Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Six more stars who could have been selected for Ulster Footballer of the Year

On top of the group of players that got the nomination, Billy Weir selects another half dozen that have caught his eye

By Billy Weir

There have been many combos featuring numbers over the years - One Direction, U2, Fun Boy Three and The Four Tops, just to name but a few.

The number five, if anything, has gone mad, with The Jackson Five, Five Star, Maroon 5 and, of course, Five, but there aren't many with six.

It's a funny number but one that has been largely overlooked, apart from end of season football awards where it remains the figure of choice.

The prestigious Ulster Footballer of the Year accolade is the most sought after, the great and the wise of the local game (I use that term advisedly) coming up with six good men and true in the running to pick up the trophy.

Ted Rodgers, a man well used to digital dexterity, will have been looking down from his big dusty bin in the sky with a smile then that there was a 3-2-1 split when the candidates for this season were announced recently.

Coleraine have a trio in line with goalkeeper Chris Johns, a man with more clean sheets than the Waveney Laundry, being joined by Stephen O'Donnell and Jamie McGonigle.

Crusaders have picked up a pair, Billy Joe Burns and Gavin Whyte, two of their barn-storming best nominated, while the odd man out is Cliftonville hotshot Joe Gormley, who has once again proved he's the deadliest hitman since Pete Waterman.

And here begins the problem with six.

For me, any player of the year competition that doesn't include the words Paul or Heatley in it is, quite frankly, astonishing, but I appreciate that the wise men had a very difficult task.

I have few qualms with those who have been selected, nor with the three starlets who have been put forward in the Young Footballer of the Year category, Glenavon duo Mark Sykes and Bobby Burns and Warrenpoint Town's exciting youngster Lorcan Forde.

But with six being such an awkward, thran type of number, why stop there?

So, I haven't, I am pushing on further and I've named a few more who could have been contenders.

I wasn't sure how many to do, so I plumped for six, it seemed to be the natural choice.

So here is my alternative sextet, in no particular order.

Paul Heatley (Crusaders): As I mentioned earlier, an awards without Paul Heatley is like fish without chips, Renee missing Renato or Tom Daley minus Speedos.

There are some scurrilous people around that suggest the Crues winger could give Mr Daley a run for his money and he seems to have stitched up the players opposing fans love to hate award but that's why he is so good.

On his day, and he seems to have an awful lot of them, he is unplayable and if you're setting off on as many fantastic runs as he does and being hacked at with impunity, then you're going to spend a fair bit of time tumbling through the air before landing with only a mouthful of 4G to show for your aerobatics.

#irishPremiership #TopBins #PostageStamp Paul Heatley with another one for his show-reel

Posted by BBC Irish Premiership on Saturday, October 14, 2017

Richard Brush (Ballinamallard United): The Mallards have conceded 80 goals thus far in the league but without Mr Brush they would have been sweeping up a lot more (boom, boom...).

I've watched him a few times this season and every time I have been impressed with his handling, the way he comes for crosses and his shot-stopping - and he has had a fair few to try and stop this season.

Now, I have never met the man in the flesh but he began his career at Coventry City, something he shares with David Icke, and I'm sure I would have noticed him coming off the bus in a turquoise tracksuit complaining that referees are nothing but shape-shifting alien reptiles. He may have a point.

Richard Brush

Gareth McConaghie (Coleraine): I'll hold my hands up on this one and admit that I have known wee Gareth (that's how long I have known him) for many moons, back when he was a snotty-nosed wean chasing a ball in Dervock.

Never given a proper chance at Ballymena, he dusted himself down and served his time at Limavady United before Oran Kearney took a punt on big Gareth and he has hardly put a foot wrong this season.

He has become a bit of a monster at the back and has also popped up at the other end with a couple of goals but just remember, you're still young enough for a clip round the lughole. If someone could give me a lift up.

leraine v Ards 04.jpg
Get in: Gareth McConaghie celebrates scoring for Coleraine.

Sammy Clingan (Glenavon): I have to take my hat off to the former Northern Ireland international who, I feared, was finished when he left Linfield after a less than glorious time.

But he has been fabulous at Mourneview, and must be a joy for Gary Hamilton to have about the place, not just because he is still a class act in the middle of the park, but what an example for the young players at Glenavon to have. He has also reached double figures in goals, something that he wasn't exactly renowned for, but his advice and guidance will be something even more valuable to his team-mates over the coming years.

Midfield maestro: Sammy Clingan has been inspirational on and off the park

Curtis Allen (Glentoran): Despite another season of struggles at The Oval, the one constant has been the form and goal threat of the striker. He averages a goal every other game for the Glens and is closing in on a century of goals with another healthy return this season and has been one of the main reasons why they are still favourites to clinch a top-six place.

He'll get the chance to nail that on tomorrow night when Ballymena come calling and he'll hope to add to his frankly cruel lifetime tally of goals against the Sky Blues.

