Irish League: Top 10 goalkeepers from the last 30 years – BBC Sport

Who would be a goalkeeper?

They say goalkeepers are crazy.

Their mistakes are magnified perhaps more so than in any other position, and these day it seems as though the top keepers have to be as good with their feet as they are with their hands.

Over the years, the Irish League has produced and welcomed some superb goalkeepers.

Here, NI football stats wizard Marshall Gillespie picks out some of the league’s top keepers from the last 30 years.

Do you have a favourite?

Mickey Keenan (801 apps)

Portadown: 763 apps; Ards: 34 apps, 10 clean sheets; Lisburn Distillery: Four apps, 0 clean sheets

Keenan was a major part of Portadown’s success during the 1990s

Mickey Keenan was an absolute legend of the local game whose career in the Irish League spanned an incredible 23 seasons.

He spent a couple of years with Oldham Athletic as a teenager while he was training to be a teacher in Manchester. Upon his return to Northern Ireland though, he signed for his local club Newry Town, then in the old ‘B’ Division before a £1,500 move to Portadown in the summer of 1981.

There were difficult times during his early days at Shamrock Park but his loyalty was eventually rewarded as Ronnie McFall’s side of the 90s went on to win two Irish League titles and an Irish Cup.

In July 1998, after being displaced by Tim Dalton, Keenan briefly joined Ards, but he re-signed for Portadown the following season going on to play a further 92 games for the club over a four year period.

At the ripe old age of 46 he played in Europe for McFall’s side against Belshina Bobruisk of Belarus to make him the oldest ever player to feature in a Champions League match.

After a very short stint with Lisburn Distillery he eventually retired from the game aged 48 in 2003.

Elliot Morris (740 apps; 254 clean sheets)

Glentoran: 740 apps, 254 clean sheets

Morris is Glentoran’s most capped player of all time

When Glentoran played Cliftonville at the beginning of March, Elliott Morris became the East Belfast outfits longest serving player overtaking a record held by another Oval icon, Colin Nixon.

Morris’ love affair with the Glens started in 2002 after he signed for the club following his release from West Bromwich Albion after three years at the Hawthorns.

The former Northern Ireland under-21 international had a dream first season at the Oval with Glentoran lifting the Irish League Championship as well the League Cup and Co Antrim Shield with Morris himself keeping a staggering 28 clean sheets.

He won two more league titles with the Glens in 2005 and 2009 and captained them to Irish Cup success in 2013.

During his 17 years with the club he has collected 13 winners medals and although his first-team appearances have been curtailed this season due to the arrival of Croatian Marijan Antolovic, he continues to be an important member of Mick McDermott’s current squad.

Alan Mannus (380 apps; 175 clean sheets)

Linfield: 367 apps, 172 clean sheets; Larne (loan): One app; 0 clean sheets; Carrick Rangers (loan): 12 apps, Three clean sheets

Mannus left Linfield for Shamrock Rovers in 2009

Alan Mannus had seven trophy-laden years with David Jeffrey’s Linfield team before realising his dream of professional football, first with Shamrock Rovers and subsequently St Johnstone.

After a couple of loan-moves with Larne and Carrick Rangers, the Toronto-born netminder finally established himself as the Blues number one at the start of the 2002/03 campaign.

He even managed to get himself on the scoresheet when a long goal kick sailed over the head of his opposite number Gavin Cullen in a league match versus Omagh Town in October 2003.

Mannus kept 20+ clean sheets in each of the next six seasons for the Blues and also was capped at senior level by Northern Ireland.

He was named Footballer of the Year in 2008 and after winning 14 winners medals at Windsor Park, Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O’Neill secured his signature in 2009.

A move to the Scottish Premier League followed with St Johnstone where he made in excess of 200 appearances for the Perth outfit.

In March 2018 Mannus retired from International football after winning eight caps for his country while just a month later he agreed to re-join Shamrock Rovers on a free transfer.

Roy Carroll (111 apps; 54 clean sheets)

Linfield: 111 apps, 54 clean sheets

Carroll has registered clean sheets in nearly half of his Linfield appearances

It was quite a coup for David Healy when he managed to persuade the former Manchester United ‘keeper to sign a one-year deal with Linfield in May 2016.

