The Irish League’s top Scottish imports – have your say – BBC Sport

The Irish League has always had an affinity with Scottish footballers – just look at Steven Douglas, John Herron and Rohan Ferguson among the current crop of players.

But who are some of the best Scots to grace the Irish Premiership over the last 30 years?

Northern Ireland statto Marshall Gillespie has compiled some of the facts and figures on 10 of the best goalscorers, keepers and cult heroes.

You can have your say and vote for your favourite Scottish import below.

It would be hard to argue that striker Stevie Cowan was one of the best Scottish imports ever to ply his trade in the Irish League in any era.

At the time, the 27-year-old had already seen service with Aberdeen, Hibernian and Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League when Ronnie McFall initially swooped to take him on loan in February 1990.

His impact was immediate though as his seven goals in the Ports’ final eight league games saw them bring the Irish League Championship to Shamrock Park for the first time in the club’s history.

The Paisley-born striker signed on a permanent basis the following season and his 41 goals in 56 games helped them capture four trophies including a first ever League and Irish Cup double.

Over the next couple of campaigns Cowan continued to be prolific in front of goal scoring a further 75 times for the Co Armagh outfit before departing Shamrock Park in 1993 and returning to Scotland and playing for junior side Linlithgow Rose.

He did grace the Irish League again for brief, unproductive spells with both Ballymena United and Cliftonville before retiring from the game in 1995.

Bustling midfielder Gary Peebles collected no fewer than ten winners’ medals during a trophy laden six years in the Irish League.

Although it was Portadown boss Ronnie McFall who first introduced him to local football when he took him on loan from Partick Thistle in January 1992, it was with Linfield the following season where he excelled.

In that first campaign at Windsor Park he helped the Blues to a treble of League, Irish Cup and League Cup under the guidance of Trevor Anderson.

The following year he won the Irish Cup and Co Antrim Shield as well as finishing the club’s second highest score with 16 goals, so it was somewhat of a surprise he was released at the end of that campaign.

McFall forked out a fee of £22,000 to take him back to Shamrock Park in 1995, but it was money well spent as he proved a hugely influential figure in the Ports lifting their third league title in six years.

In 1997, Trevor Anderson, who was now Director of Football at Newry Town, persuaded him to join the border club and they duly won promotion back to the top flight after storming to the First Division title.

He had two years at the Newry Showgrounds before moving on to Ards where his Irish League journey ended after only six weeks at the club.

Peebles returned to Scotland and played for junior clubs Irvine Meadow and Petershill before retiring from the game in February 2001.

Sandy Fraser may not have been as prolific a goalscorer as Cowan, but alongside his fellow Scot they formed the perfect partnership during their time at Portadown in the early nineties.

In just over their three seasons together at Shamrock Park they amassed an incredible 211 goals between them as Ronnie McFall’s side won nearly all before them in the local game.

Fraser had been a youth team player at Glasgow Celtic before moving on to Hamilton Academicals, where he made just 11 appearances before crossing the Irish Sea and joining Portadown in the summer of 1989.

The Glasgow-born forward was part of the Ports’ double winning side of 1991 and in total he won nine trophies during his six years under McFall.

He left Portadown in 1995 to try his luck in the League of Ireland with Derry City but just twelve months later he was back in the Irish League after signing for Glenavon.

After a frustrating injury-ridden season with the Lurgan Blues, he departed Mourneview for Omagh Town, where he won the now defunct Irish News Cup in his only season with the Tyrone outfit.

In his six seasons at the Showgrounds, Allan Jenkins became something of a cult figure among the Ballymena United faithful.

The industrious midfielder began his career with his hometown team Stranraer, playing exactly 250 games for the club before moving to Gretna in January 2006.

Gretna won back-to-back titles as promotion to the top flight of Scottish football was achieved in 2007, but after just five months in the Premier League Jenkins was on the move to Greenock Morton.

After three years at Cappielow Park, the then-29-year-old turned down offers to remain in full-time football and decided instead to join Roy Walker’s Ballymena United.

On his arrival at the Showgrounds, he was immediately made captain by Walker and skippered them to Co Antrim Shield success over Linfield in 2013.

The following year, Jenkins, who during his time at United was also effectively deployed as a central defender and even a striker, scored in the 2-1 Irish Cup Final defeat to Glenavon.

After further Co Antrim Shield success in 2016, United went on to lift the League Cup for the first time with Jenkins again managing a goal as the Braidmen defeated Carrick Rangers 3-1 at Seaview

In May 2017 he decided to reject a new one-year deal from the club to spend more time with his family and return to junior football in Scotland.

No matter which club Gary McCutcheon signed for you were guaranteed he would score goals.

A natural poacher, his first taste of local football came when Portadown manager Ronnie McFall snapped him up on loan from Kilmarnock in November 2000.

The stocky striker was an instant success, scoring on his debut in a 4-3 defeat at Newry Town and he ended the season with an impressive 16 goals in just 28 outings.

He returned to Scotland and went on to play for Dumbarton, Berwick Rangers and his local club Stranraer before making his way back to the Irish League with Larne in the summer of 2005.

Following a return of 19 goals that season for Inver outfit, he re-signed for Portadown where he won a League Cup winner’s medal after scoring the only goal in the 2008 final against Newry Town.

After netting 103 goals in four seasons at Shamrock Park, his next stop was Ballymena United, where during the 2011/12 campaign he found the net on 34 occasions and was named Ulster Footballer of the Year.

His goalscoring exploits saw Stephen Baxter sign him for Crusaders in the close season of 2012 and although not a regular starter at Seaview, he still managed 31 goals in just over 100 games in two and a half seasons.

After very brief spell with Ballymena United, McCutcheon decided to hang up his boots at the end of the 2014/15 campaign.

