With the Irish Cup semi-final clash against the A26 rivals just three days away, we've been checking out Ballymena United and Coleraine's all-time dream teams.
We asked two men who know all about their respective sides and the fierce derby rivalry between them to select their top teams; Jackie Fullerton for Ballymena and Alan Simpson for Coleraine.
Goalkeeper: Jim Platt (1968-70, 1983/84)
Jim made an instant impact at the Showgrounds when former Scotland defender and United boss Alex Parker handed him his debut in 1968 at only 16-years-old. I was a team-mate of Jim's that season - alongside the likes of Roy Coyle - and I remember him playing with a maturity beyond his years. It was no surprise when he earned a £10,000 move to Middlesbrough in 1970 and went on to win 23 caps, including an appearance against Austria at the 1982 World Cup.
Left-back: Graham Fox (1979-82, 1983-1986)
Graham 'Foxy' Fox enjoyed two spells at Ballymena and holds the distinction of being the only player to twice captain the club to Irish Cup glory in 1981 and 1984. The Birmingham-born defender, who broke up his time at United with a year at Sligo Rovers where he won the 1983 FAI Cup, had a sweet left foot and led by example. Foxy memorably scored in the 1984 Irish Cup final.
Centre-back: Jim Ervin (2014-PRESENT)
At times you forget Jim is in the autumn of his career because he is one of the most tigerish and consistent players I've had the pleasure of watching at the Showgrounds. A top professional who excelled at Linfield and what really impressed me about Jim is that he came back from two serious knee injuries.
Centre-back: Ronnie McCullough (1977-1982)
A fearsome competitor whose swashbuckling and at times 'uncompromising style' (yes, let's go with uncompromising) was a sight to behold. A warrior with the build of a middleweight boxer, Ronnie was an old fashioned centre back who didn't take too many prisoners.
Right-back: Eric Trevorrow (1948-1962)
There have been some notable right backs at the club - including Mark Carlisle and present day Northern Ireland player Michael Smith - but I can't look past the iconic Eric Trevorrow. The Scot was named Ulster Footballer of the Year in 1952 and he had everything you'd want in a defender - speed, technical ability and a real tenacity in the tackle.
Left wing: Norman Clarke (1958-62, 1966-69)
Accuse me of bias if you must, but I'm struggling to think of a better Irish League player from my many years watching the game. That's how good Norman Clarke was. Alex McCrae gave him his debut as a 16-year-old and it was clear from the off this Ballymena wonder boy was destined for great things. Looking back, Norman was the original George Best. His left foot was a wand and I lost count of the number of ways he could humiliate a full-back.
Midfield: Arthur Stewart (1957-61, 1970-76)
Arthur was the local lad who went on to win seven Northern Ireland caps and play for Derby County under legendary duo Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. To describe him as stylish on the ball is to do him a disservice. He was such an elegant player and had a velvet touch and boasted wonderful vision. One of his claims to fame was that one of his caps came in 1967 when George Best famously ran amok against Scotland in a European qualifier at Windsor Park. A glittering CV for a very decent man who passed away in 2018.
Midfield: Eddie Russell (1957-66, 1968-75)
Eddie was only 18 when he scored in the 1958 Irish Cup final in a famous 2-0 win over a Linfield side that included the legendary Jackie Milburn. I was at The Oval as a 14-year-old to watch the game and to this day it remains one of the most special and memorable moments I've experienced as a Ballymena fan. I can still picture the Ballymena team, suited and booted, touring the town that evening with the trophy on the back of John Holden's coal lorry. Wonderful times.
Right wing: Dessie Loughery (1988-99)
Dessie scored 111 goals in 376 games for the club and on his day was unplayable. A full-back's nightmare, he had an electric turn of pace, could go past full-backs with a feint or sudden change of gear and also had an eye for goal. The Limavady native joined from lowly Roe Valley in 1988 and was part of a United side that lifted the Irish Cup in 1989, even though he was an unused substitute in the final.
Striker: Neil Candlish (1990-93, 1997-98)
When I think of Neil Candlish, I think of my late, great friend Malcolm Brodie. Alex McKee signed Candlish from Motherwell in February 1990 and it's fair to say the little Scot, a blur of pace, trickery and class, hit the ground running. Honed on full-time football in Scotland, he was explosive when he first donned a Sky Blue shirt and scored in a memorable 5-1 demolition of Linfield at the Showgrounds. I was sitting beside Malcolm in an enclosed directors box in the old O'Kane Stand that day and it's fair to say my old media pal from Belfast was subjected to a modicum of stick. As each goal billowed the Linfield net, some animated older members of the United faithful would turn and bang the window, drawling: "Did ye see that yin, Brodie? Write that yin doon!"
Striker: Mal McDonnell (1963-68)
I was lucky enough to play with Mal at Ballymena in the late-60s and he was a goal machine. In 182 games for the club, he amassed 137 goals, a prolific ratio of a goal every 1.3 games. Mal played in an average enough United side, but he was a poacher whose movement caused centre backs a world of problems. A very graceful player, had a good touch, could turn defenders and knew where the net was. I hadn't seen Mal for many years - our paths didn't cross - but I thought so much of him that I made a point of seeking him out in hospital a few days before he passed away. He was a very popular player and a natural goal scorer.
