Belfast Telegraph

New goal king Owens can keep on firing for years to come: Hunter

By Graham Luney

It's time for the master to salute the apprentice and Glenn Hunter has sent his sincere congratulations to Jordan Owens after the Crusaders frontman smashed his goalscoring record.

Both goal getters were level on 157 strikes until Owens slotted in number 158 in the 3-0 Irish Cup win over Rathfriland Rangers last weekend.

It was a trademark close-range finish from the man known affectionately as 'Big Chicken', a powerful centre forward who has made many Irish League defenders resemble the last turkey in the shop.

Hunter, now 48-years-old, has long since hung up his shooting boots and is reflecting on his golden times in a Crusaders jersey from his home in Stoneyford.

He won titles with the Crues in 1995 and 1997, but now he's raising a glass to Owens' goalscoring exploits.

Hunter will be at Seaview this afternoon and ahead of the Premiership clash with Glentoran he will make a special presentation to the man who broke his record.

"A few boys in the Fire Service, where I work, who are Crues fans were reminding me that Jordan was closing in on the record, even the BBC got it wrong once when they said Kirk Hunter had the record, but it was obvious that Jordan was going to pass me," said Hunter.

"It's a brilliant achievement and I'm delighted for Jordan because he is scoring goals and enjoying success with Crusaders, a club where I enjoyed playing football and it is a club which is close to my heart.

"At the age of 26 he could go on for another eight years and his record will not be broken for a long time. Mine held for about 18 years so I've got to be happy with that.

"Supporters presented me with a trophy and special plaque and no doubt Jordan will be given the credit he deserves.

"I broke Curry Mulholland's record which stood for almost 40 years so they can certainly last a while.

"I don't know Jordan well, but I wish him all the best. Putting the ball in the back of the net is one of the hardest things to do in football, but he has been superb.

"Crusaders are still a great wee club, I was honoured to play for them and wish I had finished my career there, as I went to Ballymena United and the travelling was difficult.

"You don't really get to see the young guys until they break into the team, but Jordan has flourished and he has been loyal to the Crues as well.

"I supported Linfield as a boy and enjoyed playing for them, but there was a pressure to perform there, it was hard there and when I returned to Crusaders it felt like I was coming home."

According to statisticians Hunter has a better strike rate than Owens.

Glenn finished on 157 goals in 296 appearances for the Crues while Jordan's current record reads 158 goals in 370 appearances.

The Seaview faithful, who have witnessed Jordan find the Shore Road or the railway tracks with wayward finishes over the years, know that with more precision he could have smashed Hunter's record a long time ago, but good things come to those who wait.

Opposition fans have attempted to ridicule Owens' international record - he has earned only one Northern Ireland cap after featuring against Wales in the 2011 Carling Nations Cup in Dublin along with team-mates Stuart Dallas and Colin Coates.

Coates went on to earn six senior caps while Dallas helped Northern Ireland qualify for the Euro 2016 finals in France this summer and is now battling for Leeds United after leaving Crusaders to enhance his career at Brentford.

That international appearance under Nigel Worthington is still a proud addition to Owens' curriculum vitae and earlier this season Crues boss Stephen Baxter even suggested he was worthy of a return to the international stage.

A cross-channel move never happened with one offer from Blackpool being dismissed as 'disgraceful', but the lack of a professional move and further international recognition worked in Crusaders' advantage as Owens helped fire the club to every domestic prize, including the Setanta Cup, though the striker didn't feature in the decider against Derry City at The Oval.

Hunter, who enjoyed 18 successful years in the game, scored more than 340 goals in his career with the tally boosted during spells with Linfield - where he also won a title - Lisburn Distillery and Ballymena United.

He played alongside Baxter at Distillery, Linfield and the Crues and he still cherishes memories of playing alongside legendary players.

"At the Crues we were confident of beating teams and we did that," added Hunter who was inducted to the Crusaders Hall of Fame in 2007.

"Guys like Martin Murray and Sid Burrows would glide across the Seaview pitch.

"We didn't manage to win back-to-back titles but it's a tough thing to do."

The Irish League has its critics, including former Northern Ireland international Colin O'Neill, who was scathing about Crusaders' style of play in a Belfast Telegraph article in November.

The former Ballymena United and Portadown midfielder said the Crues played a long-ball game and added: "Crusaders are the champions of the Irish League, but I wouldn't pay to watch them."

Hunter argued: "Crusaders have been accused of playing a long ball game but it's easy to criticise. The best players are always sitting in the stand!

"They are a good football team in my eyes and it should never be forgotten that the guys are part-time and still performing to a good standard and it's an exciting league.

"One difference is I don't think the game is as physical as it used to be as referees are quick to call fouls.

"Crusaders had big strong players like Kirk Hunter and Glen Dunlop, while opponents like Brian Strain and Alfie Stewart were the same.

"Colin Coates is that type of strong, athletic character, but there's not that many around today."

Glenn even made a successful comeback at the age of 44, saving Amateur League side Saintfield United from relegation.

The Division 1A side feared the dreaded drop until the lethal marksman donned the boots again to help them to three wins out of three in their final games, finally avoiding relegation in the final game.

A class act right to the end.

"The biggest thing I miss about the game is the banter in the dressing room and scoring goals, of course!" added Hunter.

"You're a long time retired and that's why Jordan should enjoy every second.

"Good luck to him and the Crues."

Belfast Telegraph


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