One of the Irish League’s most endearing qualities is its ability to deliver thrills, spills and surprises on a weekly basis.
The 2019-20 season was no different, with an exciting five-team title race having developed before the season was stopped in March.
While we are not yet sure when local football will return, we tasked Irish Premiership stat king Marshall Gillespie with picking 10 of his favourite matches from years gone by.
Title deciders, seven-goal thrillers, double hat-tricks. Strap yourself in for a brilliant blast of Irish League nostalgia.
Around 4,000 spectators packed into Inver Park on New Year’s Day 1987 to witness a devastating performance from Larne against a sub-par Glentoran outfit.
The Invermen, who had won only 10 of their previous 63 league contests against the east Belfast side, were without a victory in their last five league matches while Glentoran came into the game unbeaten in their last four.
After only five minutes, Tom Sloan edged the home side in front after latching on to a Michael Guy through ball, and just after the half-hour mark Guy turned goalscorer when he fired home his first goal for the club since being coaxed out of retirement by manager Paul Malone.
Glentoran, who had full internationals Jim Cleary, Gerry Mullan and Terry Moore in their starting line-up, failed to cope with a lively Larne team, and with a minute of the match remaining, Sloan grabbed his second and Larne’s third.
Malone’s charges capped a scintillating performance with a fourth in injury time with 33-year-old Guy providing a clinical finish for his brace.
The 1986/87 season saw the Co Antrim side have one of their best ever campaigns in the top flight finishing in a very creditable fourth position.
That 4-0 scoreline still remains Larne’s biggest ever margin of victory over the Glens since the fixture began in 1923.
In this goal-packed derby, the visitors seemed to be cruising to a first success after going two up inside through David Dougherty and Ricky Simpson.
Coleraine hit back in astonishing fashion with Ricky Wade and Barry McCreadie (2) giving the Bannsiders a 3-2 lead at the break.
However, parity was restored early in the second half when Billy Pyper’s cross confused the Coleraine defence and sailed over Platt.
The Bannsiders’ response was immediate though as Marty Tabb headed home a Paul McGurnaghan corner to give them the lead for the second time in the game.
It looked as if Platt’s charges would take all three points when Wade scored his second, but a resilient United outfit hit back and secured a draw after goals form Stevie Conville and Simpson left the ding-dong contest all square at 5-5.
In one of the shocks of the season, Glenavon crushed Mid-Ulster rivals and soon-to-be champions Portadown at Mourneview Park.
It took the home side just five minutes to open their account through midfielder Sammy Johnston, before Danny Shipp – on loan from West Ham United – marked his first appearance for the club with a goal.
Stephen McBride’s double made it 4-0 before Shipp grabbed the fifth with a superb header.
Substitute Darren Murphy’s deflected effort hit the Ports for six before Raymond McCoy completed the rout with a stylish seventh.
Nineteen-year-old Shipp went on to score eight goals in 14 games for the Lurgan Blues that term as Glenavon finished in fourth place, ten points behind champions Portadown.
It was the game that ultimately delivered Cliftonville’s first league title in 88 years – but not without an agonising wait.
The local football authorities had dictated the game should kick off an hour earlier than Linfield’s trip to Coleraine, a decision that infuriated both fans and officials of the north Belfast outfit.
However, with Solitude at capacity, the Reds set about sealing their long-awaited return to the summit by equalling Linfield’s result.
And it started well, as striker Harry McCourt sent Cliftonville supporters into raptures with opener after 18 minutes.
However, 19 minutes from time, Roy Coyle’s Glens equalised after David Rainey’s corner was headed home by second-half substitute Philip Mitchell.
After the draw, Reds boss Marty Quinn and his players waited in the changing rooms for an hour as Linfield and Coleraine played out the second half at the Showgrounds.
The majority of the Cliftonville support remained in the stands to listen to the radio updates from Ballycastle Road, and when the news of a scoreless draw, the Reds were confirmed as champions.
Gary Hamilton became the first player to score a league double hat-trick since Glenavon’s Dennis Guy in 1966 as Portadown put basement club Omagh Town to the sword.
Bottom of the table Omagh Town had travelled to Shamrock Park with just a single point from their opening four matches while the Ports were sitting in second spot a point behind leaders Linfield.
With the Ports chasing leaders Linfield, Hamilton enjoyed a red-letter day, netting six with Darren Kelly and Peter McCann (2) completing Omagh’s misery.
