Alex Mills interview with George O’Boyle in Sunday Life
Posted : 30th September 2018
On a weekly basis leading local sports journalist Alex Mills interviews an ex Irish League player in his column in the Sunday Life. A few weeks ago former Linfield forward George O’Boyle was the subject in one of the fascinating memory lane type articles and the article is reproduced here with the kind permission of the writer and the newspaper.
IRISH LEAGUE LIVES . .
Even though he resided in France for over a year, George O’Boyle admits he still struggles with the language. He can negotiate the simple things, like ordering a meal or a taxi!
It’s hardly surprising, la langue francaise didn’t feature high on his ‘to do’ list when he moved to Bordeaux in his late teens. That’s because he was focusing on a football career that only 12 months earlier appeared to be heading for the buffers.
Having been on the books of Manchester City since his school days – he was a pupil at Cairnmartin Secondary School – George spent two years at Maine Road (as it was then). He describes it as a ‘great experience’, being part of the club’s academy before earning a two-year contract.
However, like so many kids with stars in their eyes, he was released when he reached the age of 18. Although there were offers tabled by lower league clubs in England, George thought it would be beneficial to return to his Belfast roots.
When word got out, Distillery boss Roy Welsh was first to make a move. In fact, he was so determined to lure George to New Grosvenor, he sent the irrepressible Bertie McMinn to knock on his door on the Shankill Road.
“Bertie told me if I signed there and then, I could play on Saturday. I said to him, ‘that will do for me’,” recalls George. “I was fortunate enough to join Alan McKnight, Anton Rogan, Jim Magilton, Tom Cleland and Jim McFadden . . . all budding stars. But we also had experience in Marty Quinn, Francis Smyth, Buster Andrews and wee Bertie.”
George made such an impact in his 20-odd games he moved to the top of Linfield’s shopping list.
He adds: “I was still only 18 and was advised not to go because the Blues had Martin McGaughey, Trevor Anderson and had just signed Robbie Barr from Crusaders.
“Roy Coyle had a reputation of bringing in young players and not using them, but coming from the Shankill, the Blues were a big appeal for me.
“McGaughey was just returning from serious injury, so I went straight into the side and was determined to make it difficult for the boss to leave me out . . . I always had confidence in my own ability.
“We won the league title in my first year . . . it was the sixth successive time for the club. Strangely, I scored a hat-trick in the final game of the season against the Whites, which clinched the Gibson Cup.”
The Man City experience was a distant memory, but even George confesses he was staggered when French giants Bordeaux showed an interest.
“We played them in their mid-winter break . . . a friendly at Windsor Park,” adds George. “To be honest, I don’t remember too much about the game, but they must have seen something.
“Apparently, they kept tabs on me. The manager, Aime Jacquet, went on to lead France to victory in the European Championships and World Cup. The next thing I knew, my bags were packed.”
It was hardly surprising, it was a total culture shock for Belfast man.
“They were champions of France and they reached the semi-final of the European Cup the year before, so it took a bit of getting used to,” he adds. “We trained three times a day -- a running session before breakfast then physical training with weights before lunch.
“After a siesta, we had a late afternoon football session. They had a fantastic Centre of Excellence. I stayed there when I moved over. My room-mate was Bixente Lizarazu, the left-back who went on to play for France and Bayern Munich. I roomed with him until I got an apartment sorted out.
“I loved it . . . it was a great learning curve. I did my best at learning the language. Being around the players made it a bit easier for me. They got me involved in their conversations. In that environment you understand more.”
Although he had two of a three-year contract remaining, George’s career arrived at the crossroads as first team opportunities were limited as only two foreign players were permitted to be named in a squad.
He had offers to remain in France but decided to take a gamble and re-join Linfield on loan.
“I had a good season with the Blues and won another league title,” added George. “That was the year Tony Coly and Sam Khammal joined the club. They were two really good players.
“At the end of the season, I had a few options. Bordeaux had just signed Clive Allen. That’s the calibre of players they were in the market for, so I didn’t consider returning.
“But there was an option from Scotland. Dunfermline had just been promoted to the Premier League and they offered me terms. It made sense, getting full-time football. I originally went there on a one-year loan basis. Our objective to was to stay in the division. The move was then made permanent and I signed a three-year contract.
“I played with David Moyes, while there were a few Northern Ireland accents about . . . Jimmy Nicholl, Norman Kelly and Pat McAllister. But I sustained a few bad injuries. I ruptured my achilles tendon, which kept me out for 10 months. Then, it transpired that I had to have another operation to shave part of my ankle bone. I was out for almost another season. At least I was fit in my last year at Dunfermline, in which I scored 20 goals.”
After five years, George moved on to St Johnstone, who had Paul Sturrock in charge. “He sold the club to me. I learned a lot from him. He was the manager who got the best out of me.
“It took us took us two years to get out of the Championship, but that was my best spell in terms of goal scoring. I won the Championship player of the year. In our first two years, we finished sixth and fourth.”
However, injury struck again. George once more ruptured a cruciate ligament, while he required two operations on a groin problem. He was fortunate to play again.
But his seven-and-a-half years at McDairmid Park ended in controversy. George has one big regret in life. During a Christmas party he got involved in some ill-judged drug antics with team mate Kevin Thomas in a Perth bar.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted to leave the club,” he adds. “It wasn’t the way the club wanted it. I don’t hide away from it. It’s something I regret. Looking back, I should have done things differently, but I was in a dark place at the time. I was in rehab, coming back from a cruciate ligament injury.
“It’s like everything else. You live by the sword and you die by the sword. My contract was up, so I was left without a club. Fortunately, Raith Rovers offered me the chance to complete my rehab. I was there for three or four months.
“I signed a short-term contract. But I was plagued by little niggling injuries. I knew I was struggling. I moved to Queen of the South. Realistically, I had almost a dozen operations, four of them major. I was probably out for a total of four years, so it was bound to take its toll.”
He is now back on familiar home soil – since 2010. He has his own oven cleaning business and is joint manager of Lisburn Distillery, along with Colin McIlwaine.
“It’s a shame to see a club with such great tradition where it is, but it’s our ambition to get them back up the leagues again. It will not be for the lack of trying.”
Did you know? . . .
George won 13 Northern Ireland international caps over a four-year period, mostly under manager Bryan Hamilton. His only goal for his country came in a 1-1 draw with Germany at Windsor Park.
He made his international debut on Northern Ireland’s Tour or America, along with Neil Lennon with Colombia providing the opposition. He then started against Mexico.
George returned to his Irish League roots at the latter stages of his career. He joined Glenavon, jetting in from Scotland on a weekly basis, before spending a short time at Ards.
He returned to Scotland in 2004, joining Bo’ness United before taking of coaching roles with Keilty Hearts and Carnoustie Panmure. George is the current holder of a UEFA B Licence.
George played for St Johnstone in the 1998 Scottish League Final only to be beaten 2-1 by Rangers.