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Billy Weir

My five Irish League heroes and five villains make up 10 reasons to love our local game

Billy Weir



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Speak no evil: Johnny Speak scores against Coleraine in 1986. I may be at the chip van

Speak no evil: Johnny Speak scores against Coleraine in 1986. I may be at the chip van

Lee Doherty

Lee Doherty

Speak no evil: Johnny Speak scores against Coleraine in 1986. I may be at the chip van

Those of us who have been spending an ever-increasing amount of time on social media of late could not have failed to come across a never-ending array of things to wile away a few idle moments of lockdown.

To date I have discovered that if I were a drink I'd be sake, if I suddenly developed a penchant for spandex, hairspray and killer riffs I'd be Van Halen and my superhero name would be 'Black Mug' - your shirt colour and what is at your right hand.

My stage name in movies of a more saucy nature is derived from two sources, your first pet's name and your mother's maiden name - or as it is more commonly known, two steps towards identity theft - but I like Thumper McFettridge as a moniker (both are fictitious).

Inevitably football is also a go-to on these occasions, my favourite of the lists doing the rounds being name the five players who made you fall in love with the game.

It got me thinking. It's not just the players you loved that fastened your love of the game, it's the ones you loved to hate; the ones that made your blood boil, your spleen vent and made normally mild-mannered beings froth at the mouth, but quietly you wouldn't be without them.

So here I go then, these are my five heroes and five 'villains' all to make 10 reasons why I love our little league.

My five Irish League heroes

First stop, obviously, has to be Ballymena United, a sordid love affair ever since I was first ferried to a game in my granda's Hillman Imp.

If you will forgive me then, two of my heroes will be cut of sky blue cloth, and there are plenty I could choose from. The early to mid-Eighties were when I cut my footballing teeth, and I loved the likes of Rab McCreery, Sammy McQuiston, Paul Malone and the late Brian Crockard.

Moving on, there was Stevie Conville, John McKee, Dessie Loughery, Neil Candlish, Billy Pyper, Paul Hardy and onwards to Shea Campbell, Peter Withnell, Jason Allen, John McConnell, Philip Knell and even more up to date with Allan Jenkins and Jim Ervin.

But for me it was Johnny Speak and Colin O'Neill. All hair and moustache and the only thing I ever knew about Sion Mills. Speak had three spells at the Showgrounds, crossing the border more times than the Enterprise, but when in Ballymena was different class.

O'Neill was just that and then some. He only spent three seasons at Warden Street but was sensational and as mad as a box of frogs. That he is still a cult hero for Sky Blue fans says it all.

Now, moving on to other clubs and first up Coleraine. You weren't expecting that, were you?

Raymond McCoy was a genius and caused me much pain in my formative years, but what a player for the Bannsiders. My personal 'highlight' was a goal he scored in a Friday night Irish Cup semi-final for Glenavon against Ballymena at Windsor Park where he ran the length of the pitch to score. To this day, I still occasionally wake up in my sleep shouting for John Heron to level him but it never happens.

My final two come from the Big Two. No list of Irish League things would be complete without Noel Bailie and Jim Cleary. Two legends, that's all you need to know. Classy performers on and off the pitch and players you could watch all day.

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Linfield's Noel Bailie celebrating after beating Ballymena United in the Country Antrim Shield final during Linfield's 05/06 clean sweep season.

Linfield's Noel Bailie celebrating after beating Ballymena United in the Country Antrim Shield final during Linfield's 05/06 clean sweep season.

Linfield's Noel Bailie celebrating after beating Ballymena United in the Country Antrim Shield final during Linfield's 05/06 clean sweep season.

My five Irish League 'villains'

Now, onto the 'villains', and, of course, we start with Glenn Ferguson. There have been other players who have inflicted much pain - Vinny Arkins, Garry Haylock and Rory Patterson spring to mind and right up to the modern day when Andrew Waterworth and Curtis Allen seem to delight in hurting things in sky blue - but there was only one Spike. Best striker and referee I have ever seen.

I detested Lee Doherty, even more than David Jeffrey and Alan Dornan. Prancing around in midfield with his flowing blonde locks and silky skills winning things and being good, I really wanted him to be horrible when I eventually met him. He wasn't and that still hurts.

Lee Doherty

I walked into Seaview a few years ago and a shadow came behind and then engulfed me as the colossus that is Kirk Hunter roamed the earth he ruled, followed by a gaggle of children, like the Pied Piper but with a bass drum. What a player and as crazy as owning your own tiger zoo.

Portadown had no shortage of players you would cross the street to get away from. Alfie Stewart and Roy McCreadie (again, two very nice chaps) spring to mind, but Gregg Davidson was horrible and I haven't met him so I live in hope that he is.

Finally, it had to be Coleraine. Eoin Bradley would be up there, as cute as a bag of monkeys, but who wouldn't want him in their team? But there is only one man for this job - Pat McAllister. Bad and probably dangerous to know, he was Wile E Coyote to your Road Runner, or Tom to Jerry, you kind of loved him. I think.

There you have it, another list and what have we learned? Meet your heroes by all means, but avoid the ones you hate - you'll only be disappointed.

Belfast Telegraph