42-year-old Seasider still going strong and hopes to slay full-time machine
Time flies when you’re having fun and it’s so refreshing to see Glentoran legend Michael Halliday still playing with a smile on his face.
Halliday’s Cup heroics with the Glens are still remembered fondly but it’s hard to accept his winner in the 2001 decider against the old enemy Linfield is now over 20 years ago.
He scored 141 goals in 468 appearances during 11 unforgettable years with the east Belfast giants.
But the Irish Cup will always have a special place in his heart.
In fact, the first match he attended as a fan was the 1987 final when Gerry Mullan was on the scoresheet in the Glens’ 1-0 win against Larne at Windsor Park.
Imagine then how sweet it must feel to win the trophy with your boyhood club.
Three Irish League titles and two Irish Cups were celebrated with another winning goal coming against Coleraine in the 2004 decider.
Halliday lost a few finals with the Glens and Crusaders but in the four with Glentoran, he scored in three of them.
All part of Irish Cup folklore but the 42-year-old is still hungry to write another glorious chapter.
Last season’s finalists Larne are the visitors to Clandeboye Park tomorrow afternoon where Halliday will be using all his experience to assist the Seasiders.
The two clubs come from different financial realities with the Invermen now a full-time club owned by Kenny Bruce while Bangor are on their way back from financial meltdown, fighting in the Premier Intermediate League and driven to swim with the big boys again.
If you’ve scored the winner in a Big Two final, it’s a moment in your life that is hard to top but after the emergence of the pandemic, Halliday is grateful to prolong his Irish Cup romance.
“I’m still trying to play, it’s funny because it seems like the longest pre-season ever,” he said.
“There were five or six pre-seasons because things were knocked back.
“It’s good to be back playing every Saturday. It was frustrating because there was training but dates kept extending. We got one Irish Cup game and at my age you wonder if it’s the last chance. Luckily enough, we are back playing.
“I feel every bit of 42! I was always told to play as long as you can and in the league we are in I can handle it okay. The club has cold water bins which help with the recovery.
“I’ll keep going for as long as I’m fit and enjoying it. It’s a great changing room to be part of as well.”
The last time Larne and Bangor’s paths crossed was in the Championship, with the Seasiders winning through goals from Barry Walsh and Jordan Lucas.
“We are in a league with the likes of Armagh, Newington and Dollingstown,” added Halliday. “The club has always wanted to get back to its glory days.
“It was a long way down to the Ballymena League and they want to keep pushing on and gaining promotion. It will take time to reach the Premiership, but that’s the club goal.
“Larne are a top side. It shows you what can happen at a club. Larne were a Premier League side but never challenging for titles. With investment and full-time football they are flying. They know how to knock the ball about and they have great players.
“They have just beaten the Glens at The Oval which shows you the level they are at. We are under no illusions, it will be a tough game but hopefully our boys will respond to the challenge. You want to play in games like this and test yourself against the best and Larne would be considered among the best in this country.
“You hope that you can give a good account of yourself and if you get the rub of the green you never know what could happen.
“We are fully aware we need to play very well and need Larne to have an average day. But it’s the Irish Cup and everyone is dreaming of getting that big result. It’s a big ask but hopefully we will be up for it on Saturday.”
Alongside Halliday’s experience, Mark Cooling was at Lisburn Distillery while Ryan Arthur has been with Carrick and Ards. Players like Paul Dickson, Karl Devine, Lewis Harrison and Ben Arthurs have Championship experience.
The frontman knows where the net is but in a recent clash he ended up in the business of goal prevention.
“We were playing Armagh and it was a strange game,” admitted Halliday. “I had scored to make it 1-0 but our keeper got hit on the head while giving away a penalty.
“He had to come off and then the sub keeper got slightly concussed 10 minutes later. Bizarrely, two keepers were substituted, and someone had to go in nets!”
There should be a decent crowd at Clandeboye tomorrow as the Seasiders look to hurl Larne into a Cup storm.
“It would be nice to have a big crowd at Clandeboye and Larne will bring a good support,” said Halliday.
“We will hopefully put up a fight and give them a game.
“I’ve amazing Irish Cup memories but thinking back to 2001 that’s over 20 years ago! Life flies by and I have never been part of a giant-killing act because of the teams I’ve been involved in.
“It would be nice to get one of those before I hang the boots up.
“Last year we were beaten by Carrick, a Premiership side but it was on penalties.
“The Irish League is getting better and top players are coming in. The full time dimension has increased the league’s competitiveness.
“There are six teams who could possibly win the league so that makes it a more interesting product.
“It may take a few years for Bangor to return there but the structure of the club in place, they have a great youth system and the board have ambition. Financially they can’t compete with wealthier clubs but the aspiration is to keep improving on and off the pitch.”