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My 12 top Irish League strikers, writes Billy Weir

By Billy Weir

As I write this piece Joe Gormley is now sitting on 174 goals for Cliftonville Football Club.

He surpassed Kevin McGarry's long-lasting record in Friday night's 3-2 defeat in the north Belfast derby and then added two more in Tuesday's win by the same scoreline over Carrick Rangers in the Bet McLean League Cup.

It prompted a lot of debate online as to whether Joe the Goal is the best we have seen, so, never one to knowingly be dragged onto a bandwagon, it got me thinking.

Opinions, as we know, are like belly buttons, everyone has one, and are dependent on your age, and with the best will in the world I can't, hand on heart, or belly button, say that Joe Bambrick was a belting player.

For the same reason I am not qualified to talk of the undoubted goalscoring talents of Jimmy Jones, Sammy Hughes or Dessie Dickson, so in my top 12, yes, we go up to 12, one more than Spinal Tap, I have ruled out anyone I didn't actually see put the ball in the net.

I thought it would be easy. Roughly speaking we're dealing with the past 40 years and once you get thinking, we have been very blessed with some fabulous players.

The late, great Ron Manley, Michael Halliday, Marty Magee, Gary Hamilton, Stephen Baxter, Stevie McBride, Sandy Fraser, Gerry Mullan, Gary Blackledge, Liam Boyce, Chris Scannell, Gary Twigg, Rory Patterson, Darren Erskine, Kieron Tourish, Harry McCourt, M ark Cauthen, Geoff Ferris, Jody Tolan, Garry Haylock and Chris Scannell - all miss the target in this countdown.

And I have also left off the sky-blue tinted specs for this one, otherwise the list would have Dessie Loughery, Paul Hardy, Johnny Speak, Sammy McQuiston, Neil Candlish and Paul Malone in there. So here we go. I wonder where Joe Gormley finishes up?

12. Glenn Hunter

Perhaps overlooked by many but before Jordan Owens he was the man at Seaview, with 157 goals in 296 appearances in Roy Walker's championship teams of the mid-nineties. Went on to do what he did best for Ballymena United and Lisburn Distillery and finished with 300+ goals in his career.

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Glory days: Glenn Hunter held the Crusaders goal record of 157 for 18 years before Jordan Owens broke it

11. Chris Morgan

Christmas, Twelfth, Pancake, Doris, Morgan - what do they all have in common? Yes, that's right, a Day named after them. Let go by his boyhood favourites, Linfield, he came back to haunt them on April 23, 2005, a date etched in the hearts of all Glentoran fans. Formed a fabulous partnership with Michael Halliday and won the title at the Crues and Blues as well, his goalscoring wares also being displayed with aplomb at Dungannon Swifts and Newry City.

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Chris Morgan will always be remembered for his goal for Glentoran against Linfield in April 2005

10. Ollie Ralph (Newry Town)

I noticed last week that Newry City were holding an Eighties Night for club funds. Having watched them draw a blank, how they would have loved to have got that Flux Capacitor cranked up and set that DeLorean off to bring back Ollie Ralph. Scored goals for fun, ably assisted by Marty Magee, finally registering 305 goals for the club.

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Ollie Ralph

9. Gary McCutcheon

An unusual player in that he was a hero at all the clubs he served with distinction in his Irish League career. Starting off at Larne, the Stranraer man moved on to Portadown where he couldn't stop scoring and was sensational when he moved on for the first of two spells at Ballymena, with a time at the Crues in between.

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Gary McCutcheon

8. Stevie Cowan (Portadown)

You have to wonder just how good he could have been with two working knees and the ability to run. Alongside Sandy Fraser, the tartan talismen terrorised defences, Cowan helping the Ports to the title and a league and cup double during his relatively brief spell in Northern Ireland. With 66 goals in 87 appearances, he'll always be a legend at Shamrock Park.

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Stevie Cowan (left)

7. Gary Macartney (Glentoran)

Had to put G-Force in at No.7 really after his exploits for the Glens in that 1989/90 season when the men from the east beat the Blues seven times. He scored nine goals against Linfield that season, to boost his tally of 193 in 303 games for the Glens. Oh, and he also started when he was 26 having scored an equally mind-boggling number of goals for the RUC.

6. Jordan Owens (Crusaders)

With all the talk of Joe Gormley over the past few weeks, it was fitting that the big man spoke for himself with the winner in the north Belfast derby, his 206th goal for the club. On his day he is simply unplayable, a proper, old-fashioned centre forward who just loves scoring.

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Crusaders' Jordan Owens.

5. Peter Thompson (Linfield)

You know you've made it when you get a nickname and Pistol Pete certainly knew how to shoot. 230 goals in 417 appearances, he bagged 48 in the 'clean sweep' season and alongside Glenn Ferguson was unstoppable. You wonder just how many he would have had but for a spell at Stockport and injury bringing his career to a premature end.

