When Larry McMahon is asked about two of his former team-mates at Inver Park, he is able to speak with a mixture of foresight and hindsight.
Hindsight, they say, is 20/20 vision – it’s always easier to look back today and realise what was coming down the line. However, when it comes to playing alongside Harry McConkey and David Jeffrey, McMahon insists much of it was obvious at the time. Both men have gone on to become successful managers in their own right, with the two of them still in a dug out in different parts of the country today.
In Jeffrey’s case, he would go on to become the most decorated manager the Irish League has ever seen, while McConkey has enjoyed successful spells with Dergview, Ballinamallard and the Northern Ireland Junior International side.
However, as McMahon goes back to the beginning, it is another manager he knew well, who was responsible for bringing him to Inver.
“I signed for Larne in the summer of 1995,” he begins.
“Shay Hamill was the manager at the time and someone I had known well from youth teams. I played in the Milk Cup for Ballymena in the late 1980’s and I would have known him through the youth team and reserves at Ballymena United.
“I went off to uni in Scotland for four years after that and I was returning here in 1995. I came back and Shay had just got the Larne job, so he phoned me to see if I would come down.
“I was keen to come, but I told him I didn’t want to play reserve team football at that stage, I just felt too old for that. He said I would get my fair chance in the first team and he was true to his word. I think my first game might have been against Greenock Morton in a friendly and I managed to do well in that. The season back then started with the Gold Cup or Ulster Cup I think, and I made my competitive senior debut away to Linfield at Windsor Park!
“I have a lot of fond memories of Shay Hamill, who unfortunately passed away at a young age. You wouldn’t find many people with a bad word to say about him in Irish League circles.”
As McMahon – an athletic midfielder and goalscoring striker during his time at Larne – reflects on his stint at the club, there are a number of notable players he enjoyed playing alongside.
“When I look back, there were some really good players at the club,” he said.
“David Jeffrey had come in as a player/coach and while, as he would say himself, was at the tail end of his career, you could see he was a top player who looked after himself. Then you had the likes of Robert Robinson and Stephen Collier, who obviously went to Linfield with David and had a lot of success there.
“There were a lot of good players passed through during my three years at the club, they just weren’t all there at the same time. If they had have been, then who knows. The likes of Crawford McCrea who knew where the net was, Noel Murray towards the start of my times there.
“I loved playing alongside Davy Patton, he was an intelligent player and someone who was great to be paired with.”
While it was Shay Hamill who held the reins during McMahon’s early days at Inver Park, there were those two influential characters, in the form of McConkey and Jeffrey, still on the playing staff.
“To me it was no surprise that Harry went into management,” McMahon said of the current Ballinamallard boss, who took them to last season’s Irish Cup final.
“He was in his mid 30’s by the time he was playing at Larne, but he was neatest player. He had the cleanest boots, probably one of the fittest players and just a brilliant, brilliant person.
“I remember he was caretaker player/manager for a short spell and was jut so enthusiastic – and that rubs off on you. Harry wasn’t as high profile as a player, but I saw everything that would made him a good manager. I honestly think that if you gave Harry the Linfield, Glentoran, Crusaders or whatever else job he wouldn’t be out of place.
“He had us doing an extra night in one of the local schools in the mid-90’s and introduced circuits and was just ahead of his time. He stood out like a sore thumb to be honest, and it’s not surprise to see what he has gone on to.”
And what about the man who would make the move from Inver Park to Windsor Park to become the Linfield manager, and eclipse the trophy haul previously held by the great Roy Coyle?
“David Jeffrey was assistant and still playing when he was at Larne,” McMahon said.
“The interesting thing was the self-discipline David had and he helped generate that in the dressing room too. He was trying to encourage competition within the squad in everything we did. Whether it was training or matchdays.
“I wouldn’t have had him down as the greatest football brain or anything that like, but you could see his leadership skills, definitely. I think he was also savvy when he saw the coaching ability of Brian McLaughlin, who was at Larne Olympic at the time. He took him with him to Linfield, and I’d say they compliment each other very well, between the management and coaching side of things.”
While he was there for relatively lean years, there are still highlights which stick in the Belfast-based solicitor’s mind.
“There are definitely individual games which stand out, including playing Portadown in the Irish Cup at Inver,” he said.
“I remember we went 1-0 up, with myself getting the goal, and Portadown were a really good side then. They equalised and I had a great chance to put us 2-1 up and put it just wide.
“I’m fairly sure their winner came about in controversial circumstances and the Larne fans weren’t too happy with Alan Snoddy that day!
“It was probably fairly typical in that we had the ability to raise our game for one-off occasion like that.”
McMahon’s stint at Inver Park came to an end in the summer of 1998, when Marty Quinn’s Cliftonville, who were then reigning top flight champions, sought his signature There was only going to be one answer.
“I signed for Cliftonville the summer after won they league – I must have been kiss of death!” He joked.
“The team went from winning the league to being in a relegation playoff the season after. I think myself and Tommy McCallion were the only two signings that summer, so it was more or less the same squad who won the league.
“In my time at Larne I think I had won the newcomer of the year in my first season and player of the year in the next two. My final season at Larne I had done pretty well in particular games, like that Portadown Irish Cup game. Kieran Harding phoned me to ask about coming to Portadown, and Ballymena were interested too.
“At the end of the day though, when Marty Quinn contacted me, they had just won the league and going there meant making my debut in the Champions League.
“I ended up staying at Cliftonville for four years and enjoyed my time there a lot, before moving on in 2002.
“When I look back on my time of football, it’s the friendships you make and camaraderie that you enjoy. For me, those are where the memories are, I’m still friends with Harry McConkey today, someone I played with 25 years ago, but that’s the beauty of football.”