the cup and manager Oran Kearney on Saturday
Stephen Baxter
Bobby Burns

By Billy Weir

And so the end of the season is almost upon us, players are preparing to jet off to Magaluf or Millisle, managers are busy persuading unwanted players that they have always wanted to play for Portadown and Gary Hamilton has emerged in public without having a pop at referees.

It has been a momentous year, from European adventures to the best title race in yonks, the rebirth of a sleeping dwarf in the north-west (Coleraine or Institute, delete as applicable) and a fairytale cup win for Dungannon Swifts proving that sometimes the good guys do win.

So, here is my A to Z of what has gone on over the last 10 months.

A is for Anthem: Before we get under way I would ask you all to stand... oh, okay maybe not. Two options - get rid of all anthems or, if we have to have one, respect it. And God forbid, please deliver us from the evil of a dirge like Ireland's Call.

B is for Bannsiders: What can you say about Coleraine? Apparently, for legal reasons, I am not allowed to answer that, but I will go as far as saying they have been brilliant, unflappable, fantastic and cup glory was the very least they deserved. And the fact that those words spell BUFC is purely coincidental...

C is for Cush: What a way to win a league, David Cushley coming off the bench to set up one and score the winner on an incredible last day of the season and crown Crusaders as worthy Danske Bank Premiership champions. And just the send-off big Roy McDonald deserved.

D is for Dungannon: It is now written in law that whenever Dungannon Swifts are mentioned the words 'they play some lovely football' must be used, but we can now add League Cup champions 2018 to that. For the life of me I can't remember who they beat but they played some lovely football in doing so.

E is for Ed: There have been many police warnings over the years to fans travelling to games but I am pretty sure that the Big Two have never been instructed before to beware of Ed Sheeran. The carrot-topped crooner was playing at Boucher at the same time but at the time of writing there was no confirmation whether he sang a Blues medley or the Green Glens of Antrim at the final whistle. Anything other than that Galway Girl drivel.

F is for full-time: Stephen Baxter has unpacked his last jockstrap as he closes down his sports shop to become full-time boss at Crusaders. It's good that he'll have time now to really devote himself to the job because they haven't really achieved much of late. Be afraid everyone.

Stephen Baxter

G is for Gormley: Mr the Goal, as he is also known, is a joy to behold when he is firing on all cylinders and, more importantly, when he is happy. After a frustrating time across the water he took a while to settle back into life at Cliftonville but when he did he has been nothing short of magnificent. His goal against Crusaders at Seaview should be hanging in a gallery it was so good.

H is for Healy: Ah, the marvellous fickle world of football. David Healy must have a season ticket for Barry's given the roller coaster nature of his managerial ride at Linfield thus far. A stuttering start was replaced with being lauded as the greatest thing since a sliced Veda and then rumblings aplenty as the wheels came off this season and angry denials that he was about to haul anchor for Grimsby. It's never boring at Windsor.

I is for Iniesta: There are unconfirmed rumours that Andres Iniesta has been spotted looking in the window of Woodside's in Larne sparking speculation that he is the next big name on his way to Inver Park. It's weird, it's mad and it's not going to be boring, the pet elephant of local football is sure to keep us all entertained in the months and years ahead.

J is for Jordan: No, not the Loose Woman, nor the big country in the Middle East, this is the man known as Chicken or Mr Owens, a sort of Kirk Hunter for the new generation after some anger management classes. It is his testimonial season and all local fans should get along to Seaview on June 30 for his testimonial match against Motherwell.

K is for Keepers: It has been an honour to watch some brilliant goalkeeping this season but what an impression the Beast, Brian Jensen, made in his brief tenure between the posts at Crusaders.

L is for Lyndon: Your heart really goes out to Coleraine defender Lyndon Kane who missed the Tennent's Irish Cup Final due to injury. He had battled so hard to get back into action this season after breaking his foot again. He missed the first five months of the campaign with a similar injury and returned to be an integral part of the Bannsiders' push for glory. Get well soon, Lyndon, you deserve a break, a lucky one.

raine v Larne_022.jpg
Coleraine's Lyndon Kane celebrates after firing his side into a 1-0 lead in the Irish Cup semi-final.

