Football/Soccer

The Boot Room - Joe Gormley: Cliftonville's goal machine and humble genius

Joe Gormley is now Cliftonville's all-time leading goalscorer

THERE’S nothing better than being inspired on a dank Tuesday night at Solitude.

I loved the fact that I completely forgot I was working at the League Cup game between Cliftonville and Carrick Rangers.

For those few moments after Joe Gormley scored an exquisite 89th minute winner, I was oblivious to the fact I had to file 600 words soon after the final whistle.

Instead of applauding Gormley’s sublime finish at the back of the stand, I should have been making notes on how the ball reached his deft right foot.

But the moment was simply too good to be wasted on scribbling furiously on a dog-eared notepad.

No, this moment was to be enjoyed to the fullest.

The the right thing to do was to stand up and applaud genius, because that’s what Joe Gormley is: a genius.

We have this vague image that geniuses are aloof human beings who live a solitary existence high in the Sierra Maestra, smoking cigars and painting landscapes with their hand-held easels.

Therefore, Joe Gormley can’t be a genius.

He’s too modest, too humble, too earthy, bashful, even.

He's a regular Joe who wouldn’t pass you on Brompton Park or Balholm Drive of Ardoyne without saying hello.

Sometimes the best quotes you hear in sports journalism are the ones with the most common sense.

A few years ago, Robbie Keane’s international career was trundling to an illustrious close.

At the time the Dubliner was getting a hard time for having moved to the allegedly cushy surroundings of America’s MLS rather than opting to finish his career in a more competitive league.

In light of calls for him to be dropped from Ireland’s starting line-up Roy Keane, not known for dishing out praise, offered a stout defence of the ageing striker.

He said: “I’m not sure about Robbie’s situation in the MLS – I just see him when I come and work with him here,” said Keane.

“You all see the stats. His goal record is fantastic. He’s the best goal-scorer we have got. History would tell you that.

“Sometimes people ask: ‘Can we play Robbie away from home?’ and talk about what he can’t do; but just look what he can do.

“He does the hardest part of football – he puts the ball in the back of the net.”

Scoring goals is the hardest part of football. That’s the reason why Joe Gormley is a genius because he makes the hardest part of football look easy.

It’s a genuine pity there wasn’t a bigger home crowd to watch Gormley’s winning goal on Tuesday night.

After Carrick grabbed two late goals to deservedly draw level with their Premiership opponents, the game seemed set for extra-time. But with Cliftonville’s next attack, Gormley settled the tie with the most impudent piece of skill.

Chris Rodgers, Carrick’s central defender, failed to clear the ball.

The ever alert Gormley nipped in and before the crowd behind the goal could decide the best way to capitalise, the ball was already bobbling into the empty net.

Even though the ball was still under his feet, the Cliftonville striker somehow managed to scoop it over the Carrick ‘keeper to win the game.

In a split second, Gormley had turned a half chance into a winning goal.

Last Friday night against Crusaders, he broke Kevin McGarry’s long-standing club record of 170 goals.

There is every chance Gormley will break the 200-goal barrier this season – a record that will never be surpassed.

In an interview with The Irish News last week Tim McGarry, a nephew of the great Kevin McGarry and Cliftonville fanatic, nailed Gormley’s best quality.

The local comedian said: “When he goes through one-on-one you just know he’s going to score. When he takes a penalty you know he’s going to score the penalty.”

When he signed for Peterborough United three seasons ago, everything needed to go right for him to make it.

After all, he was in his mid-20s and hadn’t got time on his side.

As it turned out, Gormley’s dream move was derailed by a bad knee injury.

Homesickness kicked in and one of Ardoyne’s favourite sons was on his way back home.

The genuine pity is that Gormley didn’t get his cross-channel move a few years earlier because he most certainly would have made it.

What Joe Gormley has is an indiscriminate quality.

He could score goals at any level, in any league, against any defence.

Rarely do you encounter a player that possesses such clarity of thought when confronted by the opposition’s goal.

Gormley is the last of the street footballers.

Nowadays, our kids are scooped up and ferried to schools of excellence and clubs where they’re taught slick drills and positional sense.

And yet the best apprenticeship is outside their front door, where you learn about space and technique.

Gormley is self-taught. No manager can claim credit for him because what he has is uncoachable.

I like the fact he scores all types of goals.

I like the fact that he is exceptionally proud of his Ardoyne roots.

And I like the fact there are hundreds of kids around north Belfast who want to be like him.

I like the fact that I was enthralled by a humble genius on a dank Tuesday night at Solitude.

Continually inspired by his late father, Joe, who passed away some 16 years ago.

Continually supported by his mother Marguerite and his family, Joe’s simple wish was always to play and be happy.

In Solitude’s bosom is where he belongs.

To watch him every week is a privilege we should never take for granted...

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