Ronnie McFall’s men Portadown eventually finished third as Gary Hamilton ended his penultimate season at Shamrock Park on 17 goals, five behind top scorer Vinny Arkins
In a high-stakes Big Two derby, Linfield needed to win to clinch the title while Glentoran needed at least a point to bring the title race down to the final day.
With approximately 12,000 in attendance at the Oval, former Manchester City trainee Stephen Parkhouse fired the Glens into a 24th-minute lead.
Linfield quickly bounced back through Paul McAreavey’s left-footed volley before Colin Nixon restored Glentoran’s lead shortly after the restart.
• The Linfield striker, the reporter, the Glens fan and the ref – memories of ‘Morgan Day’ 15 years on
David Larmour’s volley levelled matters once more before a now-famous climax as Glens striker Chris Morgan popped up with an injury-time winner to heap misery on the side he had left the previous summer.
Glentoran may have sealed the title the following week with a 2-0 success against Crusaders at Seaview, but it was ‘Morgan Day’ that remains the defining moment of the season.
Glentoran suffering a crushing 6-0 defeat at home at any time would be a major shock. To do it as reigning league champions was borderline unthinkable.
Coleraine, fresh off back-to-back wins over Ballymena United and Dungannon Swifts, ran riot at the Oval. Former Glens man Darren Boyce struck the opener before Rory Patterson doubled the away side’s advantage with a spectacular long-range effort.
From there, everything Patterson touched turned to goals as he ended the afternoon with four to his name. Stephen Carson rounded off a devastating performance for the visitors with the sixth.
Future Northern Ireland international Patterson ended the campaign with 30 goals in all competitions and was ironically sold to Glentoran in the summer of 2010.
However, he never kicked a ball for the east Belfast club before joining Plymouth Argyle that same summer for an undisclosed fee.
Cliftonville knew that victory over Linfield at Solitude would see them pip Crusaders to the Gibson Cup and secure a first league title since 1998.
Linfield were already well out of the title race after an indifferent run of form which saw them win just two of their previous six matches. In contrast, Tommy Breslin’s side had won 14 on the spin at Solitude.
Reds top scorer Liam Boyce netted his 33rd goal of the season with a deflected free-kick after just five minutes, but Philip Lowry’s equaliser threatened to spoil the Solitude party.
Boyce’s header nudged the hosts back into the lead only for Michael Carvill to bring David Jeffrey’s Blues level with 13 minutes remaining.
Then, in added time, referee Davy Malcolm awarded Cliftonville a penalty for a foul on Boyce which skipper George McMullan duly converted to make the final score 3-2 and see Cliftonville crowned worthy champions for only the fourth time in their history.
In a scintillating north Belfast derby, Cliftonville stormed into a 3-0 lead only for Crusaders to incredibly snatch all three points right at the death.
After nine league outings Crues were sitting pretty at the top of the table, unbeaten and five points clear of nearest challengers Linfield.
But Cliftonville, on the back of two straight wins, demonstrated their newfound confidence as Daniel Hughes, Jay Donnelly and Ruairi Harkin fired them into a seemingly unassailable lead with less than half an hour remaining.
Not to be outdone, though, the Crues came roaring back, with Jordan Owens helping himself to a double to set up a nail-biting finale. Michael Carvill looked to have stolen a point for Stephen Baxter’s men but up popped David Cushley in the 94th minute to give them all three.
Although Linfield were beaten only once in their opening 13 league matches, they had only picked up two points from their last three outings before their trip to Mourneview Park.
They had soundly defeated the Lurgan Blues 4-0 at Windsor Park back in August, but Glenavon had made steady progress since moving into a top six spot by the start of November.
And the Blues’ hopes of arresting their slide were dented when referee Tim Marshall dismissed both Matthew Clarke and Roy Carroll, the former for his foul on Andy McGrory and the latter for dissent, leaving the Blues with nine men for all of 79 minutes.
The visitors, who now had defender Mark Haughey between the sticks, then went a goal behind after the enigmatic Paddy McCourt broke the deadlock on 29 minutes with his first league goal for the Lurgan Blues.
Five minutes later it looked as if Gary Hamilton’s side had wrapped up all three points when Greg Moorhouse made it 2-0 after volleying past Haughey before Andy Waterworth’s header gave the travelling Linfield faithful hope just after the hour.
Despite their numerical disadvantage the Blues continued their search for an equaliser and their persistence was rewarded when half-time substitute, Paul Smyth, poked the ball home with just two minutes remaining to give Healy’s men a dramatic, unlikely point.