The recent appointment of legendary Town / City striker and former manager Ollie Ralph, as the new Honorary President of Newry City AFC, was greeted with much delight, joy and satisfaction by all concerned with our club.
Ollie, scorer of an amazing three hundred and five goals for The Town, began his career with two junior clubs, in his native Dundalk. First with St Dominic’s and then with Bank Rovers FC. His high level of performance at junior and intermediate level soon attracted the attention of his hometown senior club Dundalk FC and he signed for the Oriel Park team prior to the start of the 1981-82 season. This move by the talented young Ralph, brought much pleasure to his family, as he was now following in the footsteps of his famous footballing father, Joe Ralph. Joe had been an outstanding full back with Dundalk FC for a number of earlier years in the League of Ireland.
The highly promising striker got away to a flying start with Dundalk FC winning a senior League of Ireland championship honour in his first season 1981-82 and followed this up with a League Cup Winners Award during 1982-83. It was however, during the latter season, that he received a serious injury on the field of play, and this injury was considered initially to be career threatening.
Luckily, it wasn’t, but as a result of this injury, he was side-lined for quite a lengthy time, and during the healing period, he became somewhat detached from his hometown club. Ollie was determined to make a quick return to the game and he fought strenuously and courageously to regain his full fitness in the summer of 1983.
At the same time and almost by co-incidence, Newry Town FC had been dramatically co-opted to the Irish Senior League and manager Barry Brown was desperately striving and anxious to strengthen the squad for the new 1983-84 season. As a consequence, Ollie was invited to train at The Showgrounds and play for The Town in the pre-season friendly fixtures. He made an instant impact at The Showgrounds with his electric pace and accurate finishing ability but these qualities had also been noted by Newry’s Irish League rivals Glenavon who quickly made him an offer to sign.
Much to the relief of Manager Barry Brown, Ollie rejected the offer from Glenavon and happily put pen to paper for The Town and in the years ahead, he was to prove a real significant and landmark signing for the club.
He was a Co. Antrim Shield Winner with The Town in 1987-88, a Mid Ulster Cup Winner on three occasions 1984-85, 1986-87, and 1989-90, and topped the Irish Senior League goal scoring chart with 42 goals during the 1989-90 season. He also won both the NI Football Writers Player of The Year Award and Ulster Footballer of the Year in 1990 and got two representative honours with the Irish League.
Ollie’s fantastic playing career with The Town came more or less to an end around 1996/97 but for a number of years following that he managed and coached the club.
Speaking to the Newry Reporter on his appointment as Newry City AFC Honorary President, Ollie spoke of his pride at being awarded the position at what he calls a “family club”.
He said: “It’s a huge honour, I couldn’t believe it, when I got the call and I was absolutely delighted to accept it. It just keeps the link going and it’s lovely to be part of things again. Newry have been very good to me. I have been here a long, long time and they have looked after me in every way, in friendship as well as football.”
Report by Jim Campbell