LIAM Blake was in nostalgic mood as he spoke to Anthony Gorman on Letterkenny’s Main Street.
Gorman was leaving Letterkenny around lunchtime on May 10, 2002, bound for Belfast and the Irish Cup final.
Gorman missed the previous year’s final, which Linfield lost to Glentoran, because of a suspension and had been beaten in four semi-finals in eight seasons in the Irish League.
“Busty Blake (Liam’s brother) had a bit of heartache in Irish Cups and it hurt,” Gorman tells Donegal Daily/Donegal Sport Hub.
“Liam met me that day I was leaving and wished me luck, as he always did.
“The whole thing of the Irish Cup was huge. The occasion was massive and so many people from home would go up to the game.”
As they parted ways, Blake had a request: ‘Just do me a favour and bring an Irish Cup medal back to the town’.
Gorman had become one of the Irish League’s leading lights, first with Portadown and then with Coleraine, when Trevor Anderson, the Linfield manager, splashed £35,000 for his services in the summer of 1996.
The Blues were back-to-back champions in 1992/93 and 1993/94, but were in a rebuilding phase when the summer of ’96 rolled around.
Anderson was given a war chest with £50,000 spent on Paul McGee from Wimbledon, £35,000 was given to each of Cardiff City, Ards and Sheffield Wednesday for the services of Paul Miller, Darren Erskine and Richie Baker.
Anderson was accompanied by David Jeffrey, his new assistant, on a trip to Letterkenny in July 1996.
After an initially clandestine rendezvous at the Dry Arch, the Linfield management followed the Gorman to the family home in Glencar.
He knew what Linfield represented, but that mattered little to Gorman, who saw and thought only football.
“If I had been from Belfast, it would have been different,” he says.
“Once I spoke to Trevor and David, that was it. I did speak to some people, the likes of Busty Blake and Charlie Collins. Their opinions confirmed that I was making the right decision. I went to Windsor that Sunday, had the tour of the boardroom and met all the top people. You could just see that Linfield was a huge club.
“The Belfast boys had it tight. They were in a bubble and were scrutinised all the time. I was different. I was traveling up and down for training.
“Getting pulled in and searched at the border was the big thing. I was traveling three or four days a week and it just became the norm for me in those days.”
If there had been any doubts, Gorman’s first appearance for Linfield would have extinguished them in an instant. He signed the papers on August 1 and, the following night, he made his bow in the blue.
Liverpool – including Stan Collymore, Robbie Fowler, John Barnes, Steve McManaman and David James – were in town for a pre-season friendly in a ‘farewell’ to the Spion Kop at Windsor Park.
Fowler scored twice, including a late penalty, in a 2-2 draw before 17,000 people.
“We played so well that night and I knew myself I did well,” says Gorman, who hit five goals in the first six games of the 1996/97 season.
“The team was a bit inconsistent, but I was doing alright and I was lucky that I got that good start.”
THE abuse, at times, could be ‘vile’ around the Irish League’s complex, contrary venues.
The Ballymena Showgrounds was particularly bleak. ‘Toxic’ is how Gorman recalls the visits to Warden Street.
“I loved it,” he says. “I remember when I was at Portadown, the likes of Stevie Cowan, Joey Cunningham and Andy Frazer – they were out best players – getting dogs abuse.
“It was really sick stuff. It was terrible, but I released that they got it because they were the best players.
“The minute I started to get abuse, I thought I must be doing alright.
“I’d arrive to the Oval, everyone would tell me I was only a Gaelic player and to fuck off back to the Free State; I was an ‘Orange bastard’ at one place; a ‘Coleraine reject’ at another. I wouldn’t have got much grief at certain grounds, but once you throw that blue shirt on I was the biggest c*** that ever walked
“At the same time, I was quite removed from it and it was never ‘personal’ stuff. All of that was stuff that was thrown to everyone.”
He became ‘Tony’ as a consequence of his new surroundings in the Irish League rather than by design and the terrace refrains at times could cut iron.