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Linfield's Peter Thompson

4. Martin McGaughey (Linfield)

'Buckets' was a man who caused me many a tearful childhood Saturday as he always seemed to score against Ballymena. In fairness, he scored 313 times in 482 appearances, including a ridiculous 56 in one season and all this with a moustache that wouldn't have looked out of place in a spaghetti western. Hair-raising stuff.

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Martin McGaughey

3. Joe Gormley (Cliftonville)

At last, I hear you cry. Why only No.3? Well, he only has 174 goals (hold on, it might be more by now) but if he plays on for another 10 years, and injuries permitting, there's no reason why he couldn't, then he could be breaking all sorts of records. Peterborough must have had some strikers if he couldn't make the breakthrough but their loss is the gain for anyone who loves football in this part of the world. Apart from Crues' fans, maybe.

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Cliftonville striker Joe Gormley celebrates his 171st goal for the club.

2. Vinny Arkins (Portadown)

Ronnie McFall paid just £10,000 for Vinny Arkins. To say he paid him back handsomely is quite an under-statement, 248 goals in 404 appearances, top scorer in the league in five of his eight seasons, and all this in a team that wasn't always fighting at the top.

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Vinny Arkins

1. Glenn Ferguson (Linfield)

The daddy of them all. A star at Ards and Glenavon, eyes were raised when he was signed for £55,000 by David Jeffrey - but what a snip that proved to be. His stats are simply obscene, with 1000+ games, 30-odd winners' medals and 562 goals, and all this while refereeing every game he played in too! The word legend is over-used but Spike is that and more, the best there has been in my generation and he has set a record that will never be surpassed. Unless Joe gets a move on…

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Glory days: Glenn Ferguson during his Linfield heyday

Belfast the setting for BBC’s latest gripping drama

Move over The Bodyguard and Killing Eve, the BBC proved once again that it has drama at its best in a gritty thriller involving gnarled, grizzly characters and two deadly hitmen.

Yes, Friday Night Football has arrived and the Beeb got a dream start with a cracker of a north Belfast derby crammed full of sizzling sub-plots and a fairytale ending.

They took a huge risk with their ‘describe the Irish League in three words’ feature, but it was nice they had trawled through the archives — please let that be a regular part of future programmes — and had also raised the North Belfast Rest Home for Retired Non-gentle Folk with Roy Walker and Marty Quinn taking us on a trip down memory lane.

In particular it was a delight to see the force of nature that was Kirk Hunter, a man whose tattoos even growled, doing his best Steven Seagal impression in an X-rated display of derby destruction from back in the day.

The present incumbents did their best to keep up the traditions, but as mentioned elsewhere it was goalscoring that made the headlines, Joe Gormley setting new records for Cliftonville and Crusaders’ Jordan Owens adding another to his record-breaking tally.

It was certainly a lot livelier than the Big Two clash on Sky on Monday evening, a game not helped by the weather, which, and I know it wasn’t just me, also played havoc with the quality of the pictures being beamed down.

Still, I’m not going to complain, two live Irish League matches in the space of four days, we’ve never had it so good, and to describe it in three words, keep ‘er lit.

Out on the wing

McDonnell makes his Point for Mournemen

Four games ago Stephen McDonnell’s fledgling managerial career looked like it could be measured in minutes.

Six games played, six defeats, hardly an opposition net ruffled in anger, and goals aplenty cascading in at the other end, the outlook was not bright for the Warrenpoint Town manager.

But two wins and two draws, the latest victory seeing them swap places with Dungannon Swifts at the bottom of the table, means they are now in safety in 10th place and although there is a lot of football to be played yet, we should take our hats off to the Town board.

They could quite easily have pressed the panic button when they were at rock bottom and with a home game against Ards this weekend they could put even more daylight between the two teams.

“We went through a difficult period at the start as a group and I think that had steadied us a wee bit. We’ve picked up eight points out of the last 12,” he said.

That’s title form, but let’s not get too carried away just yet!

Where are all the snorters now?

I am no stranger to a derisory snort and I definitely heard one or two last week when I suggested that Glenavon have what it takes to go all the way in the title race this season.

Fast forward a few days and a 4-1 thumping of Coleraine, who hadn’t lost at the Showgrounds since Alan Simpson was in short (and voluminous) trousers, and suddenly the snorts have dissipated a tad.

Yes, there is an awful long way to go and Linfield are a very different beast hanging about the shadows this time round, but in Stephen Murray they have found the perfect partner for Andrew Mitchell.

As for Coleraine, well what can you say? Four draws in a row since Oran Kearney’s departure was seen as bad enough but Saturday’s beating was a whole different level.

Incredibly it means that with 10 games gone in the season, Rodney McAree has yet to record a league win, either with Coleraine or at Dungannon Swifts, a startling statistic.

“I thought we were out-fought, out-muscled and out-worked,” said a shell-shocked McAree afterwards.

Coleraine and Rodney are too good to not shake themselves from their present predicament, and Glenavon, well, despite the deafening chorus of silence from Mourneview, they are real title contenders. Is that a snort, I hear?

Belfast Telegraph

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