M is for Mallards: There is probably a lot of 'what if' thoughts floating around Ballinamallard wondering if they should have brought in Harry McConkey a bit sooner. Gavin Dykes will be sorely missed, he was an absolute gent when most managers would have hidden away, but I am delighted the Mallards have given Harry the chance to get them flying back to the top level.

N is for Nomads: What an incredible achievement Paddy McLaughlin and his Institute side pulled off in getting back to the top flight. We're still not sure where they'll be playing next season but a season of playing all but one game away from Drumahoe was staggering and whether it be at the Brandywell, the Oval or wherever, they deserve huge respect. And a sat-nav.

O is for Oran: What else? Great player, great manager, great bloke and what is not to like about a man who has introduced the phrase 'testicular fortitude' to the local football vocabulary. Still not sure about that Jose-like gallop down the touchline though...

P is for NIFL: I found out many things during the season but the most revealing came from NIFL chief Andrew Johnston on the last day title car chase who revealed that on his arrival at the Ballymena Showgrounds with the Gibson Cup, his first port of call was the smallest room in the stadium because he had been bursting for a pee! You can probably make your own jokes, but please, wash your hands before handing over trophies.

Q is for Quaint: No doubt where my favourite away day of the season was as I followed Portadown's adventures in the Championship to Knockbreda, my first trip to surely the most picturesque football setting and met Beau, the football-retrieving canine. Every club should have one.

R is for Ronnie: And talking of Portadown, who would have thought that Ronnie McFall would be brought out of cold storage to fill the void left by the daft dismissal of Gary Haveron at Glentoran. You'll be telling me ABBA are reforming next...

S is for Split: No not the place in Croatia, nor the super ice cream treat, the NIFL's brave and brilliant decision to introduce a split for the last five games of the season. It came of age this season, there was rarely a meaningless game in the final few weeks and everything, to coin Brian Moore, was up for grabs at the end.

T is for Television: No end of season rant would be complete without a gurn at TV companies. I am not even going to waste my chubby-fingered typing on UTV, Sky treats us like a ginger-haired stepson and the BBC frustrate the life out of us by not giving us a highlights programme or putting the Irish League Show on instead of country and western loving farmers who want to talk about politics to Nolan in Ulster-Scots or Gaelic.

U is for unsung: Unsung no more is Gareth McConaghie. Never mind that no one a mile south of Ballymoney has a clue what he is saying, the big Coleraine defender has become an overnight success at the age of 30. Top man, surely a shoo-in for Dervock Sports Star of the Year?

Family affair: Coleraine hero Gareth McConaghie celebrates with his family after the Irish Cup triumph

V is for vast open spaces: Windsor Park, or the National Stadium if you like to annoy Linfield, is wonderful, although still an abomination to get to and park near, but careful thought has to be given as to whether it is the best venue for finals. The League Cup decider between Dungannon and Ballymena would have been so much better at a smaller venue rather than feeling like an unwanted coffee Revel rattling about a chubby child's pocket.

W is for Whyte: Crusaders' Gavin will need to invest in a new cabinet to make room for the impressive haul of trinkets he has accumulated this season. Let's hope he has to pop along to Ikea in Leeds to get it as his talents really deserve a chance in the professional game.

X is for Exit: Give me a break, I've done 23 letters and how could I get xylophone in? Good luck to young Bobby Burns as the now former Glenavon star sets off on what could be a glittering full-time career with Hearts. Now, that's all very well and good, but get your head down and do a bit of studying for those exams.

Y is for Yobs: Not often we can praise Portadown for doing things properly but well done in slapping lifetime bans on the eejits who decided to have a rumble with fellow Newry numbskulls a couple of weeks ago. Hooligans have occasionally raised their ugly heads again this season but do us a favour and as Why Don't You said, go and do something less boring instead.

Z is for zzzzz: And talking of boring, there is seemingly more chance of locating the Holy Grail, tracking down Lord Lucan or Ards getting a ground of their own, than Glentoran persuading anyone that taking over at the Oval isn't as bad as they really think it's going to be. Hmmm...

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