He says: “I remember a player getting abuse about his father, who was in a wheelchair. Supporters were shouting at him that they ‘hope you end up in a wheelchair like your dad’.
“You could see the effect that had on him. I was well enough removed not to get anything that bad.
“Myself and Pat Fenlon traveled up and down, me from Letterkenny and him from Dublin, so we didn’t have to deal with any of that.”
MANSFIELD took note in 1987.
Gorman was on an Easter trip with the Donegal Youth League representative side, under the watch of Mickey Gibbons.
The party stayed in Nottingham and played three games, two against Mansfield and one against Derby County.
After two defeats, the Donegal squad defeated Mansfield 3-1 in their final game. Maurice Toland from St Johnston netted twice and Gorman netted the other.
Before Gorman boarded the bus, Mansfield asked him to sign.
A youngster from Donegal making a cross-channel move was a rarity in those days.
Gorman visited Field Mill again before the end of that season.
Luton Town – then in Division One – were interested, too, but he settled on Mansfield.
“I wanted a look at Luton, but I knew after a couple of days there that I would go to Mansfield,” he says. “Mansfield had a real homely feel to it. There wasn’t the same feel at Luton.”
Alex Ferguson was just getting to grips at Manchester United when they were drawn against Mansfield in the FA Youth Cup.
United Mark Robins, Kevin Pilkington, Daniel Graham and Wayne Bullimore – regarded at the time as one of English football’s hottest properties – but at Old Trafford they lost 2-1 to Mansfield.
Early in the game, Gorman – a boyhood United fan – put his team in front at the Scoreboard End.
“I played the ball into the feet of the centre-forward, he popped it back to me and I just smacked it,” Gorman recalls.
“My celebration run…I ran so quick and that far, I was that excited that I nearly got cramp. For the whole rest of the game, I just couldn’t wait to get phoning home to tell everyone that I had scored against United at Old Trafford.”
He met Robbie McDaid, who was living in Manchester and had a connection to the Gorman family. The good news was relayed home. On the way back to Mansfield, he stopped off at a phone box, beaming at his big moment.
“The game was proof that what Mansfield were doing was starting to pay off,” he says.
Some weeks later, they went to the City Ground and beat Nottingham Forest 5-3. Forest’s number include Nigel Jemson, who Brian Clough had just paid £250,000 for from Preston. The likes of Gary Charles, Steve Stone, Steve Chettle and Lee Glover were there, too, but Gorman netted twice and Mansfield were giddy.
“It just started to unravel,” he says.
“The whole thing just went wrong. Boys started to leave within a couple of months. Our manager was unwell at the time, too, and the squad just completely broke up within two months. It was very unfortunate.”
GORMAN told Mansfield that he was heading home in the summer of 1988, but Ian Greaves, the first team manager, ordered him back for pre-season
“I had said that I wasn’t happy and that I wanted to go,” Gorman says.
“I would have been stuck in the reserves and all the lads had left.”
Gorman had the promise of a two-year deal elsewhere in England when he packed his satchel and bid farewell to the Stags.
“The tears were tripping me when I was leaving,” he says.
“I was leaving good friends and really nice people. The people I stayed with thought as much if not more of me than their own sons and daughters.”
One week led to another at home. The next move in England was still on the table when a chance phone call from Busty Blake handed him a quick return ticket back into the game.
Blake was with an old friend, Peter Thomas, in the Mount Errigal Hotel. Thomas was the manager of Waterford United and was struggling.
He made Gorman an offer he could hardly refuse – ‘twice as much as I was on at Mansfield’, he says now, still wide-eyed.
The move in England hadn’t materialised – and seemingly wasn’t going to – and, so, he headed for Kilcohan Park.
His stay at Waterford was short, though, as he linked up with Seamus McDonagh at Galway United, McDonagh knew Gorman from Mansfield and took him west.
Spells at Finn Harps and Sligo Rovers followed before Ronnie McFall came calling. The Irish League was beckoning now and Gorman’s career was ready to sky rocket.
