Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland World Cup hero and Burnley's greatest ever: Jimmy McIlroy passes away aged 86

By Gareth Hanna

One of Northern Ireland's 1958 World Cup heroes has passed away.

Jimmy McIlroy MBE has died aged 86, his former club Burnley has announced. The club referred to the Lambeg man as their 'greatest ever player'.

Nicknamed the Prince of Inside Forwards, he played for Glentoran in the Irish League before spending 12 years with the Clarets and also playing for Stoke City and Oldham Athletic. As a mark of his commitment to Burnley, he turned down moves to Sampdoria and River Plate during his stay at Turf Moor.

Having joined for a bargain £8,000 fee, McIlroy helped Burnley to the First Division title in 1959/60, played in the 1962 FA Cup final and helped the club reach the quarter-finals of the European Cup.

His crowning moment arrived in 1958, when he played five games at the World Cup finals in Sweden as Northern Ireland reached the quarter-finals.

Along with the rest of the squad, McIlroy was awarded a cap by the Irish FA in recognition of his efforts at the World Cup back in 2014.

McIlroy played 55 games in all for his country, scoring 10 goals, including three against England. Another of those goals came against Portugal at Windsor Park in 1957 as Danny Blanchflower passed a penalty kick that McIlroy finished off. It was the first passed penalty on records, coming just months before Rik Coppens and Andre Piters did the same for Belgium against Iceland.

Back in 2010, our own Malcolm Brodie wrote of McIlroy: "Capped 55 times, he was the king in an era when the jargon of the coaching manual was unknown — wide men, front runners, tracking back, operating in the channels, impact substitutes.

"Forget all that. McIlroy played his football simply, effectively and brilliantly as did his mentor Peter Doherty and international captain Danny Blanchflower.

"The transfer value of that trio in today’s terms would be astronomical. Jimmy, a bricklayer on a building site at Lambeg alongside the late Tommy Casey, another Northern Ireland star, before they opted for professional football, will for ever be synonymous with Burnley.

"His is the story of a local boy made good. A genius, an immortal of football, symbol of a golden age — and a true gentleman."

After his playing days, McIlroy went into journalism, writing about another of his sporting loves, golf, with the local Burnley newspaper.

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A Burnley legend, Northern Ireland international McIlroy went on to manage Oldham for two years when his playing career had finished. It was on the back of that experience that he became Bolton manager for two and a half weeks. The experience must have been rather harrowing: after Bolton, McIlroy decided to retire from football altogether.

 

He went on to manage Oldham Athletic and Bolton but is best remembered as a legendary inside-forward, having scored 131 goals in 497 appearances for Burnley.

In the late 1990s, the club built a new stand to replace the Beehole End and named it the Jimmy McIlroy Stand, in tribute to the club legend. He also received the Freedom of the Town.

Lisburn honoured McIlroy with playing fields at Ballyskeagh near Lisburn Distillery's ground named McIlroy Park.

He was inducted into the Northern Ireland Hall of Fame by the NI Football Writers in 2012 and was soon also inducted into the English Hall of Fame at The National Football Museum in 2014.

He showed his humble nature after receiving the honour, saying: “I am always amazed that these accolades come my way because first and foremost, I was always part of a great team. Without my team mates in that great Burnley side, I doubt I would be standing here.”

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Jimmy McIlroy (right) is interviewed by Jackie Fullerton as he was inducted into the NI Hall of Fame by the NI Football Writers' Association back in 2012.

He became Burnley's Honorary President back in 2011 and was awarded an MBE in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to football and to charity. As a mark of his dedication to his club, he arranged to receive the medal at Burnley's Turf Moor rather than at Buckingham Palace.

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