This is the entry everyone has been waiting four – which strikers make up the final two positions available in our Greatest Modern Irish League XI? Here are the candidates…
With a goal return bettered only by Jimmy Jones, ‘Spike’ is a sure starter in this XI. At his 2011 retirement Glenn Ferguson had made over 1,000 senior appearances and scored more than 500 goals. A serial winner of footballer of the year awards, Ferguson’s transfer fee of £55,000 in January 1998 was beaten only by Jamie McGonigle’s transfer to Coleraine in 2019. Linfield more than got their money’s worth with Ferguson. The striker scored his 250th and 251st goals for the club in the 2008 CIS Cup Final against Crusaders – he rescued Linfield from a 2-1 defeat as an 80th minute substitute. Spike would help Lisburn Distillery lift the same trophy in his short spell at the club before retiring. Ferguson also accumulated five international caps between 1999 and 2001.
Joe ‘the goal’ is currently the Irish League’s most deadly marksman. After an explosive amateur season with Crumlin Star, the guidance of boss Tommy Breslin helped Gormley show his skill in the Irish League. After 10 goals in his first season under Breslin in 2011-12, Gormley’s goal return jumped to 17 in 30 as Cliftonville secured their first Gibson Cup for 15 years the following season. Joe ‘the goal’ went on to score 27 and 31 goals in the next two seasons respectively, picking up another league title in the process. Gormely’s influence in a team respected for attacking fluidity was undoubted. Since his return to the Irish League with the Reds in 2017-18, Gormley has once again collected the top goal scorer accolade in two consecutive seasons. His league record for Cliftonville is a remarkable 128 goals in 189 games.
One of the most dynamic and skilful players of the modern era of the Irish League, Gary Hamilton made marks at each of his three clubs. Beginning his Irish League career at Portadown in 2001, Hamilton scored 79 times in 140 games helping the club to League and Irish Cup success. His move to Glentoran in 2006 saw a similar return of 70 goals in 132 games. Hamilton’s successful loan move to boyhood club Glenavon impressed the club’s hierarchy enough to be appointed as player-manager in December of 2011 after a permanent move the previous summer. His exploits in this capacity has seen the Lurgan Blues secure two Irish Cups and three Mid-Ulster Cups.
A deadly marksman if ever there was one. Thompson’s first spell at Linfield was a tremendous success. His 89 goals in 129 games earned him a move to England with Stockport County in a time where journeys across the Irish Sea was a rare occasion. While an unfortunate injury blighted his time in England, a loan and a permanent return to Windsor Park reinvigorated his career. Thompson managed an impressive record of 43 goals in 81 games. Throughout his career Thompson never appeared in a losing side in the Irish Cup. A phenomenal marksman, Thompson’s strike partnership with Glenn Ferguson produced a winning formula for the Blues who secured six doubles in seven seasons. Thompson also represented Northern Ireland 8 times scoring once.
Alongside Joe Gormley, Liam Boyce was the central focal point of attack in Tommy Breslin’s title-winning Cliftonville side. Two spells at Cliftonville bookended a brief spell at Werder Bremen II before a move to Scotland and England. Boyce’s return to Cliftonville in the 2012-13 season saw him score 29 goals and collect the Ulster and Football Writers Player of the Year Awards as the Gibson Cup was brought to Solitude. Another 21 goals in the following year saw the title retained by the Reds. A clinical finisher with excellent control and positioning, Boyce has since made a career at Ross County and Burton Albion, while also representing Northern Ireland on 19 occasions.
While Glenn Ferguson was an assured pick for this XI, his partner up front was perhaps the most difficult selection for the team. Quality candidates like Boyce, Hamilton and particularly Spike’s Linfield partner Peter Thompson were rejected for Joe Gormley. Gormley’s consistent marksmanship and eye for goal has given him the slight edge on his compatriots. Both Ferguson and Gormley struck played in iconic Irish League strike partnership. The prospect of seeing them together would certainly have been mouthwatering.
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