Prize guy: Curtis Allen receives his Player of the Month award for February

Ciaron Harkin (Coleraine): Maybe he just saves his best for when I'm around, but every time I have watched the Derryman he has been sensational. Despite the choirboy, cherubic looks, he's not 12 and is a real terrier in the middle, never stops running and can play a bit too. A great player and Derry City must have had some pretty good midfielders if he was allowed to leg it to Institute. Just imagine how good he'll be when he starts shaving.

Ciaron Harkin

So there you have it, my six of the best to join the six of the best. Good luck in picking a winner out of that lot.

Billy tackles Mark Haughey

It was honours even last week between myself and Ards’ Reece Glendinning as we played out a 2-2 draw following our attempts to pluck scores out of the air.

This week it is the turn of Linfield defender Mark Haughey to cast his eye over Friday night’s games and look ahead to the Sky game on Monday down at Warrenpoint.

The usual rules apply, three points for a bang-on prediction and one for picking the correct outcome.

Mark Haughey

Coleraine v Carrick Rangers: Friday (7.45pm)

I think Coleraine are flying — they’re on a real high and you can’t really look past them. It’s hard for Carrick, I know myself from my time at Glenavon when we were battling down at the bottom just what it’s like, it’s a tough place to be. But I think Coleraine will just have too much for them.

Haughey prediction: 3-0

Weir prediction: 2-0

Glentoran v Ballymena United: Friday (7.45pm)

I’m torn between a draw or a Glentoran win simply because it is at The Oval. Ballymena had a good win at Solitude too on Tuesday night so seem to have come back into form. We played the Glens last week and while we didn’t take our chances, like on Boxing Day, Glentoran have certainly come together.

Haughey prediction: 2-1

Weir prediction: 2-2

Cliftonville v Ards: Friday (7.45pm)

Ards are down there fighting to survive and will probably put up a good opposition to Cliftonville but with the goals they have in them it’s hard to look past them. Having said that Ards have been scoring recently, Ross Clarke is on loan with them from Linfield and he’s started scoring, so I fancy Cliftonville to win but I think Ards will score.

Haughey prediction: 3-1

Weir prediction: 2-1

Dungannon Swifts v Glenavon: Friday (7.45pm)

They always seem to have good games between Dungannon and Glenavon whether it is at Stangmore or Mourneview and I would expect goals. Dungannon always play good football and Glenavon can always score, but I’m going for a draw.

Haughey prediction: 2-2

Weir prediction: 1-3

Warrenpoint Town v Crusaders: Friday (7.45pm)

I’m sure Warrenpoint can’t wait to be on Sky and it’s great for the club but Crusaders are pushing for the title and will want to show what they can do as well. However, because of where they are, I can’t see them not picking up all three points.

Haughey prediction: 1-3

Weir prediction: 2-4

Season’s standings: Players 13 Weir 7

Out on the wing

New boss Stephen makes ‘Point in style

I have to say I was mightily impressed with new Warrenpoint Town interim boss Stephen McDonnell on his debut in the dug-out on Saturday.

He guided his new charges to an action-packed win over Ballymena, although as one WAG put it to me he was dressed like he was going on a date to the cinema, bedecked in jeans, snazzy trainers and bomber jacket. Oh, how we mourn the departure of Gavin Dykes’ social club casual-look.

The only flare he wants is not in the trouser department but on the pitch and it’s a brave man who one game into the job states that survival is key but they are going to try and do it by playing football.

It is a philosophy engrained in the club, starting with Barry Gray and carried on by Matthew Tipton and hopefully the 25-year-old Dundalk man can get the chance to carry on.

“That’s how I think the game should be played. We’re there to entertain people,” he said on Saturday although he stopped short of completely rubber-stamping claims that he is the new Pep Guardiola.

 “I wouldn’t say that. Far from it, I’ve a lot to learn in the game before we can start saying that,” he smiled.

Hmm, if he turns up in a turtle neck and yellow ribbon in front of the Sky cameras on Monday night there will be questions to be asked!

Harry’s game for a massive challenge

Forget Steve McQueen, Harry Houdini, Ronnie Biggs or the big lad Sandy who legged it out of the Big Brother house many moons ago, if Harry McConkey keeps Ballinamallard United up it will be the greatest escape of all time.

The club has gone for a very safe pair of hands in McConkey, as steady and reassuring in the dug-out as he was in the centre of the park in his playing career.

Harry McConkey

One swallow, of course, doesn’t make a summer, nor does one point make the Mallards safe, but to collect a scoreless draw away to high-scoring Glenavon is certainly a positive start.

“I said to the players they could become one of the best remembered teams in Ballinamallard’s history by turning something round when they weren’t given a chance and that in years to come people may be sitting back talking about the team that had no chance of staying up and they actually did,” he said.

If they do that I’d say it wouldn’t just be the greatest achievement in Ballinamallard’s history, I’d venture it would have Lazarus knocked back into second place on the all-time list.

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