Sporting community saddened by passing of Ossie Bailie

Ossie Bailie pictured with some of his medals from his illustrious sporting career.
Ossie Bailie pictured with some of his medals from his illustrious sporting career.

Ballymena has lost an accomplished and versatile sporting figure following the death of Oswald (Ossie) Bailie.

He had been in failing health since breaking his hip over seven months ago and passed away at the weekend.

Bowls was one of Ossie's main sporting interests in later life.

Bowls was one of Ossie's main sporting interests in later life.

The accident occurred at his Craig Court home a week after Ossie reached his 92nd birthday.

He underwent surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital and spent time in Whiteabbey and Antrim hospitals before he was moved to Rylands Nursing Home.

On Friday he was returned to hospital after contracting an infection and suffered a fatal heart attack early the next morning.

Ossie was a member of West Presbyterian Church, where his funeral service will take place this Wednesday at 2pm, followed by interment in the family burial plot at Cushendall Road cemetery.

Born on April 20, 1923, Ossie took a keen interest in sport from an early age. He was a decent golfer, tennis player and indoor and outdoor bowler, but it was as a footballer and cricketer that he was most closely identified.

An amateur player throughout his Irish League career - he turned down offers to turn professional so that he could continue to play tennis for his hometown team in the Belfast and District League - Ossie had spells with Ards, Belfast Celtic, Cliftonville, Ballymena United and Distillery.

A goalkeeper, he spent most of his soccer career with Cliftonville, the league’s only’s all-amateur club, where he won an amateur international cap against England.

Elisha Scott, the Belfast Celtic manager and former Liverpool ‘keeper, was impressed by Ossie’s potential and he swooped to sign the Ballymena man as cover for Kevin McAlinden.

On the day before the infamous Christmas meeting with Linfield, McAlinden was rested and Ossie stepped in to make his senior debut, preserving a clean sheet in a five-goal defeat of Ballymena United.

Sadly, there was an outbreak of serious trouble at the end of the Linfield game, resulting in Celtic’s withdrawal from the league at the end of the 1948-49 season.

During his spell at the Warden Street Showgrounds, Ossie was a medal winner when the Sky Blues defeated Crusaders 3-0 in the Festival of Britain Cup final in 1952.

On the cricket field, Ossie began a long and illustrious career with Cregagh, then a force in the Northern Cricket Union. At the time, he was employed as a clerk in Belfast, but after one season he switched to his hometown club, where for many years he was an outstanding performer with both bat and ball.

With a strong personality and competitive spirit, Ossie was an obvious choice to captain the club, a position he held for a record six seasons. He led the First XI onto the field in seasons 1961, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1969 and 1971.

A high-order batsman and shrewd off-break bowler, Ossie was a consistent run-maker and wicket-taker.

He was at the helm in 1962 when Ballymena secured their first senior trophy - the Senior Qualifying League - and he proved an inspiration to a new generation of Ballymena players including Wilfred Ridge, Jimmy Forsyth, Colin McVicker, Wesley Cairns, Billy Spence, John Caldwell, Robin Walsh, Ivor Surgenor and Jackie Fullerton.

Throughout the 1960s, Ossie continued to perform at a high level but the years were catching up with him and although Ballymena returned to senior cricket in 1969, he entered his fourth decade with the club as a veteran, playing mainly for the Second XI, for whom in 1973 he scored a century (101 not out) against Instonians.

However, there was to be a dramatic, record-breaking return to the senior stage when in 1974, at the age of 51, Ossie became the oldest player to appear in an NCU Senior Cup final. But there was no joy for the Eaton Park side as they were crushed by eight wickets by Waringstown at Ormeau.

Ossie brought the curtain down on an outstanding career in the early 1980s, but remained active on the sporting scene as a member of the local bowling club and golf club.

In his personal life, Ossie suffered a number of devastating blows. First, in 2008, Hessie, to whom he was married for 53 years, died after a short illness, followed by the deaths of sons Niall in 2009 and Gavin in 2011.

Sympathy is extended to the two surviving members of his family, daughter Morag and son Gregor.