With Alan Mannus between the sticks, it is time to turn our attention to the defenders for our Greatest modern Irish League XI. We have some stellar candidates to fill up the spots.
A loyal servant of Linfield from 1989-2011, sweeper Noel Bailie would be deserving of a place in an overall Irish League XI. 2010 saw Bailie contest his 1,000th game for the club while the 30th April 2013 saw Bailie finish his career after lifting the Gibson Cup for the 10th time. Bailie’s accolades are numerous and his playing style revered. The Linfield captain won 37 major honours with the club. A sweeper in the modern game is a rare occurrence but alongside his centre-back partner Bailie was the anchor point to countless Linfield successes. Some contenders for this XI may be questioned, but not Bailie’s.
Paul Leeman had undoubtedly reached legendary status in the Irish League by his 2015 retirement. Over 700 league appearances for Glentoran and Crusaders, the centre-back secured five championships with his two clubs. A firm but talented defender Leeman found success with both of the clubs he represented. The 2004/05 Ulster Footballer of the Year secured 22 major honours throughout his Irish League career. Leeman returned to the Oval in a coaching capacity in 2018, filling the assistant manager’s position in 2019 before leaving the club following its takeover in the summer of 2019.
A true great of the Irish league, Colin Coates is now in his 17th year at Crusaders. A focal point of the Crues’ progression, Coates has racked up 513 games and scored 63 times for the club. A combative defender, Coates has proved a steel rod at the heart of the Crusaders’ defence. Coates lifted the Gibson Cup for the first time as captain in 2014-15 – it was the club’s first title win since 1996-97. Coates has gone on to win a further two titles to go alongside successes in the Irish Cup, League Cup and Setanta Cup. A traditional defender with a touch of skill in the opposition box, Coates is a definite contender for a starting place here.
Colin Nixon equated to standards at the Oval. A fierce competitive drive saw consistently high performances on the right of defense at Glentorarn. Nixon holds the club’s appearance record, representing the team in 793 games, scoring 88 goals. ‘Nicky’ will remain part of Glentoran folklore after his winning goal against Finnish club Allianssi which was their first away Eruopean win in 2004. Nixon secured four League Championships and six Irish Cups at the Oval, the last of which came in a 3-1 victory over Cliftonville in his final Glentoran appearance. Nixon finished his career with short spells at Bangor and Larne before taking the managers job at Ards from 2016-2019.
Alongside captain Noel Bailie, ‘Winkie’ Murphy formed perhaps the most formidable defensive partnership seen in the modern Irish game. Upon finishing his career with two seasons at Glenavon, Murphy had accumulated nine league winners medals over 25 year in the game. Murphy was a central fixture in a Linfield side that secured a Clean Sweep and six doubles in seven seasons. His move to Glenavon in 2013 was met with shock in south Belfast. The veteran showed he still had plenty in the tank there having helped boss Gary Hamilton get the club off the ground leaving the Lurgan Blues in 3rd place and qualified for Europe in his final campaign. Following his retirement Murphy joined former teammate Oran Kearney at Coleraine in a coaching capacity.
Thankfully, unlike for the goalkeeper position, we can select multiple players here. Noel Bailie’s composure and success means he is a guaranteed a spot as one of the greatest modern Irish League defenders. His defensive partners are up for discussion however. With the midfield in mind, this modern XI will implement a back three. With Bailie in the middle, he will be supported by Colin Coates and Winkie Murphy. For seventeen years Coates has expertly marshalled the Crues defence and has been central to the many improvements at the club in recent years. Murphy has similarly had a career ingrained with success at multiple clubs. Alongside Bailie’s mentality, Coates and Murphy make up a formidable defensive trio.
Catch up with our Greatest Modern Goalkeeper discussion, and check back in tomorrow and see who makes up the midfield in our greatest modern XI.
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