I’m taking a new direction with this week’s column by treating you to a one-on-one Question & Answer session I conducted with none other than my good mate and fellow Sunday Life columnist Carl Frampton. Our former dual World champion boxer is the greatest exponent of the sport to ever come out of our wee country and it was interesting to get an insight from Carl, who is no mean footballer either. In fact, having played in several charity games with our champ, I maintain he could have made it in the Irish League had he not chosen boxing instead!
How did your love for Crusaders come about?
Being a local lad from Tiger’s Bay on the Shore Road, it was always with the Crues that my heart lay, and still does.
As a nine-year-old, I played for Loughside Boys in my youth and we always got a Crusaders season ticket for a fiver, so that’s when I started attending games and getting the bug.
What I struggle to understand is how others on the Shore Road choose to support other clubs rather than their local team. I really struggle to get my head around that.
Who is your favourite Irish League player of all time?
Has to be Kirk Hunter. As a kid going to the Crues games, I absolutely loved big Kirk.
I’ve got to know the big man well over the years and I am deeply indebted to Kirk for giving me his 1987 winners’ jersey and also his Irish Cup winners’ medal, I treasure both and always will.
Kirk was a hard man and I just loved the sheer honesty he showed every time he pulled on the Crusaders jersey.
Who’s your favourite cross-channel club?
I never really supported an English club. Maybe as a kid I had a wee liking for Liverpool but, to be honest, I don’t really follow any of them.
Who is your favourite Northern Ireland player of all time?
Without doubt, it has to be David Healy.
Ever since I started going to Northern Ireland games in my teenage years, David Healy was my hero, he just seemed to do the business when we needed him most and I am now proud to have him as a good friend as well.
What is your favourite Irish League ground?
My favourite stadium is Seaview. — always a great atmosphere in what is a compact but well-designed stadium.
My second favourite would probably be The Oval. It is virtually unchanged from I first went there as a kid and I still feel like it is a step back in time every time I go there, I like it.
Who is your tip for the Premiership title this season?
It’s hard to look past Linfield yet again.
David Healy has done a superb job at Windsor Park and they will be favourites once again. They’ve just had a tremendous Champions League qualifier win in midweek and that tells me they will be the team to beat this season again.
Who do you consider to be the main threat to Linfield this season or a dark horse to look out for?
This is a tough one but, for me, the main threat will come from the likes of Glentoran Larne or Cliftonville — and I just get a sneaking feeling that Crusaders are on for a good season, they may well be the dark horses as they too had a very commendable result in Europe during the week.
Now that you have retired from boxing, do you hope to get to more Irish League games this season?
Believe it or not, despite the fact that I am retired, I am probably busier now than I’ve ever been.
With so much media and corporate work, I don’t really have enough hours in the day, but I am really determined to get to more games this season. I love my football.
Outside of boxing and football, do you have any other sports you really enjoy?
I like most sports but probably rugby would be my next favourite, particularly the Six Nations games or the Test matches between the likes of Ireland and New Zealand, they really get me glued to the TV — so much honesty and commitment from the players. I like that quality in all genuine sportspeople.
I used to play a bit when I was at school but because I was so small, I usually got thrown about more than the ball.
If you were hosting a slap-up meal and could invite any four guests from any walk of life, living or dead, who would they be?
That’s a tough one, but George Best would have to be one. He was our greatest ever footballer and I’d love to have spent some time in his company, I’d love to have listened to some of his stories over dinner.
Obviously Muhammad Ali would have to be there as well. Again, he was the greatest and he would have been such engaging company over dinner.
Billy Connolly would also have been a shoo-in. I enjoy a laugh and he is the funniest man I have ever heard. Finally, I would have Gordon Ramsay there. I am no Michelin chef so he could do the cooking.
Two outstanding results in Europe this week by our two remaining Irish League clubs, Linfield and Crusaders.
First up were the Blues, who took on the Norwegian Champions Bodo/Glimt and proceeded to chin them 1-0 at Windsor Park.
Not only was this a superb performance and result for Linfield, but the winning goal from Kirk Millar has to have won Goal of the Season already. It was a goal of incredible skill and executed to absolute perfection — and it’s my firm belief that if Kirk had been English then his sublime finish would have been all over our TV screens for weeks and months to come. Yes, it really was that good.
The Blues had certainly done their homework and manager David Healy got his tactics and team selection absolutely spot on.
Next up it was Crusaders’ turn to do us proud by giving an equally outstanding performance away to FC Basel in the Europa Conference League.
Yes, the Crues may have lost 2-0 but in no way were they outclassed against their much more experienced opponents, who are seasoned European performers. Indeed, with a little more composure in front of the Swiss side’s goal late in the game, Stephen Baxter’s men may well have reduced that winning margin.
Nevertheless, both Irish league clubs have kept their respective return legs realistically alive and that’s vital if either are to progress. My fingers are crossed and I wish them both every success.