The then 38-year-old had won a Premier League title and an FA Cup during his four seasons at Old Trafford as well as amassing a total of 45 caps International caps for Northern Ireland.

His first campaign with the Blues was an unmitigated success with his wealth of experience being a pivotal factor in Linfield not only sealing a first League Championship under Healy’s stewardship, but also the Irish Cup and Co Antrim Shield.

Although the following season ended without silverware Carroll still managed to keep an impressive 16 clean sheets in just 35 outings for the south-Belfast outfit.

Last term Carroll went on to pick up a second Championship medal with the Blues, however his season had tragically been cut short after he sustained a cruciate ligament injury in a game against Crusaders in January.

At the end of the campaign Carroll parted company with Linfield by mutual consent after the Fermanagh man was not offered a new deal.

Kevin McKeown (401 apps; 142 clean sheets)

Crusaders: 311 apps, 116 clean sheets; Newry Town: 19 apps, three clean sheets; Coleraine: 67 apps, 22 clean sheets; Cliftonville (loan): Four apps, one clean sheet

McKeown secured a clean sweep of end of season awards having helped Crusaders to the 1994-95 title

Kevin McKeown first tasted Irish League football when Crusaders boss Jackie Hutton signed the 21-year-old on a short-term loan deal from Motherwell in 1989.

The Scottish youth International certainly made an impression on his team-mate Roy Walker at the time as 20 months later, when he was then in charge at Seaview, Walker signed him on a permanent basis following his release by the Scottish outfit.

The Glaswegian’s sharp reactions, shot-stopping abilities and all round consistency soon made him a firm favourite with the fans of the North Belfast side. .

McKeown was an ever present in the Crusaders team that clinched the League title in 1995 keeping a very creditable 14 clean sheets in 30 games in the process.

His performances that term were recognised when he was named not only Ulster Footballer of the Year but the PFA Player and Football Writers’ Player of the Year too.

He departed the Crues at the end of the 1996/97 season after helping them to another Championship and went back to his native Scotland to join Ayr United.

McKeown had further spells in the Irish League with Newry Town, Coleraine and Cliftonville without ever achieving the same level of success he had had at Seaview.

Conor Devlin (234 apps; 90 clean sheets)

Cliftonville: 146 app, 56 clean sheets; Larne: 88 apps, 34 clean sheets

Devlin helped his current side Larne to the Championship title last season

Conor Devlin’s formative goalkeeping years were spent at Manchester United but after failing to make the breakthrough at Old Trafford he was released by the Premier League giants in 2011.

He briefly ended up in the League of Ireland with Longford Town, but it was not long before Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin got him to sign on the dotted line for Cliftonville just before the commencement of the 2012/13 campaign.

Devlin’s Solitude career got off to a magnificent start as the Reds chalked up their first League Championship success in 15 years as well as winning the first of four successive League Cups.

His form that term not only earned him a call-up into Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland squad but also saw him pick up the prestigious Ulster Young Footballer of the Year award.

Over the next three years the former under-21 International’s presence between the sticks helped Cliftonville to even further success before his departure from Solitude in 2016.

Devlin eventually re-emerged with Larne in the Championship and his 15 shut-outs in 28 league outings for the Inver Park outfit last season saw them gain promotion back to the Premiership after a gap of eleven years.

Davy O’Hare (790 apps; 178 clean sheets)

Coleraine: 545 apps, 126 clean sheets; Crusaders: 123 apps, 30 clean sheets; Newry Town: 90 apps, 16 clean sheets; Glenavon: 32 apps, 6 clean sheets

O’Hare enjoyed a remarkable 22-year career

He may not have won an abundance of honours during his lengthy career, but Davy O’Hare was one of the most consistent and dedicated goalkeepers to have graced the Irish League over the past 30 years.

Following his arrival from UUC, O’Hare made his first-team debut for Coleraine in a 3-1 league defeat at home to Linfield as a raw 19 year-old in November 1991.

After being relegated as back-up to former Blues keeper Wes Lamont at the Showgrounds for the entire 1996/97 season, he decided to make the switch to Crusaders where he enjoyed a three year spell in the first-team at Seaview.

