Belfast Telegraph

Double delight for Crusaders ace Whyte


Winning feeling: Jonny Evans, Gavin Whyte and Lauren Perry with their NIFL awards last night
Winning feeling: Jonny Evans, Gavin Whyte and Lauren Perry with their NIFL awards last night

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders star Gavin Whyte enjoyed double delight at the NI Football Awards by winning both the Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year prizes.

It was a fitting way to end what has been a fantastic season for the 22-year-old, who was an inspirational figure in the Seaview side's dramatic title-winning success. Whyte also played a key role in the County Antrim Shield triumph for the Crues.

The winger's stunning performances have not just been limited to the club scene. He was outstanding for the Northern Ireland Under-21 side against Spain's La Liga stars and Iceland in European Championship qualifiers two months ago.

Those displays have led to interest from cross-channel clubs with Championship outfit Leeds United poised to sign him in the summer.

Whyte beat Crues team-mate Billy Joe Burns and Coleraine skipper Stephen O'Donnell to the Player of the Year trophy and overcame Bobby Burns, whose move from Glenavon to Hearts was confirmed yesterday, and Coleraine's Jamie McGonigle to claim the Young Player prize at the NI Football Awards, hosted by the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Association and the Northern Ireland Football League at the Crowne Plaza in Belfast last night.

The last person to be named Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year was Stuart Dallas in 2011.

Whyte, winner of the Ulster Footballer of the Year gong last month, is set to join Dallas at Elland Road and will aim to follow in his footsteps by establishing himself as a senior Northern Ireland star.

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Prior to that, the only other dual winner was then Bangor hero Paul Byrne in 1993. He went on to play for Celtic, Brighton and Southend.

Whyte, who scored 21 league goals this season and provided numerous assists with his dazzling speed and skill, is keen to follow the pattern and make his name across the water.

Another Crusaders winner on the night was Billy Joe Burns, whose cracking strike against Linfield in December won the Goal of the Season award, with Cliftonville striker Joe Gormley collecting the Golden Boot, handed to the Irish League's top goalscorer.

Following on from Saturday's Irish Cup final victory over Cliftonville, there was a further prestigious honour for Coleraine with Oran Kearney taking home the Manager of the Year award.

Kearney had some serious competition from Crusaders' title-winning boss Stephen Baxter and Rodney McAree, who led Dungannon Swifts to their first major trophy (the League Cup) this term, but the Bannsiders chief earned the votes for his side's incredible campaign which saw them lose out on the championship on the final day and savour a first Irish Cup success since 2003.

The Manager of the Year award has been in operation since 1977. Kearney became the first Coleraine boss to win it.

Another popular victor was Northern Ireland legend Jimmy Nicholl (left), who was inducted into the Malcolm Brodie Hall of Fame.

Nicholl, born in Canada and brought up in Belfast, is in charge of Rangers until the end of the season when Steven Gerrard will take over at Ibrox. The 61-year-old has enjoyed a remarkable career for clubs and country.

He was a fixture in Manchester United's defence during the late 1970s and early '80s, relished two spells at Rangers, and played for Sunderland, West Brom, Dunfermline, Raith Rovers and Toronto Blizzard.

Jimmy Nic, as he is universally known, also managed Raith to their greatest success - a League Cup final win over Celtic in 1994 - and was in charge of Millwall and Cowdenbeath.

In more recent years he has been assistant to Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill. A legend and one of the most popular figures in British football, Nicholl won 73 caps and played a heroic role in the 1982 and 1986 World Cups under Billy Bingham.

Jonny Evans has also excelled in a major tournament for Northern Ireland, playing out of his skin at the Euro 2016 finals. The West Brom defender has maintained that superb form ever since and was a deserving winner of the International Personality of the Year award.

With West Brom likely to be relegated from the English Premier League, a host of top-flight clubs are set to pounce in a bid to land the highly-rated centre-back.

The Women's Football Personality of the Year was 17-year-old Linfield goalkeeper Lauren Perry, who has had a spectacular 12 months in helping the Blues defend their league title and shining in the Uefa Under-19 Championships for Northern Ireland.

Other winners at the NI Football Awards were Institute's Michael McCrudden, who claimed the Championship Player of the Year, and Jordan Hughes (Premier Intermediate League Player of the Year) from Dundela, who were Non-Senior Club of the Year.

Legendary Northern Irish football broadcaster Jackie Fullerton was also honoured as he was awarded with the NIFWA Merit Award.

Belfast Telegraph


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