ANTHONY Gorman’s talents were obvious to those who watched him in his formative years.
“He had the x-factor, even as a young lad,” says Charlie Collins.
“He was in no way pretentious, but he was so competitive. His first touch was incredible and he had super passing ability. He never stopped and he never seemed to score easy goals.”
Gorman played for a Rovers side managed by Stanley White in the D&D when he was 14, scoring in a 4-1 win over Foyle Harps at Leckview Park.
His recall now, 36 years on, remains vivid. Playing up top on the right-hand side of a 4-3-3, with Paul Foley in the middle and Jackie Duffy on the left, Gorman recalls being drafted in alongside fellow youngsters Ciaran O’Donnell and Paul McGovern.
“I came in at the back post for a tap-in and though I was the best player ever,” he says.
The following year, with Collins as manager, Gorman made his debut in the Donegal League, playing for Rovers in a 2-1 win away to Drumbar.
“It was a natural progression to play senior football at that age in those days,” he says.
“It was actually an honour to be asked. Chat about an education. You were training with men like Charlie Collins, Ed Margey, Paddy McDaid, Brendan McDaid, proper footballers. I was so lucky, at 14 to be walking home from training or matches with these boys.
“Our training matches were as competitive as any game. There was no quarter given.”
They trained at the time on the all-weather pitch at Loreto Convent and the lessons were sharp.
He says: “It was better than any apprenticeship.
“And those boys, they looked after you …”
Gorman recalls one early welcome to senior football from a game at Carrickboyle against Gweedore United.
“It was a St Patrick’s Day game and I was playing quite well,” he says. “Early in the game, I was playing wide on the left, I skipped passed a couple of players, whopped the ball in and it was put out for a corner.
“I was happy out. One of the players came over and ate me: ‘Anthony, what the fuck are you at? Just move the fucking ball. Just pass it.’
“The next minute, I got the ball and I didn’t even get a chance to get past the player. I was shoved into the wall. I came up from the reserves with a notion, got away with it the first time and didn’t the second.
“It was a harsh enough way to learn not to dwell on the ball and to move it early.”
His father, Tony, managed the Glencar Schoolboys and the Letterkenny Schoolboys League was a breeding ground for some top players.
“There was actually something magical about playing in that League,” Gorman says. “The romance of that street league setting has been lost now. We were playing against boys we were at school with and it was so competitive.
“You didn’t want to go to school on a Monday after losing at the weekend. Boys in school didn’t care about us playing for Letterkenny Rovers; they wanted to know how Glencar did against Ballyraine or what the score was between Iona and Oldtown.
“The League was serious competitive and we were always fairly successful at Glencar.”
IN November 1986, Gorman was called to Dublin for a trial with the Republic of Ireland youths.
Fellow Rovers man Paul McGovern also got the nod, but couldn’t play in the trial game due to an injury.
Jack Charlton was the new Republic of Ireland manager and his assistant, Maurice Setters, was to manage the youths.
Gorman scored in the trial match and was selected for duty by Setters.
Donegal players didn’t generally get the nod. Gorman was the first since Declan Bonner – now the Donegal senior football team manager – to get a call-up.
In a two-year spell, the he was capped 15 times, debuting against Northern Ireland on January 27 1987.
He still winces at the goal that wasn’t from later that year.
“We were 1-0 up away to Wales in the first minute,” he says. “I was playing up front and I slipped Paul Brady in to score. Two minutes later, someone got down the left and put the ball across. I got out in front and scored with a diving header.
“In my whole career, out of over 150 goals, I only scored maybe five or six headers. Dad was in Wales for that game too.
“My job was just about work. I had to just run like hell, get to the corner, win free kicks, hold the ball up.”
The trial with Setters had been Gorman’s second time to try out for an Ireland team.
At under-15 level, he headed with Johnny Tinny of Kildrum Tigers, who had also been part of a Letterkenny and District team that reached national semi-finals two years running.
