By Jim Campbell
Down through the last century of years there have been many brilliant footballers who donned the blue and white vertical stripes of Newry Town/City/ City AFC .
One of the most talented and skilful however, must have been Joey Cunningham from Forkhill in South Armagh. Joey was also a brilliant GAA performer with his native County Armagh.
Joey’s soccer career began with the Dundalk youth academy, and following a recommendation from Newry’s legendary Ollie Ralph, he signed for The Town at the beginning of the 1985-86 season for the first of his two spells with our club.
Joey made his debut against Ballymena United in a Ulster Cup match on Saturday 17th August 1985 – and this match report taken from The Ireland Saturday Night tells us that “Joey Blasts Off With A Cracker”.
Depleted Newry Town, missing six first team regulars, rocked Ballymena United by snatching a shock 14th lead in their Lombard Ulster Cup match at the Ballymena Showgrounds.
And it was Joey Cunningham, the Armagh County GAA star and one of the Border club’s debutants who grabbed the glory early.
The winger latched on to a pass from Ollie Ralph, brushed of a feeble challenge from left back Michael Smyth and slotted the ball past the advancing and previously unoccupied Ricky Adair into the corner of the net.
Newry’s new look team made a lively beginning and they should have extended their lead two minutes after Cunningham’s opener.
Eugene McInerney picked up the ball inside the penalty area, but with the goal at his mercy, he drove a left foot shot against the far post. The ball rolled along the goal line and was knocked to safety by Stevie Conville.
Ballymena, with suspended midfield star Colin O’Neill watching from the Grandstand struggled to put their game together but newcomer Davy McAlinden produced an out of the blue equaliser in the 21st minute.
The former Cliftonville striker accepted a short pass from Jonathan Speak and beat keeper Kieran Harding with a shot from 25 Yards that squeezed inside the right hand post.
Harding was caught well off his line and was not blameless for the goal, but the keeper made amends in the 29th minute when he finger tipped away a fierce shot from Ronnie Burns.
Half Time: Ballymena 1 – 1 Newry Town
It took Newry just seven minutes to regain the lead – and again it was Cunningham who delivered the goods.
The United defence failed to clear a cross from the left. McInerney found himself unmarked inside the box and when Adair parried his drive, Cunningham was on the spot to tap home.
The home side did have an equalising chance midway through the half but McAlinden’s header from Speak’s cross flashed past a post.
Newry introduced another newcomer Stephen Gracey who went close to wrapping up the points with ten minutes left.
However, with four minutes to go Joey Cunningham put the seal on a brilliant and memorable personal performance by completing his hat-trick. He was left with the simple task of knocking the ball into the net after the tricky McInerney had burst through and sent a shot crashing against the crossbar.
Full time: Ballymena United 1 – 3 Newry Town
Man Of The Match: Joey Cunningham
Newry Town: Harding, Saulters, Mallon, Wilson, Cinnamond, Ralph, Cunningham, Moran, McInerney, Fearon, Farson.