The Original Crusader

By Bryan Hutchinson

As this season’s Setanta Sports Cup draws to a close, Crusaders were the final side left representing the IFA Carling Premiership. The North Belfast club have a long history of ‘importing’ talented footballers from across the border, from the mid 80s right through to early part of this century, there have been a multitude of Southerners gracing the red and black shirt.

Marty Murray before the 1997 season

From Leo Flanagan and Damian Byrne in the late 80s, through to Roddy Collins, Liam Dunne, Aaron Callaghan, John Cleary, Peter Eccles, Derek Carroll and Mick Deegan, who still remains the only player to win an All Ireland Senior Football title and Irish League Championship in the same season, when the Crues 3rd title success was matched by Dublin’s Sam Maguire triumph as they beat Tyrone by 1-10 to 0-12.

However the next Dubliner was the very first signed by Roy Walker, and to many, he was the best of them all. Martin Patrick Murray joined Crusaders in July 1991 after a spell with Dublin junior side Ashtown Villa. But his career up to that point had been largely spent in senior football, with Home Farm, Drogheda United and Dundalk, but also included a spell at English club Everton under Northern Ireland great Billy Bingham.

A young Murray preparing for international duty in the late 70s

In 1975, at the tender age of just 16, Martin scored on his debut for Home Farm in a 3-2 defeat to Finn Harps, and later that season became the youngest player to win an FAI Cup medal as Home Farm defeated Shelbourne 1-0 at Dalymount Park. Still only 16, he played in both legs of Home Farms European Cup Winners Cup tie against French side Lens. In December came that move to Everton.

In 1978 Martin returned to Home Farm for a spell. After one particular game, he collapsed and was found to have a faulty heart valve. This didn’t stop him returning to Everton however, and he would spend a further two years with the Goodison Park club. He was very unlucky with injury during this time though, and ruptured his cruciate ligaments in a reserve game against Leeds at Elland Road. This, combined with continued heart problems led to his return home for good and by December of 1980 he signed for Drogheda United.

In his four years at Drogheda, Martin helped the Boynesiders to a second place finish in 1982/83 and an FAI Cup win in 1984. Martin was also recognised by his peers as the PFAI Player of the Year in 1983. Drogheda’s near neighbours Dundalk soon came calling, and Martin made the move to Oriel Park in the summer of 1984. His honours list continued to grow in Dundalk as they were league and cup winners in 1988, and also finished runners up in the league on two more occasions, and the cup on one occasion.

In 1990 as Marty crept into his 30s, he decided to take a step down into junior football with Ashtown Villa, a side familiar to some Crues fans as the clubs locked horns in a few friendly games. Villa incidentally are no longer in existence having been amalgamated with fellow junior side Kinvara Ards in 2006 and are now known as Phoenix FC. Following this short spell the lure of senior football was too strong as St. Patrick’s Athletic came calling, and he spent the final six months of the season in Inichcore. The summer months though would bring a move to Crusaders and the rest, as they say, is history.

Martin’s move North came through the knowledge and persuasion of Tony O’Connell, and he became the first of many southern based players who would have a huge influence over the unprecedented success achieved by Roy Walkers side during those halcyon days on the Shore Road.

Martin’s medal haul in red and black tallied up to an Ulster Cup, a Gold Cup, a League Cup and never to be forgotten, two league championships. On top of that were the European jaunts as Switzerland, Denmark and Latvia were taken over by the travelling Crues fans. After 265 appearances for the club and 18 goals Martin called it a day and was honoured with a testimonial game versus a Linfield team who he always enjoyed battling it out against, often coming out on the winning side.

Martin Murray with the 1996 Gold Cup after a 1-0 win over Linfield

That summer seen the departure of Roy Walker, and Martin then took up the position of assistant manager in new Crusaders boss Aaron Callaghan’s backroom staff. His influence helped the Crues to another successful season, when having not won in their first five games, the Crues would go on to finish 3rd in the league and looked set for another good push the following season.

Callaghan however would also depart the club, and Murray this time would step up to take the reins as his first managerial post. Financial constraints were beginning to take effect on the football club, and despite the arrival of more talented southern players including Martin Reilly, Glen Wade, and Peter Murray, the Crues finished 7th in the ten-team league.

Further budget cuts led Murray to make the move back to Dundalk as manager, where he enjoyed further success by winning the First Division to secure promotion back to the League of Ireland Premier Division, and that was followed by another FAI Cup win for the Lilywhites, their first since Murray was pulling the strings in their midfield in 1988.

Murray retains a strong interest in the club, and although his work doesn’t allow for too many trips north he keeps a close eye on the website to keep himself up to date with all things Crusaders.

Everyone who watched him will have their own memories of Martin, from such a low key debut for the club (he lasted six minutes before succumbing to a calf injury), to becoming one of the most influential figures in any Irish League midfield. I will always remember Marty by the fitting description bestowed upon him by long term contributor to the programme, the astute Joe Thompson.

Simply; The Maestro.


One Comment on “The Original Crusader”

  1. RobbieOR says:

    Excellent article Bryan

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