“Johnny was head and shoulders above any centre-back in the country,” Gorman says. “I knew when I went for the trials that I was too small, but Johnny was man big and a standout.
“We played a game on a Saturday and a Sunday. I scored in one of them and thought I did okay. I looked at Johnny and thought: ‘You’re a cert’.
“We didn’t get picked.”
RONNIE McFall had his eyes on Gorman before.
During his time at Harps, Gorman impressed McFall, the Portadown manager. McFall arrived to one game, but found he got his time mixed up. As McFall arrived for the game in Longford, Harps players were boarding the bus for home again.
McFall got his man in 1992, but they had two near misses, pipped at the post in his first two seasons at Shamrock Park.
They were left to rue nine draws in the 1992/93 campaign, but blew the title tilt on the penultimate day when losing to Distillery.
The following season, Portadown and Glenavon were level on points heading into the final day with Linfield a point behind.
Portadown and Glenavon drew 2-2 with Linfield taking the prize after being Glentoran 2-0.
“Those were two Leagues that we threw away,” Gorman says. “I remember that second season, Robert Casey was through in the last minute and rolled it wide.”
Gorman was named Player of the Year by a few of Portadown’s supporters clubs, but that summer he was on his way. His contract was up. He and Tommy Smith were to be pawned as Portadown needed the money.
When Coleraine rocked up to Shamrock Park that October, McFall approached Gorman about making a return.
FELIX Healy prised Gorman to the Coleraine Showgrounds in 1994.
The Irish League was undergoing a change and would use clubs’ aggregate position over two seasons to determine relegation for the 1995/96 campaign.
“It was a bit farcical,” Gorman recalls. “On the last day of the season, all Bangor had to do to stay in the Premier Division was to get beat by Ards! We needed to finish fourth to get a place in the Premier Division, but we couldn’t do that. Draws killed us that year; there were four games that season where we were 3-1 up and we drew 3-3.”
Gorman starred as Coleraine won the First Division in 1995/96, with Kenny Shiels as manager. The same season, the Bannsiders won the inaugural Irish News Cup, hammering Omagh Town over two legs.
in the semi-final, Coleraine were drawn against Derry City. It was the first time an Irish League club played a competitive game at the Brandywell since 1972. Sam Shields scored twice as Coleraine won 2-0.
“Those were the first tentative steps to what became the Setanta Cup,” Gorman says. “There were a lot of cross-border ideas floating around at the time.
“We enjoyed that season. We ran away with the First Division. We won it with about nine games to go. There were times when it wasn’t easy. Every team wanted to beat you and we still had to prove ourselves.”
AFTER settling back to the League of Ireland following his return from Mansifled, Gorman enrolled in an FAI-run course based at Palmerstown.
Damien Bradley, who was also at Finn Harps at the time, was another of the students on a course that included Roy Keane.
Gorman was, as he describes ‘fairly pally’ with Keane, who would become one of Irish sport’s most revered and yet most divisive figures.
“What you see now is what you saw then,” Gorman says. “He told it as it was. He always had an unbelievable belief in his ability. he didn’t think that he was unbelievable but he knew that there were very few players who better at what he did.”
An under-21 squad was being picked in the first year.
Two of the players – Lee King and Ian Dougles (both of Bohemains) from the course were selected. Gorman and Keane, then with Cobh Ramblers, didn’t get picked.
Keane let his feelings be known.
‘No harm, how the fuck did you get picked? Only because you play for Bohs!’
One of the Dubliners bit back: ‘Why, do you think you should have been picked?’
Keane’s eyes narrowed.
‘No, but Anto should have been!’
“He was a funny boy, too,” Gorman says. “He was quick witted and dry. We kept in touch for a while before he went to United. We met a couple of years ago and it was as if we had seen each other every week. We were chatting and having the craic again.”
GORMAN started his coaching bags in the mid-90s and finished his UEFA Pro Licence in 2009.
However, he was thrust into a job he didn’t want when he was give the hotseat at Finn Harps in 2005.
