Double Delight, Condensed Campaigns, and Viral Videos: The Thrilling Year in Northern Ireland Men's Football

CEO Tam DT
Remember the time when a goalkeeper received a yellow card and then a red card during the same penalty shoot-out? That was just a glimpse of the action-packed and eventful year that unfolded in Northern...

Former Northern Ireland team-mates David Healy and Steven Davis have played leading roles in the story of 2021

Remember the time when a goalkeeper received a yellow card and then a red card during the same penalty shoot-out? That was just a glimpse of the action-packed and eventful year that unfolded in Northern Ireland men's football. From exceptional performances to controversial moments, the footballing landscape was filled with excitement and surprises.

Covid-Curtailed Start as Linfield Surges to the Top

The year 2021 began with a significant impact from the Covid-19 pandemic, causing the postponement of the ever-popular 2020 Boxing Day fixtures. The Irish League experienced a two-week circuit-breaker with no matches in the middle of January. Despite the challenges, high-quality football prevailed. The Irish League transfer market saw some fascinating moves, including Conor McMenamin's last-minute decision to join Glentoran over Larne. On the pitch, Linfield emerged as the Premiership leaders, starting their journey towards a successful title defense.

Linfield went on to successfully defend their Irish Premiership title

Cup Returns to Agenda as Davis Sets Caps Record

As the fixture schedule piled up and the 2020-21 League Cup was canceled, uncertainty surrounded the fate of the Irish Cup. However, the Irish FA made an announcement in late February that the competition would take place in May. Unfortunately, several Championship clubs withdrew due to their inability to play competitively since the Covid-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, on the international stage, Northern Ireland kicked off their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup finals with a challenging match against Italy. Although they suffered a 2-0 defeat, they showed resilience and caused problems for the Euro 2020 winners in the second half. Additionally, these matches marked a significant milestone for Steven Davis, who equaled and broke Peter Shilton's British international caps record.

Steven Davis says he is yet to decide whether to continue playing international football

Shootout Madness and Linfield Celebrations

The Irish Cup semi-final day will be etched in the memories of football enthusiasts for years to come. Drama unfolded as Linfield secured a routine win over Ballymena United, while Larne's victory over Crusaders in a penalty shootout stole the spotlight. The Crues' goalkeeper, Jonny Tuffey, received a yellow card and subsequent red card for leaving his line early during penalty saves, leaving defender BJ Burns to don the gloves. Crusaders' manager, Stephen Baxter, voiced his frustration after his team's European play-off loss to Cliftonville. Despite their disappointment, Linfield celebrated another League and Irish Cup double, solidifying their dominance on the domestic front.

Cliftonville Comes Out Flying as NI Gets Campaign Boost

The summer transfer market buzzed with excitement as Glentoran reportedly broke the Irish League transfer record to acquire Shay McCartan from Ballymena United. Additionally, Linfield embraced full-time operations, and Larne impressed in their European debut. As the Irish Premiership resumed, Cliftonville, fueled by their clever summer signings, emerged as the early pace-setters. They embarked on an unbeaten run that showcased their strength. On the international scene, Northern Ireland's victory over Lithuania injected optimism into their World Cup qualification hopes. The atmosphere at Windsor Park was electrifying when Switzerland paid a visit, although the match ended in a frustrating goalless draw.

Jonny Addis

More Goalkeeper Controversy while NI Falls Short

October witnessed one of the most controversial incidents in Irish League history when Glentoran goalkeeper Aaron McCarey clashed with teammate Bobby Burns during a match against Coleraine. McCarey's actions, viewed over two million times on social media, led to a suspension and significant attention. Despite the incident, Glentoran's performance improved, resulting in an extended unbeaten run. At the top of the league table, Linfield and Glentoran surpassed Cliftonville by a single point, setting the stage for an exciting Big Two clash. On the international front, Northern Ireland concluded their World Cup qualifying campaign on a positive note, with Steven Davis and his teammates securing a 1-0 victory against Lithuania and an impressive goalless draw against Italy.

The year 2021 in Northern Ireland men's football was a rollercoaster ride of emotions, from thrilling victories to controversial moments. As the new year begins, fans eagerly await more gripping matches, outstanding performances, and unforgettable memories on and off the field.

Picture

Former Northern Ireland team-mates David Healy and Steven Davis have played leading roles in the story of 2021

1