As we move into 2020 and look forward to another great decade of football we often look back on past memories and the team at overtheturnstile.uk have been discussing our Danske Bank Premiership Team of the Decade and we’ve decided to give our readers their say.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at each position and putting forward a shortlist of five players for each one and letting our followers vote on Twitter (@o_t_turnstile) for who they think should be in the team.
The only requirement for each player is that they have to have played a minimum of 50 games in the top division in Northern Ireland between the years 2010 to 2019.
We start with the goalkeeping position and here is who our writers have chosen as their top five:-
1. Conor Devlin
Conor Devlin is a figure who has often courted controversy in his career on, and sometimes off, the pitch but his ability as a goalkeeper is certainly something that cannot be questioned.
The former Manchester United and Hartlepool goalkeeper signed for Cliftonville in 2012 and proved to be a key signing for Tommy Breslin’s side as in his first season Cliftonville conceded fewer goals than any other team as they marched to their first league title in 15 years. His second season at Solitude was slightly more disappointing for the bearded ‘keeper as, while he helped the side to their second consecutive league title, they conceded one more goal than they did in the previous season!
While with the Reds Devlin also picked up three League Cup winners’ medals and a County Antrim Shield winner’s medal, meaning the only senior trophy to allude him so far is the Irish Cup.
Devlin left Cliftonville in 2016 and spent a year out of football before signing for Larne, then in the Championship, and helping the side return to the Premiership.
It’s hard to believe that at the age of just 28 Devlin’s best years could still be ahead of him and no doubt there could be plenty more opportunities to add to his impressive medal collection.
2. Roy Carroll
When Linfield signed former Manchester United, West Ham and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll in 2016 as one of David Healy’s first signings the club knew they were getting a vastly experienced player of great quality but at the age of 38 few would have expected the Carroll signing to be as big a success as it was.
Quite often players coming joining Irish League sides having had successful careers across the water don’t always pan out for whatever reason, Keith Gillespie and Nacho Novo being two obvious examples but Carroll went onto become a fan favourite at the Blues.
In Carroll’s first season at Windsor Park he was an almost ever present as Linfield won the league, playing 35 out of 38 games in a team that conceded only an incredible 24 goals in the league all season. Carroll also picked up winners’ medals in the Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield that season as he helped his side to a treble.
Unfortunately Carroll’s following two seasons at the Blues were hampered by injury at times and while he maybe never quite reached the form of that first season he was still able to prove himself as a fine goalkeeper when called upon, his time with Linfield is perhaps highlighted by the fact that he managed to force his way back into the Northern Ireland squad while in his late 30’s.
3. Sean O’Neill
At the start of the last decade if you’d told anyone, including Sean O’Neill himself perhaps, that he would have had the career that he has had there may not have been too many that would have believed you.
O’Neill started the decade with Ballymena United but struggled to establish himself and was released at the end of the 2009-10 season and signed for Dungannon Swifts, replacing Alvin Rouse who had departed the club to return home to Barbados.
O’Neill instantly established himself as the number one keeper at Stangmore Park and put in a string of impressive performances throughout the season as he helped the County Tyrone side to an 8th placed finish and after just one season he was on the move again, this time to Crusaders who had just finished 2nd in the league and lost the Irish Cup final to Linfield.
Once again O’Neill went right in as number one at Seaview and has become a key player and fan facourite on the Shore Road. Since joining Stephen Baxter’s side he has won three league titles, two County Antrim Shields’, an Irish Cup, a League Cup and a Setanta Cup, he was also named in the Northern Ireland Football Writer’s (NIFWA) Team of the Season for 2014-15.
Much like Devlin, O’Neill is a character who has often been seen as controversial and is a player who opposition fans ‘love to hate’ but deep down there would be few supporters who would be unhappy if their club signed him tomorrow.
4. Elliott Morris
It’s been a difficult decade for Glentoran but the one ever present throughout the past ten years has been ever reliable goalkeeper, Elliott Morris.
Since 2010 Morris has celebrated his testimonial season at The Oval, his 700th appearance for the club and to cap things off against Institute on 12th January last year he scored his first, and to date only, goal for the Glens scoring from inside his own half.
Throughout the past decade Morris has retained his place, mostly, as the Glens number one goalkeeper and captained the side in their 2013 and 2015 Irish Cup final wins against Cliftonville and Portadown respectively.
Morris will have one eye on the all-time appearance record at Glentoran, which currently stands at 794 appearances with the Glens custodian currently on 734.
The arrival of Marijan Antolovic in the summer has meant Morris’ appearances this season have been limited but when the day does finally come when the stalwart hangs up his gloves he can be assured of a great send off.
5. Chris Johns
Finally, we look at a goalkeeper who has become a familiar name in recent years but unlike Roy Carroll, Chris Johns still has many years of goalkeeping to come all being well.
A former goalkeeper in England with Southampton and one time Northern Ireland Under-21 goalkeeper Johns signed for Coleraine in January 2016 after a stint with Bangor.
Johns initially signed until the end of the 2015-16 season to provide cover for Michael Doherty but promptly went on to establish himself as Oran Kearney’s number one and has since made over 100 appearances at the Coleraine Showgrounds.
Johns was the regular goalkeeper of the fantastic Bannsiders side in 2017-18 season that came 2nd to Crusaders despite losing only once all season and conceding only 31 goals, seven fewer than the champions. Having lost out on the title by one point I can perhaps safely say Johns was a regular in the best side that didn’t win the league.
The blow if missing out on the title was perhaps softened somewhat thanks to a 3-1 win over Cliftonville in the Irish Cup that season and the stopper was also nominated for the Ulster Footballer of the Year Award.
So that’s our shortlist for our Goalkeeper of the Decade and later in the week we will be looking at the right-back position. Remember to head over to our Twitter (@o_t_turnstile) to vote for who you thing should be our number one and if you think we have overlooked anyone feel free to let us know.