Healy had recruited Gorman midway through the 2004 season and his inclusion aided a push that resulted in Harps winning the First Division crown – a title that remains their only League triumph.
“That was so important for Harps because it was their 50th anniversary year and it was a first League, going back to the Premier Division,” Gorman recalls. “Any League medal you get has importance. I was happy and proud to be a part of that Harps side.
“I used to go to watch Harps a lot and had seen them quite a bit before Felix came in for me.”
When Healy left, with a slide having inevitable consequences in 2005, Gorman was earmarked.
“I was reluctant,” he says. “But Harps landed and said they weren’t looking for anyone else. Hindsight is great, but I wasn’t ready. I felt I owed Harps something and Peter Toner, who was the chairman, was a neighbour from home.
“You have all these romantic notions that you could do this, that and the other. Very quickly, reality sets in. People could see that it was just a case of keeping things going.
“Right now, I prefer coaching to managing. If you’re a manager now it’s 24/7. Managing is just such a challenging role now and you’ve got so much to keep an eye on. I’ve been offered a couple of jobs in between, but they weren’t right.”
GORMAN is coaching now at his native Letterkenny Rovers, aiding the senior manager Eamon McConigley and managing the club’s youth team.
He closed his playing career out at his hometown club, bringing the wheel back full circle, and was part of the Ulster Senior League-winning squad of 2009.
The landscape is different now to his early years at Leckview Park – not just in terms of the Letterkenny skyline.
“It’s difficult now for clubs like ourselves when you have the lure of the League of Ireland,” he says. “If one of those come in, you have to encourage the lads to follow their dreams and aspirations. You must encourage young players to play as high as they can.
“We have always done that and we’re always encouraging. We have hundreds of people in the clii now. I’m happy where I’m at and the club has some exciting pans for developing at Leckview Park. We have a nice group and a good environment for coaches to develop players.”
One player who came through the schoolboy ranks was his eldest son, Dale, who moved on loan to Newport County earlier this year from Leyton Orient.
In December 2011, Dale replaced Anthony in an FAI Intermediate Cup game against College Corinthians for his Rovers debut and in 2016 Anthony – then 45 – lined out alongside another son Zach, who was 16 at the time, in a 4-0 Ulster Senior League win over Swilly Rovers.
“Dale’s in England now seven years and is well settled,” Gorman says. “He’s well through of and he’s making a good career for himself. He’s been lucky with the people that he has worked with and I go back to his involvement with Stanley White. I had played for Stanley of course and it was nice that Dale was part of the last team that Stanley had.”
GORMAN won two Leagues with Linfield and has six Irish League Cup medals.
His fondest memory, though, was that Irish Cup final of 2002 at Windsor Park.
Chris Morgan’s double, after Kyle Neill’s early goal put Portadown in front, secured a 2-1 win for Linfield.
Gorman slipped Morgan in for the equaliser and the Letterkenny man made amends for the year previous when suspension robbed him of a chance to appear on the big day.
“I was driving to a midweek game at Newry when a journalist from the Irish News rang and told me I was suspended for the final,” Gorman says.
“Lee Doherty of Glenavon had a suspension held back a year or two before to let him play in the final. Linfield thought it would be quashed, but the IFA stuck to the guns and me, Russell Kelly and Johnny Shaw missed the game.”
In 2002, Gorman remembers the sweet scent of ‘relief’.
“The whole thing was amazing,” he says. “That first Irish Cup I won was just brilliant.”
Of all his achievements in the game, you wonder what stands out at the top of the list.
“My time at Linfield,” he says. “Being who I am and where I come from and to achieve at Linfield.
“In my opinion the two biggest clubs in Ireland are Linfield and Shamrock Rovers with the history, the tradition and everything they have done.”
MARK Sidebottom, the BBC presenter, was about to hand back to the studio when an adrenaline-fuelled Gorman pleaded for the last word.
Beaming down the camera, he had a message for Liam Blake.
‘We have an Irish Cup medal for the town tonight!’Tags: