THE late, great Eunan ‘Busty’ Blake would surely have approved. Two teams filled with players who honed their craft under his watchful eye, playing skilful football with a smile on their faces.
The occasion was the inaugural Eunan ‘Busty’ Blake Memorial Cup between Letterkenny Rovers Legends and Derry City Legends, played out on the beautiful Leckview Park surface on Saturday evening last.
Former Northern Ireland international striker Liam Coyle led the Derry team while Anthony Gorman, who can include Finn Harps, Linfield, Sligo Rovers and Letterkenny Rovers among his former clubs, captained the home team.
Another former Northern Ireland international John ‘Jobby’ Crossan, the mercurial John McElwaine (Fanad United), his team-mate from that all-conquering team of the 1990s Bosco Gallagher, who also lined out for Rovers during his career, and Ritchie Kelly, captain of the Harps FAI Junior Cup winning team of 1968, were among a large crowd watching on from the sidelines.
Led by the excellent Gary Beckett in attack, Derry proved to be too strong on the day. He was ably supported by Paul Hegarty, Harry McCourt, John McElroy, Gary Heaney, Jack Keay and goalkeeper Gerard Crossan while the ‘younger’ legs of Marty McNutt and Darren McCreadie were also very evident throughout.
Rovers included Eddie McGroarty, a man who continues to defy his 59 years, in their midfield while Con McLaughlin, Denis Bonner, Liam O’Donnell, Kenny Harkin, Paul Duffy, Neil Campbell and myself were among the other fifty-somethings who were wearing the all blue Rovers strip.
Most of the remaining members of the squad including Paul McGovern, the Gorman brothers Anthony and Gareth, Paddy McDaid and Tony Blake (Busty’s youngest) are all the wrong side of forty.
The opening quarter was very well contested with Beckett and Paddy McDaid exchanging early goals before further strike from Darren McCreadie and Beckett edged the visitors two clear at the interval.
With McConigley ringing the changes for Rovers, the men in the Candy-stripes assumed control after the break, scoring a couple of excellent goals.
Afterwards, Busty’s wife Kitty presented Liam Coyle with the Eunan ‘Busty’ Blake Memorial Cup.
Accepting the trophy on behalf of his team-mates, Liam recalled that Eunan played alongside his father, Fay, in the great Derry City team of 1964-65 adding that he was honoured to pick up a cup dedicated in the memory of a great footballing man.
Earlier, Dessie Kelly, himself a former Letterkenny Rovers player, manager and chairman, fondly remembered a great son of Letterkenny town.
Busty played with Derry, Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps as well as Letterkenny Crusaders and, more recently Letterkenny Rovers, while he also managed Harps, Athlone Town and Rovers.
Inducted into the Donegal Sports Star Hall of Fame in 2011, Eunan was widely regarded as one of the best full-backs of his generation during which he played semi professional for three clubs – Sligo, Derry and Harps – during a remarkable year spanning over twenty years in senior football.
In his time with Sligo Rovers, the Letterkenny man earned six inter-league caps for the League of Ireland representative side and played in a very famous match where they earned a 0-0 draw against an English league side which included the likes of internationals Denis Violett, Peter Swan and Jimmy Armfield.
The first anniversary of Busty’s death took place in May and, hopefully, the Memorial Cup will become an annual event.
Whether my fifty-three year old legs will allow me to adorn the pitch as a player for many more years only time will tell but it was an honour to be involved in the inaugural event.
Post-match refreshments were provided in the nearby Station House Hotel where many stories were recalled from yesteryear about the man, a proper footballing legend, Eunan ‘Busty’ Blake.
He would have enjoyed the craic while no doubt he would also have approved of the ‘ground’ football on display earlier in the evening.
FINN HARPS: John Roulstone, Paul Duffy, Paul McGovern, Trevor Scanlon, Jonathan Minnock, Gareth Gorman, Kenny Harkin, Eddie McGroarty, Anthony Gorman, Paddy McDaid, Tony Blake, Con McLaughlin, Harry Walsh, Denis Bonner, Liam O’Donnell. Manager Eamon McConigley.
DERRY CITY: Gerard Crossan, Marty McNutt, John McElroy, Jack Keay, Noel Murray, Darren McCreadie, Paul Hegarty, Gary Heaney, Harry McCourt, Gary Beckett, Floyd Gilmour, Liam Coyle, Ryan Coyle, Eamon Morrow, Dee Reddan. Manager Paul ‘Oxo’ McLaughlin.
REFEREE: Marty Quinn