A leading local football administrator’s unstinting service to his league, spanning half a century, has been celebrated in style.
Glowing tributes were paid at the Ballymena & Provincial League annual dinner to league secretary Billy McIlroy, who has completed his 50th season of being associated with the league.
Billy was presented with a special memento by Councillor Tommy Nicholl, representing Mid and East Antrim Council, who paid tribute to the Ballymena man’s service.
“Billy was always associated with the Cullybackey team and we, in Cullybackey, are very proud of him.
“He has been a marvellous servant for football in the Ballymena area and he deserves all the plaudits he receives.”
League vice-chairman Robert Fenton echoed those sentiments, noting that the occasion was made all the more special for Billy by the attendance of his wife Pat, daughter Lisa and son-in-law James.
“This is very much a golden moment for Billy and he is very much the golden man of this league.
“Billy McIlroy’s name is now synonymous throughout the corridors of power at Windsor Avenue.
“Everyone knows which league he represents and everyone knows his standing - he has earned that respect over the years.
“To serve 50 years, never mind as a league representative, is simply unheard of and phenomenal.
“We will never see his like again in this league. No one individual could take on the responsibility and have the enthusiasm, drive and passion to see the league develop.”
Billy himself reflected upon his involvement in what has also been known as the Ballymena & District Junior League and Ballymena & District Premier League, which first kicked off in 1948, from his involvement as a player with Wakehurst and Cullybackey before turning his attention to becoming a highly-accomplished administrator.
“Young people today don’t know they’re living,” smiled Billy.
“I remember pedalling a bicycle 20 miles to a match, then getting changed in a ditch and afterwards, having a bath in a nearby river.
“When you played at venues like Coronation Park, on a good day you were up to the ankles (in mud) - on a bad day, you were up to the knees!”
On the playing side, Billy reflected on “a titanic struggle in all four divisions, which kept the interest alive right up to the final games”.
With the power base in the league having shifted very much towards the Belfast and east Antrim areas, most of the individual and team trophies went to clubs based outside the local area.
However, Antrim Rovers enjoyed a very good season, in which they won the Junior Division One title and also reached the final of the league’s flagship knockout competition, the Crawford Cup, where they lost to intermediate champions Ballynure Old Boys.
Billy also thanked Michelin Athletic Club for their continued support of the league, which now stretches to 37 years of hosting league meetings and 30 years of sponsorship, and also thanked the league various other sponsors.
He also praised the ‘unsung heroes’ of the various clubs whose invaluable assistance helps ensure the smooth running of the league and its competitions.