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Come on football clubs, let Northern Ireland's top players hit the big time


Goal machine: Joe Gormley has earned the chance to perform on a bigger stage than Solitude

Goal machine: Joe Gormley has earned the chance to perform on a bigger stage than Solitude

Goal machine: Joe Gormley has earned the chance to perform on a bigger stage than Solitude

I may be knocking on a bit now but I'd like to think I have a few brain cells left. But there are still many things in this life I don't understand. When you see people camping outside in the cold for One Direction tickets, it shakes your faith in humanity.

However, football sometimes doesn't make any sense either. In case you haven't noticed, Christmas is hurtling towards us at the speed of a Craigavon bargain hunter on Black Friday.

It's the pantomime season and funny things happen. In the Irish League, the rumour mill gathers pace with speculation rife about who will be switching clubs when the January transfer window springs open.

For some of our players it could be their ticket to the big time - but don't hold your breath.

There seems to be a reluctance on the part of cross-channel clubs to show faith in some of our brightest young talents.

Some have made the leap of faith like Liam Boyce, Stuart Dallas, Rory Donnelly and Robbie McDaid but too much golden treasure remains undiscovered.

Of course we love seeing exciting talents like Joe Gormley, Rhys Marshall, Jordan Stewart, Ross Clarke, Jordan Owens and Gavin Whyte light up the Danske Bank Premiership, but why would any of us stand in the way of them securing a full-time deal in England or Scotland?

It's not easy for our boys to climb up the ladder. I went to the Boys' Model in north-Belfast, a school with a strong football pedigree but to my knowledge only one former pupil made it to the professional ranks - George McCartney.

That's a lot of unfulfilled dreams. Ever since my school days, which believe me weren't yesterday, I've heard tales of boys with incredible talent not making it because of one bad injury or one bad experience in a harsher environment.

Disillusionment can seep in, talent and promise can go down the drain. But young players who have already been nurtured in the Irish League family know they can rely on the support of clubs should things not go according to plan.

The Irish League is a fantastic learning environment for young players, a tough introduction into a sporting world which can be unforgiving.

It builds character, puts players in the shop window and there are bargains to be had.

But we are now waiting with interest to see whether Gormley and co will move in January. Joe is 25 and it's now or never for him.

Call me old fashioned but I thought football was about scoring goals and his record of 105 goals in 162 matches speaks for itself.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill will be keeping an eye on the Cliftonville hotshot over the festive period and you would like to think cross-channel scouts are too.

The Irish League has never been afraid to give youth a chance as 15-year old Ballymena United youngster Matthew Shevlin will testify.

It will continue to give kids the best coaching and encouragement it can offer but we are relying on cross-channel clubs to waken up to the reality that we have some precious diamonds waiting to be polished.

It's never been harder for our boys to hit the big time but let's hope they get the chance they deserve and should it all end in disappointment, let's make sure they don't fall out of love with this beautiful game.

Belfast Telegraph