The Irish League has had a rocky road since 2000. Despite various downturns in the fortunes of the league however, Irish League fans have witnessed some greats of the modern day local game. Join us this week as we give our pick of the best for the greatest modern Irish league XI. Up first is the goalkeeper position…
In front of the Windsor Park Kop (at the time named in honour of legendary Linfield goalkeeper Alex Russel), Alan Mannus made a name for himself. Emerging onto the scene in 2000, Mannus spent nine trophy-laden years at Linfield. Part of the 2005-06 ‘Clean Sweep’ squad, Mannus secured a total of five League Championships, four Irish Cups, four County Antrim Shields, two League Cups and one Setanta Cup. Mannus’s ability was reflected with individual acolades. The 2007-08 Player of the Year was secured while the goalkeeper made the first of nine international appearances in the Summer of 2004. A move to Shamrock Rovers ended his Irish League career in August 2009 – Mannus would win consecutive titles and the 2010 Goalkeeper of the Year award with his new club.
This article would have lost all credibility had Eliott Morris not been included in the conversation for the greatest modern Irish League goalkeeper. A Glentoran stallwart since 2002, Morris has ranked 731 appearanced to date (and 1 goal)! Morris debuted in a strong Glentoran team and secured the League Championship in his first season, doing so again in 2004-05 and 2008-09. Morris was also a central feature in sides that secured three Irish Cup successes and four League Cup victories. The financial difficulties of Glentoran at the turn of the decade is well publicised. Morris’ commitment to the Glens secures his place as a legend of the club. Following the 2019 financial takeover the goalkeeper has assumed a coaching role alongside a more reserved playing role.
The most decorated goalkeeper of the last decade, Sean O’Neill bean his career patiently. An understudy role for Alan Blayney at Ballymena occupied him for five seasons before a breakout campaign at Dunganonnon in 2010-11. His move to Crusaders put him at the centre of the club’s development. Victory in the 2012 Setanta Cup made the Crues only the second Northern Irish side to lift the trophy. Durther trophies soon followed. The League Cup was lifted in the subsequent season before three Irish League Championships, two County Antrim Shields and a single Irish Cup last season. Since his transfer, O’Neill has provided a secure foundation for the development of Crusaders. At only 31 he looks assured to add further to his trophy cabinet.
The last addition to this list, Roy Carroll brings significant pedigree. After a long carrer across England and Europe, Carroll brought significant and much-needed expereince between the sticks at Linfield. His impact was instantaneous. After five seasons without a League Championship, Linfield won the 2016/17 league by two points, conceeding just 24 goals in 38 games. The Blues also secured an Irish Cup. After an underwhelming 2017-18 for the club, Linfield’s defensive rigidity came to the fore once again in the 2018-19 season. While Carroll’s campaign was unfortunately cut short at the end of January, by that stage Carroll had kept 15 cleansheets in 27 games. Linfield’s early season from with Carroll helped the club secure a record 53rd League title and a 10th League Cup.
This was a very tough choice between Mannus and Morris. Fierce rivals throughout the first half of the decade, we think Mannus just edges this position. While Morris is a Glentoran and Irish League great, the trophies accumulated by Mannus in nine years at Linfield as well as his professional and international success puts him ahead of the Glentoran icon here.
Check back in tomorrow and see who makes up the defense in our greatest modern XI.
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