Kevin Kelbie was a consistent and reliable goalscorer who managed double figures in each of his five seasons at the Ballymena Showgrounds.

The striker, who was at both Celtic and Rangers in his youth, made nine first-team appearances as a teenager for Alloa Athletic before arriving in Northern Ireland after a year at College in the USA.

However his first Irish League club was not Ballymena but Glentoran, who had given him a year’s contact after he had impressed on trial prior to the start of the 2005/06 campaign.

His stay at the Oval was short lived though and he made the switch to Ballymena United in August 2005 without playing a first-team game for the Glens.

Although he did not win any honours during his time with United – the closest he came was a runner’s up medal in the Co. Antrim Shield – he was the club’s top scorer on three occasions.

Kelbie was surprisingly released in the close season of 2010 and, still only 25 years of age, he returned home to Scotland to join Greenock Morton.

He did have another crack at Irish League football with Glenavon in 2011, but a succession of injuries saw him back in his homeland by January and playing for Stirling Albion before drifting off into junior football.

Kevin McKeown was one of the best goalkeepers in the Irish League during the nineties.

In seven years at Seaview he helped the north Belfast outfit to two League Championships, a League Cup, Ulster Cup and Co Antrim Shield success, as well as becoming a firm favourite with Crusaders’ fans.

The former Scottish youth international’s first experience of Irish League football came in March 1989, when the then-Crues boss Jackie Hutton signed him on-loan from Motherwell.

Twenty months later McKeown returned to Seaview when Hutton’s replacement, Roy Walker, secured his services on a permanent basis following his release by ‘Well.

His razor sharp reactions and shot-stopping abilities were a huge factor in Walker’s side winning the title in 1995, with the Glasgow-born netminder also keeping an impressive 14 clean sheets in his 30 league outings.

McKeown’s performances and consistency that year saw him walk away with not only the Ulster Footballer of the Year award but also the PFA Player and Football Writers’ Player of the Year gongs too.

At the end of the 1996/97 campaign, where he had won another championship medal, McKeown went back to Scotland and linked up with Ayr United.

He did return to Northern Ireland and had further spells in the league with Newry Town, Coleraine and Cliftonville, although he never replicated the success he had first time round with the Crues.

As a youngster Neil Candlish was a striker with plenty of promise at Motherwell, however it was in the Irish League where he spent the majority of his career and really made a name for himself.

Ballymena United manager Alec McKee was the first to spot his potential when he brought him over from Scotland in November 1990 aged 22.

Although during his first stint at the Showgrounds he won no major honours, Candlish did top the scoring charts in his final two seasons at United which persuaded Glentoran to part with £27,000 to secure his signature.

The Inverness-born forward was also the leading scorer in his only season at the Oval before being snapped up by Ports boss Ronnie McFall in September 1994 in a deal that saw his fellow Scot Trevor Smith go in the opposite direction.

His two years with Co Armagh outfit were to prove his most profitable in term of trophies as he picked up League, Ulster Cup and Floodlit Cup winner’s medals – which were subsequently the only honours of his career.

A brief shift with Shamrock Rovers in the League of Ireland was his next stop before returning for further, less fruitful spells with both Ballymena United and Portadown.

At the start of the millennium he moved to Carrick Rangers and then Bangor, followed by three seasons at Larne where he ended his playing career at the age of 36.

Candlish is currently back at Larne where he is now coaching with the Development squad at Inver Park.

Despite being born in Glasgow, Scott Young was, and still is, a Glentoran man through and though.

His association with the Oval outfit began in September 1998, when manager Roy Coye signed the diminutive midfielder from Dunfermline Athletic where he had made just a handful of first-team appearances.

Young’s tough tackling and robust performances in midfield quickly endeared him to the Glentoran fans, and in his first season with the club he ended up with a League and Gold Cup winner’s medals.

In the seasons that followed he was a pivotal figure in the side that won another championship, two Irish Cups, two League Cups and a Gold Cup before it all turned sour when he broke his leg in a match against Ards in December 2003.

Over the next two years he played only a further nine games for the Glens as injuries finally took their toll and he was forced to retire from the game aged just 26.

His love-affair with the east Belfast side was not over though and in March 2010 he succeeded the outgoing Alan McDonald as Glentoran manager.

It was a turbulent time for all connected with the club and despite adding the League Cup and Co Antrim Shield to the trophy cabinet during his tenure, he resigned in January 2012 following an Irish Cup defeat to Newington Youth Club.

Young is still involved in football working as a pundit for the BBC Radio Ulster Sportsound team.

A striker with immense experience, the capture of Gary Twigg from Shamrock Rovers by Ronnie McFall in January 2013 was a real coup for the Portadown boss.

The former Derby County striker hit the ground running when he scored the only goal of the game on his debut against Donegal Celtic at Shamrock Park.

The Glaswegian had started his career at Derby County and made his Premier League debut for the Rams as a raw 17-year-old against Sunderland in May 2002.

After making only eight more appearances for County, Twigg became something of a journeyman playing for six clubs before he followed manager Michael O’Neill from Brechin City to Shamrock Rovers in February 2009.

His time at Rovers was a huge success, scoring 88 goals in 160 outings for the Hoops as well as winning two league titles and playing in the group stages of the Europa League.

Due to family reasons Twigg made the decision to leave Tallaght in 2012 and McFall was first in the queue to get the 29-year-old to sign a deal with the Ports.

In a little over three seasons under McFall, his undoubted quality shone through and he ended his time with club in 2016 having scored 53 goals in just 119 games.

He did have a few brief, unproductive months with Coleraine under Oran Kearney before deciding to retire from the game in January 2017.

Have your say

You’ve read the facts and figures, now you can decide who is the the best Scottish player to play in the Irish League over the last 30 years.

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