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The late Paul Straney - an original and a Cliftonville legend

The late Paul Straney was one of most colourful characters in Irish League football

WHAT was abundantly clear from the start was Paul Straney cared. You could see it every time he pulled on the goalkeeper’s jersey for Cliftonville during the early-to-mid-noughties.

In total, he played 179 times for the Reds. He treated each appearance as an honour, a privilege.

Just watching Straney for 90 minutes was entertainment in itself.

The reason why he was such a firm favourite with the Cliftonville faithful was because he reflected the emotions of the terraces.

He felt the same pride they did, the same anger, the same everything.

From the first minute to the last, he never shut up.

He would keep his defenders on their toes; goad the opposition and their fans and would constantly lobby the referee for a fair shake - anything to gain an inch.

A lot of the time he played with reckless abandon, which didn’t always end well for him or the team. He picked up quite a few red cards during a colourful career.

But, in a curious way, that was a big part of Paul Straney’s charm.

You’d be cursing him one minute - and the next he’d have you on your feet applauding another ridiculous save.

I didn’t know Paul well but I interviewed him several times during his Cliftonville career and always found him to be an engaging, thoughtful character.

He was a hugely likeable individual. Slightly eccentric and a very knowledgeable football man.

His passing last week was such a shock to everyone.

It’s often people’s default position to say only good things about the dead – but each tribute posted on social media this week was from the heart.

People would have said the same things about ‘Stran’ if he were here with us now, like he should be.

Paul played for the Reds during hard times – a time when players’ wage packets jangled and they were grateful.

Back then, Marty Tabb’s budget wasn't far off loose change in your pocket.

While the Reds struggled at the wrong end of the table in those years, ‘Tabber’ still managed to deliver the League Cup in 2003, beating Larne in a penalty shoot-out.

Straney, no less, was the hero of the hour, saving the decisive penalty that sent the Cliftonville supporters into raptures at Windsor Park.

In hard times, victory always tasted sweeter.

“I always felt Paul was similar to me as a player,” said Tabb. “He was so intense. At times, I had to calm him down. He loved playing for the Reds, he was so committed and that was good enough for me.”

On Stoke City’s books in his teenage years, Straney left the Reds in ’06 only to return as goalkeeping coach under Tommy Breslin.

Chairman Gerard Lawlor reflected: “I’ve a couple of abiding memories of Paul. His penalty saves were one and his penalty save that won us the League Cup in 2003 under ‘Tabber’.

“He was a real clubman - he really cared.

“He defied the odds by playing because he had a dodgy knee and should never have been playing at that level. Mad as a hatter on the field but a gentleman off it.

“I remember Declan O’Hara had to go into nets for the second half against Linfield at Solitude one Saturday because ‘Stran’ had lost the plot. He punched Peter Thompson and got sent off.

“He later apologised. But it was hard to be angry with Paul."

Lawlor added: “Paul played for the club during the harder times and thankfully when he came back to be goalkeeping coach he was part of the management team that won back-to-back league titles.

“When we won the second title against Portadown, Paul and I sat in the stand at Shamrock Park. Sharing that memory was special because somebody like him got rewarded.”

Paul continued in the role as goalkeeping coach during Gerard ‘Skin’ Lyttle’s time in charge and while the Downpatrick native was regarded as an enigmatic figure he was extremely professional in his approach.

“Paul would have worked with Conor Devlin very closely and improved him as a goalkeeper,” recalled ‘Skin’.

“But not only that, he kept a book of every player in the Irish League who took penalties and where they put them; he had all that information.

“During our playing days together, he was the type of player you wanted on your team because he would fight for you and would always have your back.

“He had that captain’s instinct and it didn’t surprise me that he went into coaching. If he had a pop at you it would be forgotten about within an hour.”

Paul Straney leaves behind a rich legacy and a terrible void.

His last coaching post was with a club he knew well – Kilmore Rec.

In the club’s statement, Kilmore chairman Sean McCarthy described 'Stran' as a “remarkable person”.

He couldn't have summed him up better.

“Paul was a committed and truly passionate member of the team I managed,” said Marty Tabb. “And I was grateful for the fact that he was there while I was in charge.”

Time really does fly by.

It doesn’t seem that long ago Paul Straney was wearing the goalkeeper’s jersey at Cliftonville – diving around like a maniac, saving penalties, getting angry, nagging referees and anyone else in his eye-line.

He lived every minute of every game he played for the Reds. Few players can actually say that.

In the eyes of the Linfield and Glentoran supporters, he was the all-year-round Panto-villain with the roguish grin and black war paint beneath both eyes.

Paul Straney was mad as a hatter, a very fine goalkeeper and a lovely person who left this world far too soon.

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