He had a couple of seasons with his home town club Newry, but returned to his first love Coleraine in the summer of 2002.

The following May he experienced probably the highlight of his football career when he was part of the successful Bannsiders side which captured the Irish Cup with a 1-0 success over Glentoran.

After reigning supreme at Coleraine for another eight years he subsequently moved on to Glenavon before retiring from the game in 2013 at the grand old age of 41.

Jonathan Tuffey (280 apps; 83 clean sheets)

Linfield: 77 apps, 24 clean sheets; Glenavon: 203 apps, 59 clean sheets

A promising goalkeeper in his youth, Tuffey went on to forge a reasonably successful professional career in Scotland after being given a free transfer by Coventry City in 2005.

He clocked up 146 appearances with Partick Thistle, Inverness and St Johnstone as well as winning eight full International caps before coming ‘home’ and penning a contract with Linfield in 2013.

Tuffey’s arrival coincided with the Blues going through a transitional period and after just two seasons at Windsor Park, where he won just a Co Antrim Shield medal, he was released by Linfield boss Warren Feeney.

The Banbridge man was soon snapped up by Gary Hamilton at Glenavon though and in his first term at Mourneview Park he won an Irish Cup medal after the Lurgan Blues ironically defeated his former club Linfield 2-0 in the final.

His commanding presence between the posts saw Glenavon achieve two top three finishes in the Premiership in 2016 and 2018.

Despite the Lurgan Blues going through a turbulent time this season, Tuffey is still rated one of the best keepers in the top flight.

Sean O’Neill (409 apps; 126 clean sheets)

Ballymena United: 22 apps, three clean sheets; Dungannon Swifts: 44 apps; 11 clean sheets; Crusaders: 343 apps; 112 clean sheets

O’Neill made his Crusaders debut in a Europa League tie against Fulham

Sean O’Neill has been arguably one of the best and most consistent performers in the Irish League now for the past decade.

He learnt his trade at Ballymena United and Dungannon Swifts before Crusaders supremo Stephen Baxter secured his services for the North Belfast side in 2011.

The under-21 international made his debut for the Crues in the high profile Europa League contest at Seaview against English Premiership side Fulham who had Northern Ireland’s Chris Baird and Aaron Hughes in their starting XI.

When the Crues won the League title by eight points in 2016 over Linfield, O’Neill played a major role by keeping a phenomenal 19 clean sheets in 37 appearances and conceding just 28 goals.

In total he has picked up seven winners medals in his nine seasons with Crusaders as well as being named in the Irish League team of the season on two occasions (2012 and 2015), by the Northern Ireland Football Writers Association.

Although he has faced competition for a first-team place at Seaview from Gerard Doherty over the past two campaigns he still remains a popular and an integral part of Stephen Baxter’s multi-talented squad.

Wes Lamont (374 apps; 127 clean sheets)

Linfield: 224 apps; 96 clean sheets; Coleraine: 122 apps; 29 clean sheets; Crusaders: 28 apps; five clean sheets

Lamont was in the Northern Ireland squad for their Euro 1996 qualifier against Portugal

Wes Lamont did not make his Irish League debut until he was 26 but within four years he was being drafted into the Northern Ireland squad for a EURO ’96 qualifier against Portugal.

After spending his entire career playing football in the Ballymena junior leagues, Linfield boss Eric Bowyer took a chance on him when he brought him to Windsor prior to the start of the 1990/91 season.

He went on to become a mainstay of the team over the next six seasons winning two Championship medals, two Irish Cups, a League Cup, a Budweiser Cup and a Co Antrim Shield.

Although named a number of times in the senior Northern Ireland squad he never won a full cap though he did represent his country twice at ‘B’ level, his second appearance coming just shy of his 34th birthday!

He left south Belfast to join Coleraine in 1996 and not only did he win the Ulster Cup in his first season at the Showgrounds but he was also a major influence in the Bannsiders finishing runners-up in the league behind Champions Crusaders.

The final destination of Lamont’s career was Seaview where he played out the final days with Crusaders before hanging up his gloves in 2002.

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