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Today’s local players? Not in our league

The modern-day Irish League players are at nowhere near the same level as those from the 1980s, according to Colin O'Neill.

Before strutting his stuff for Motherwell, O'Neill started his career at Ards, moved to Larne and then became a terrace favourite with Ballymena United and Portadown.

He enjoyed his time in the local game, but is critical of the quality existing today in the Carling Premiership.

“The standard of the Irish League isn't great,” states O'Neill.

“I don't like saying it but half the boys playing in it now wouldn't have been playing in it when I was involved with Ballymena and Portadown in the 80s, quite simply because they would not have been good enough.

“I had good times at Ballymena where we had a really good side. Alan Harrison, Rab McCreery, Graham Fox, John Sloan, Mickey Guy and Geordie Beattie were in that team. Unfortunately we didn't win anything, as we were beaten in about 10 semi-finals.

“Then I moved to Portadown and that was a strong side too. Rab McCreery was there again, along with quality performers like Mickey Keenan, Ian Curliss and in midfield I was alongside Roy McCreadie and Brendan Tully. I reckon we were the fattest midfield ever, but we could play a bit.

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“Today I don't see anything like that quality. There are a few good players like Stuart Dallas and Chris Morrow, who I really like watching, at Crusaders, and also Kevin Braniff at Portadown. He's got talent, but he can be lazy, and then you have Gary Hamilton who can play. Glenn Ferguson was a great goalscorer, but he's retired now so that leaves a void.

“I was at the Portadown v Crusaders game recently and a man asked me if I had my boots with me. Some players weren't interested.”

After coming home from Motherwell to retire due to injury, O'Neill had a brief spell as manager of Coleraine in 1992 and then five years later made a playing return with Ards.

“I came back with Ards after their then manager Roy Coyle asked me. To be honest I was almost playing under false pretences because of my knee,” he recalls.

“Then Coyler went to Glentoran and Tommy Cassidy came in. He told me that I wasn't his type of player and that he needed runners in the team. I told him greyhounds can run but they can't play football!

“After that I went to Loughgall in the B division and we won the league when Alfie Wylie (now a coach at Linfield) was manager.

“From there I played for a few junior teams in Portadown, but that was it, that was me finished then.”

Surely a man with his knowledge and experience should still be involved in the game as a coach? Typically he doesn't mince his words, insisting: “I've no interest in being a manager again, or a coach. I don't like the way the Irish FA is run. You have to be a yes man to get into their coaching set-ups. There's a wee clique and I don't think I'll ever be in it because I like to say what I think. They don't like that.”


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