Harry Bond: Signed from Glentoran, Harry was goalkeeper in Ballymena's legendary 1958 Irish Cup winning side.
Geoff Twentyman: Former Liverpool player, who played under Bill Shankly, was United's player-manager in the early-60s and a colossus in defence.
Jimmy Martin: Jimmy scored a lot of goals - 126 in 242 games - during two spells with the club.
John Sloan: Harryville lad rarely put in a below par performance.
Billy Cubitt: A dogged midfielder who gave the club great service.
Goalkeeper: Davy O’Hare (1991-1997, 2002-2011)
Here, there, everywhere, he’s our reliable and consistent number one, Davy O’Hare. Always favourite when one on one with an attacker. A brilliant shot stopper and like all great goalkeepers, he’s totally bonkers. Great character and a lovely fella, who didn’t hang up the gloves until hitting 40.
Left-back: Aaron Canning (2009-2013, 2018-present)
Not his natural position but Mr Versatile is comfortable in any role in defence. A Rolls Royce of a player, he’s improving with age and was certainly a major contender for Irish League Player of the Season this year before the pandemic arrived. Coleraine fans have certainly appreciated his valuable contribution in another memorable season.
Centre-back: Paul Gaston (1990-2007)
Coleraine born, bred n’ buttered and an amazing 600 games for the club. Steady as a rock in defence, dependable and no fuss, and a real joy to see him hold the Irish Cup aloft as a local boy. Fans love a hometown hero.
Centre-back: Gareth McAuley (2002–2004)
Big G always knew he was destined for greatness. A commanding presence in defence and made everything look effortless. His 80 international caps tell the story of his career and talent. Robbed of a disallowed goal against Glentoran in the 2003 Irish Cup Final, when Marty Quinn was in charge, and surprisingly it’s his only winner’s medal during his career.
Right-back: Lyndon Kane (2013-present)
He’s one of our own... I think Oran Kearney first played him in the first team when he was 16, but he looked 12! Looks are deceptive as Lyndon is as tough as they come. Came back from two very bad injuries to be even stronger and more determined. Never gives less than 10/10 and earned the captain’s armband which he wore with pride. Classy player who leads by example and has a winning mentality.
Midfield: Felix Healy (1980–1987, 1991–1994)
I only had the pleasure of watching Felix on a few occasions but what a player he was. A natural with the ball at his feet and could ping a pass that could split a defence in two at will. The footballers’ footballer, a joy to watch and admire.
Midfield: Pat McAllister (1995-2005)
Packie would have run through a street of brick walls for the shirt. A fierce and respected competitor. Knew how to inspire team-mates and instil fear in opponents. More dodgy suspensions than a MOT centre, but on the pitch a true leader. Great fella and proper Coleraine legend.
Midfield: Stephen Carson (2004-2011, 2013-2014)
The sort of player that always got a crowd off their feet. One piece of Carson magic could demolish any defence. An unassuming, quiet genius. Rewarded with a deserved Northern Ireland cap against Italy and even dropped the shoulder against Gattuso. It was hardly surprising Stephen was recommended to Rangers at the age of 13. A wonderful 10-year career in Irish League football before putting his unique skills to the best possible use in the States.
Striker: Rory Patterson (2009–2010)
Probably the most gifted striker I’ve had the pleasure to watch in a Coleraine shirt. Scored goals that other mere mortals couldn’t even dream of. His famous four in the 6-0 defeat of Glentoran at the Oval was a masterclass in goal scoring. A lethal finisher who turned out for many clubs, including FC United of Manchester. He joined Ballymacash Rangers, where his former Linfield team-mate Michael Gault is manager.
Striker: Eoin Bradley (2013-2014, 2016-present)
‘Skinner’ is every defender’s worst nightmare. Easier juggling a salmon than trying to mark Skinner. Ridiculously strong, clever and skilful with it. His famous ‘dink’ to make it 3-1 in the 2018 Irish Cup Final against Cliftonville was a goal of pure beauty. Wasn’t too bad at the gaelic football either and fondly remembered by Glenavon fans too. Loves the Irish Cup and always rises to the big occasion. A real dangerman.
Striker: James McLaughlin (2015-present)
Earned himself a deal with the Bannsiders in July 2015 following a successful trial period with the club. Natural born goal scorer. Any distance, any angle... James will have a go. Has scored some phenomenal goals, if they were scored across the water they would be Match of the Day material. Another huge fans’ favourite and part of my three-man strikeforce.
Chris Johns: Mr dependable, best goalkeeper currently in the league.
David Ogilby: Big OG, a class act and a great fella who gave everything for the shirt in his time at the club. Richly deserving of his Irish Cup winner’s medal
Tommy McCallion: Midfield dynamo and one of the fittest players around. Could probably still put in a good 90 minute shift.
Ciaron Harkin: Wee Jackie is about nine stone soaking wet but as tough and determined as they come. A true fans’ favourite at the Showgrounds and another very skilful player.
Brad Lyons: Another one of Kearney’s talented kids. Brad showed early on his natural skill and pace made him a natural midfielder. Tough as nails but with silky skills. Famous for his ‘Zorro, Bradman’ mask and celebration. Deserved his move over to Blackburn.