Belfast Telegraph

Whyte is honoured to lift top Ulster crown

 

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders hero Gavin Whyte is having the season of his life… and the hits just keep on coming.

The winger claimed the Ulster Footballer of the Year award last night and on Saturday he is determined to help the Crues win the Irish League title.

After that a dream move to Leeds United is on the cards with the Championship outfit keen on the 22-year-old.

Whyte received a rapturous reception at the Titanic Hotel having beaten off tough competition in the shape of team-mate Billy Joe Burns, Coleraine's Chris Johns, Jamie McGonigle and Stephen O'Donnell plus Cliftonville's Joe Gormley.

The Ulster Footballer of the Year award is the oldest of its kind in Ireland. It came into being in 1949 and the Castlereagh Glentoran Supporters' club have been behind it ever since with the winners selected by an independent panel of judges. Cool FM listeners also played a part in the voting this year.

"I'm so proud to have won this award," said Whyte. "It has been a fantastic season and a lot of players have had great campaigns so it means a lot."

Now Whyte has his sights set on winning his third title in four years with the Crues.

Stephen Baxter's men and Coleraine are level on points at the top of the table entering the final weekend but the north Belfast outfit crucially have a vastly superior goal difference.

Crusaders travel to Ballymena United while Coleraine go to Glenavon.

Could the venue for the Crues be fate? After all it was at the Showgrounds last season that their challenge unravelled, leaving the path clear for Linfield to win the title on the last day.

"You still have memories of it, but you try your best not to think about it," said Whyte, who has netted 24 goals this season.

"You can't afford to think about it. It's all out of the boys' heads now and I think we're better equipped this year.

"We're more confident and we'd have settled to be in this position at the start of the season, knowing one win on the final day will secure the title for us.

"I've won two titles with Crusaders and hopefully I can get a third this season."

On his own dynamic displays, Whyte added: "I've enjoyed this season the most and you can see that in my performances. I've scored 24 goals and that's the most I've scored in any season. I'm really enjoying my football and I'll see where it takes me."

The Young Player of the Year at last night's awards, hosted by Pete Snodden and attended by 200 people from the world of football, was Glenavon's Mark Sykes.

The midfielder has had an exceptional season as have fellow nominees, his Glenavon team-mate Bobby Burns and Warrenpoint's Lorcan Forde.

The Women's Player of the Year was Lauren Perry, who inspired Linfield Ladies to trophy glory in 2018, while the Disability Footballer of the Year was Charlie Fogarty from Solihull Moors.

Another hugely popular winner on the night was legendary TV presenter and commentator Jackie Fullerton, who won the Dr Malcolm Brodie Lifetime Achievement Award.

Ulster Footballer of the Year

Nominees: Chris Johns (Coleraine), Billy Joe Burns (Crusaders), Jamie McGonigle (Coleraine), Joe Gormley (Cliftonville), Stephen O'Donnell (Coleraine), Gavin Whyte (Crusaders).

Winner: Gavin Whyte

Young Player of the Year

Nominees: Bobby Burns (Glenavon), Lorcan Forde (Warrenpoint Town), Mark Sykes (Glenavon).

Winner: Mark Sykes

Women's Player of the Year

Nominees: Kendra McMullan (Sion Swifts), Kirsty McGuinness (Linfield Ladies), Lauren Perry (Linfield Ladies).

Winner: Lauren Perry

Disability Footballer of the Year

Winner: Charlie Fogarty (Solihull Moors)

Lifetime Achievement Award

Winner: Jackie Fullerton MBE

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