Today we continue our Irish League Team of the Decade as we look at the contenders for the right-back position.
Last week our Twitter followers voted for Elliot Morris as their top goalkeeper between 2010-2019 and it would be fair to say we certainly have started with a safe pair of hands.
Just a reminder that the criteria we have set is that a player must have played a minimum of 50 games in the top flight between 2010-2019 to be ‘eligible’ for the team..
In recent years for Ballymena Jim Ervin has often found himself playing as part of a back three but it would be fair to say his primary position over the years has been at right-back so he is first to make the shortlist.
Ervin is a typically steady Irish League player guaranteeing his manager 100% commitment and at least a 7/10 performance week in week out.
After returning from Nottingham Forest the former Northern Ireland U21 international signed for his boyhood club Linfield and the medals soon followed as he was part of the legendary clean sweep side of 2005/06.
We’re looking at this decade though and while still with Linfield, Ervin started the decade with two league winners medals in 2010/11 and 2011/12 to add to his previous four. He also lifted the Irish Cup in 2011/12.
Of course, competition for places is tough at Linfield at the best of times and despite being a stalwart for the South Belfast side over the years and being a fan favourite he lost his place in the side and in January 2014 the Blues agreed to allow him to join Ballymena United, where he was reunited with former Linfield teammate Glenn Ferguson.
Ervin established himself as a regular at United and eventually took over the captaincy from Allan Jenkins. At Ballymena, he has added a County Antrim Shield and League Cup winners medal to his collection and was nominated for the Ulster Player of the Year last season.
A player who perhaps doesn’t always get the credit he deserves but an excellent servant and leader for both his Irish League clubs.
Billy Joe Burns
William Joseph, or Billy Jo as he is better known, also started off his career at South Belfast, making his debut for Linfield in 2008.
He quickly established himself as a first choice in David Jeffrey’s side and won three league titles in his time at South Belfast, two of those coming in this decade, he also helped himself to three Irish Cup winners medals, again two of those came between the years 2010 and 2019.
In May 2014 Burns made the controversial move to North Belfast rivals Crusaders but the defender hasn’t looked back as he was a part of the Crues side that won the league in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2017-18. That 2015-16 season was particularly impressive for Burns as he was part of a defence that conceded only 28 goals in 38 league games and scooped the highly regarded Ulster Player of the Year award, an award that many would agree seldom goes to the wrong person.
Burns also won the Irish Cup last season and two County Antrim Shield’s and at 30 years of age there could be plenty more to come.
Much like Jim Ervin, it’s perhaps easy to forget just how valuable a player Tomas Cosgrove has been for both Cliftonville and Larne in the past number of seasons.
Cosgrove came up through the ranks at Solitude and became a regular in the Cliftonville side that won back to back league titles, and as we have highlighted previously that while strikers such as Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce deservedly get a lot of credit, those title-winning campaigns were largely built on a strong back five.
At Solitude the right-back was also on the winning side in three League Cup finals, starting in two, and a County Antrim Shield final meaning he just has an Irish Cup to win to complete a clean sweep of Irish League medals.
In 2018 Cosgrove dropped a division to join Larne in THe Championship but it was only a brief departure from the Premiership as he helped the side to promotion to the top flight in his first season and is now back playing regularly at the level his ability belongs.
Glenavon have produced some fine talent from their youth system in recent years and manager Gary Hamilton has never been afraid to give youth a chance. Near the top, if not the top, of the pile of those players is right back Rhys Marshall.
It’s incredible to believe that Marshall is still only 24 after making his debut for the Lurgan Blues seven yeats ago, aged 19. He then went on to clock up 225 league appearances for Gary Hamilton’s side.
Marshall was part of the Glenavon Irish Cup winning teams in 2014 and 2016 and also turned out for Glenavon in Europe, being part of the side that beat Molde who were then managed by a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There was plenty of interest in Marshall with Linfield, Glentoran, Larne and Crusaders all rumoured to be weighing up a move for the player but earlier this month he opted to make the move into full time football down south, signing a four year contract with Shamrock Rovers to play in the Premier Divison of the League of Ireland (LOI).
Don’t forget to vote for your choice on our Twitter page (@o_t_turnstile) and if you think we have missed someone then let us know, after all, it is all about opinions!