It looked like being tight for a while but with over 60% of the votes from our Twitter followers, it was Glentoran skipper Marcus Kane who took the left-back spot in our Irish League Team of the Decade.
So at the moment, our team looks like this:-
Today we start our hunt for two centre backs to complete the backline, we’ll be running two polls to sort this position with four players in each and again it will be over to our Twitter followers for the final decision.
The requirements we have set once again are that a player must have played 50 games in the top flight in Northern Ireland between the years 2010-2019.
Our first four contenders are as follows:-
When discussing this position with the rest of the Over the Turnstile team, Crusaders legend Colin Coates was one of the first names mentioned and his inclusion in our shortlist wasn’t even a discussion.
Had this article been written this time last week we would have been referring to Coates as being a ‘one-club player’ with no sign of that changing but last Thursday the Irish League was shocked to hear that the long-serving defender had signed for Glenavon. There has been plenty of speculation as to why Coates may have departed Seaview but that’s not for us to discuss today, it is sad that in a football world where service like Coates’ is a rarity that he left the North Belfast club without the chance to get the send-off he deserved but no doubt that will come when he makes his eventual return in Glenavon colours.
Coates made his debut for the Crues in 2002 in the County Antrim Shield in October 2002 and the following month he scored on his league debut against Glentoran. He went onto make 577 appearances for the club and scored an impressive 73 goals.
When Crusaders were relegated at the end 0f 2004-05 season Coates stuck with them and helped them to promotion at the first time of asking and went onto captain the club until his departure.
In his medal collection Coates has three league winners medals (2014-15, 2015-16 and 2017-18), two Irish Cups (2008-09, 2018-19) a League Cup (2011-12) three County Antrim Shields (2009-10, 2017-18 and 2018-19) and a Setenta Cup (2012). Coates has also been named in the Irish League Team of the Season twice and was capped six teams at full international level for Northern Ireland.
Perhaps one of the biggest compliments Coates can receive is that while he was a player who oppositions fans ‘loved to hate’ most would love to have his desire, commitment, leadership and of course quality in their side and indeed the signing has been welcomed by Glenavon fans with open arms.
Coates will renew acquaintances with his former teammates this Saturday at Mourneview Park and when he returns to North Belfast next season he will no doubt receive a hero’s welcome.
Our next contender is former Ballinamallard captain and current Linfield defender, Mark Stafford. Stafford started his career in Fermanagh with the Mallards and won the Irish Youth Cup in 2006. At the start of the Teenies he captained the Ferney Park side to promotion to the top flight for the first time in the clubs history, it also marked the first time a team from County Fermanagh would play Premiership football.
Stafford continued to be a key player for Whitey Anderson’s side in the top division as they achieved a top-half finish in their first season, with highlights being two victories over defending champions Linfield.
The defender obviously impressed in both of those victories as David Jeffrey was keen to bring Stafford to Windsor Park at the end of that season but he opted to remain loyal to the side he had played for all his career and helped them retain their Premiership status for a further two seasons before eventually joining the Blues, this time under Warren Feeney’s leadership.
Since joining Linfield the experienced centre back has picked up a league winners medal as well as an Irish Cup, League Cup (unused sub in final) and a County Antrim Shield (scored in the final).
Since joining the Blues he has established himself as a popular player both on and off the pitch and this was highlighted at the end of the 2016-17 season when he won the Billy Meikle Memorial Award. The award was created by Linfield in honour of former Trustee Bill Meikle and is awarded each season to ‘recognise and celebrate a player’s effort and passion, on and off the pitch, in keeping with and epitomising the whole hearted, committed, never-say-die spirit, traditionally associated with Linfield teams down through the years.’
Versatile player Sean Ward is part of a small company of men that can claim to have won three league titles with three different sides in Northern Ireland, all of which came on the last day of the season in Ward’s case!
Ward spent the bulk of his career in East Belfast with Glentoran and was part of Roy Coyle and Alan McDonald’s squads that lifted the league title in the 2004-05 and 2008-09 seasons, that first title being particularly sweet as it was a victory over bitter rivals Linfield that would all but seal the title for Coyle’s men.
Ward made almost 400 appearances in a Glens shirt and was perhaps something of an unsung hero at The Oval but he caused controversy in 2013 when he submitted a transfer request and crossed Belfast to sign for David Jeffrey’s Linfield side.
Ward spent four years at the Blues and made in excess of 150 appearances for the club and helped them to the league title in what would prove to be his last season at Windsor Park before making the move north of Belfast to link up with Stephen Baxter’s Crusaders side. Ward’s experience slotted right into the Crues side and he has since added another league medal to his name at the end of the 2017-18 season.
In total Ward has won four league titles, four Irish Cups, six County Antrim Shield’s and two League Cups and he has also made appearances in both the early stages of the Champions League and Europa League/UEFA Cup, including against Wolves earlier this season.
In his almost 700 appearances, Ward has played a number of positions and while it’s true that in his early days he may have been best known as a midfielder in recent years his defensive qualities have come to the fore and he is every bit as capable a cog in the heart of defence.
Finally, for now, we look at another player who started off in a different area of the pitch but has moved into playing in the heart of defence in the shape of former Glentoran and Cliftonville defender, Jamie McGovern.
McGovern was across the water with West Brom in his youth but struggled with homesickness and when he was released by the Baggies he considered walking away from football. Enter then Glentoran manager and former Northern Ireland international, Alan McDonald, who managed to convince the young player convinced otherwise.
In his time at The Oval, McGovern helped the Glens win a league title, an Irish Cup and two League Cups and he made 136 appearances but with quality, the Glens had in their squad at the time he struggled to nail down a regular spot and at the end of the 2011-12 season he wasn’t offered a new contract and made the short move to Solitude to sign for Tommy Breslin’s Cliftonville side.
The move proved to be an inspirational one for both Cliftonville and McGovern as the defender went on to form an inspirational partnership with Marc Smyth in the Reds backline moving from right back to centre back and was a key part of the Reds back to back league wins in his first two seasons. I’ve highlighted how crucial that defence was as they conceded just 77 goals in 76 games across those two seasons.
While at Solitude McGovern also added four League Cup winners medals to his collection but all good things must come to an end eventually McGovern left Solitude and is currently playing for Ards in the Championship where he is vice-captain, at the age of just 30 I’m sure we’ve not seen the last of him in the top flight though.
You can now vote for the first of our two centre back positions over on our Twitter page (@o_t_turnstile), if you disagree with any of our shortlisted players feel free to let us know but remember we will be back soon with four more centre backs to complete our defensive line-up.