From 1997 – It is an undisputable fact that “Town” has one of the finest youth setups in Northern Ireland and it is therefore somewhat surprising that only one of the multi-talented youngsters who have come up through the ranks has progressed to Irish League / League of Ireland standard.
That more players have not made the transition can be attributed to a variety of factors which include their physical development, temperament, personality, attitudes to academic study and sport, reaction to different types of discipline, parental support, the development of other interests, etc.
The only player who has made the transition is Gary Beckett, now with Derry City, and his precocious talent and know how was in evidence from the word go. Gary caused his first sensation when his goal scoring ability helped St Michaels College to their historic BHS senior cup success in 1988. Thereafter his talents were nurtured in the relative tranquillity of the Colts. By the end of the 1989-90 season he was a regular on the reserves and his goals helped them to a first ever success in the Reihill Cup.
The following season his continued impressive form saw him elevated to the first team and he finished the term as the team’s leading goal scorer with 19 league goals. In the 1991-1992 season, he scored 38 league goals to set up a club record that still holds good today and seems unlikely ever to be surpassed. He gave a full season’s notice of his intention to take his talents into the Irish League with Omagh Town and in his final season he scored 35 league goals. In total he scored 92 league goals in 3 seasons and no “Town” player, with the possible exception of Jack Love, has demonstrated a more ruthless aptitude for scoring goals in large numbers and at regular intervals than Gary. His goal scoring feats deservedly won him the young player of the year award on three consecutive occasions and he was also an almost unanimous choice as the ‘A’ team player of the year in 1992-93 season.
But there was more to Gary and his value to “Town” than mere statistics. The powerful shot, the sudden and destructive page, the strength which made him so hard to dispossess and his phenomenal work-rate were all well known. Less appreciated, perhaps, were his splendid ball control, neat distribution and an agile football brain which might have made him effective in a deep lying role.
Goal scoring though was his golden gift and he employed it to the full. Never afraid to miss, Gary scored spectacular goals and simple goals, those that he blasted into the net and those that he stroked pass the keeper. His goals, so often the product of sheer virtuosity, evoked wonderful and lasting memories. Personal highlights were his hat-trick in the 1993 top four final against Dergview, his 6 goal hauls against Lisnaskea Rovers in December 1991 and Tummery Athletic in February 1993.
Wherever his has played, at whatever level, Gary has scored freely although his goal scoring rate in the Irish League / League of Ireland has not been as formidable. However his own more than respectable tallies have been augmented by the numerous “assists” he has contributed to team-mates and by a capacity for work which seems to grow as he gets older.
His achievements last season which included being named the Open Soccer Writers’ Player of the Month for December and the FAI National League’s Young Player of the year have brought him great acclamation and it is tempting to wonder just what “Town” might have achieved had he remained. For three years he was their outstanding player and as he grew in experience his influence on the team increased and it is difficult to put into words just how great an impact he made.
He is unquestionably one of the most pivotal figures in “Town’s” history and an inspiration to all underage players who harbour ambitions of greatness. Gary created a formidable standard and if others can meet it they will be great players indeed.
Who were the biggest influences on your career?
When I was growing up it was always Wee Paul and Wee Scone who were always looking for me to play at a higher level. As I got older and began playing for the first team it was Busty and Tabs. Now it is Felix Healey who is the biggest influence – the man knows his stuff.
Who were your most difficult opponents?
Dominic Baxter of Shelbourne and Glenn Dunlop of Crusaders were always hard to get past. The played for teams who were always hard to beat.
What were the best matches you were involved in?
“Town” v Dergview in the 1993 Top Four final. I scored a hat-trick in our 3-2 win. Coleraine v Distillery, in which I scored my first hat-trick in Senior Football. Derry City v St Patrick’s Athletic when we clinched last season’s League of Ireland Title.
What was your biggest thrill in the game?
Winning the League of Ireland with Derry City has to be my biggest thrill in the game so far.
What were your biggest disappointments in the game?
Being relegated with Coleraine and thus missing out on playing in the Irish League Premier Division. Not winning the Mercer League with “Town” and missing out on the Junior Cup success in 1994. Losing last season’s F.A.I Cup final was also a major disappointment.
Have you ever been booked or sent off?
I have been booked many times but I have never been sent off.
What are your favourite grounds?
My favourite grounds would have to be the Brandywell and of course, Celtic Park.
Who are your favourite “Town” players of the past?
Tabs who is an inspiration to any young “Town” player – he always kept us going no matter how bad we were playing. He was a great player and a great leader. Brendan Lyons who always seemed so calm. He had a touch of class and an ability to read the game so well.
Which present players do you most admire?
Liam Coyle of Derry City – the quality of the man is unbelievable. Barry Corrigan who was undoubtedly the finest underage player of his generation and Shane McCabe who has great potential and can have a great future.
What were the biggest goals you have ever scored?
For “Town” my only ever left foot volley against Dergview in the 1993 Top Four final. For Derry City a half volley which enabled us to draw against Shamrock Rovers and remain at the top of the league.
What other sports do you enjoy?
I enjoy golf, snooker and tennis. I used to like playing squash until I met Big Scone.
What are your hopes for next season?
To win every trophy I can win with Derry City. I also hope that my involvement in training and coaching the first team can bring further success to the “Town”.
What are your long-term ambitions?
To keep playing at the top level of Irish Football and win League Championships and cups with Derry City. I would also like to sign professionally across the water – that would be dream for any footballer.