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Jim Cleary

Few Fermanagh-born players have made it at the highest level of football. Jimmy Cleary is a notable exception, he won every honour the local game had to offer and went to the 1982 World Cup Finals...

Name: James Cleary
Born: 27 May 1956, Enniskillen
Position: Midfield

Representative Honours: Northern Ireland: 5 Full Caps (1982-1984), Youth Caps; Irish League: 7 Caps / 2 Goals (1978-1987).
Club Honours: (with Enniskillen Rangers) Fermanagh & Western League Champion 1972/73; (with Portadown) Irish Cup Runner-Up 1978/79; Gold Cup Winner 1978/79; (with Glentoran) Irish League Champion 1980/81, 1987/88; Irish Cup Winner 1982/83, 1984/85, 1985/86, 1986/87, 1987/88; Irish League Cup Winner 1988/89; Gold Cup Winner 1982/83, 1986/87, Runner-Up 1983/84; Ulster Cup Winner 1981/82, 1982/83, 1983/84, 1988/89; Co. Antrim Shield Winner 1986/87, Runner-Up 1980/81, 1988/89; Irish League Floodlit Cup Winner 1987/88; Co. Antrim Chalice Winner 1987/88.
Awards: Ulster Footballer of the Year 1983; Northern Ireland PFA Player of the Year 1984.

Club Career:
FA Cup
FL Cup
Enniskillen Rangers
* all domestic games.

Jim Cleary’s career began with Enniskillen Rangers in the Fermanagh & Western League, where he won the Mercer Cup (League title) in 1973. The following year he was a member of the Northern Ireland Youth team that won the final Youth Home International championship. Suitably impressed, Portadown signed the eighteen year-old Cleary as they attempted to recover from some near-misses in the early-seventies. Portadown failed to build on their promise, and the seventies brought just a Gold Cup success, an Irish Cup final appearance, and mid-table obscurity. Cleary however shone through, and won the first of seven Inter-League caps in a 1-1 draw with the Scottish League in 1978.

In August 1980 a move to Glentoran was to change the whole complexion of Cleary’s career. In his first season at the Oval he picked up a Champion’s medal, with the Glens unbeaten in their League campaign. The 1981/82 season brought an Ulster Cup winner’s medal, 24 goals, and an international call-up.

Billy Bingham clearly hadn't missed Cleary’s impact on the Irish League, and awarded him his debut in a Home Nations game with Scotland in April 1982. He impressed in a 1-1 draw with Scotland in front of 15,000 people at Windsor Park, and held on to his place for the game with Wales the following month. Although the Welsh ran out 3-1 winners, in what was a disappointing team performance, Cleary had done enough to earn his place in the 1982 World Cup Finals squad. He was one of four Irish League players to make the final twenty-two along with Glentoran Team mate Johnny Jameson and Coleraine’s Felix Healy and Linfield’s ‘keeper, George Dunlop. As it was, only Healy made it on to the pitch in Spain, but Cleary regarded the tournament as a great experience.

Back from the World Cup, Cleary was in outstanding form. He was named Ulster Footballer of the Year in 1983, helped Glentoran to Ulster Cup and Gold Cup successes, with his season only slightly tempered by a sending-off in the Irish Cup Final replay victory over Linfield for a "mistimed" tackle. The following season Cleary was appointed Glentoran’s captain and the led the club to another Ulster Cup success. He also retained his place in the Northern Ireland squad that won the final British Championship tournament, though he didn't play in any of the matches.

Cleary won his final cap in a 3-0 defeat of Israel early in the 1984/85 season. He was a key player in an otherwise largely inexperienced Northern Ireland team that ran-out 3-0 winners. That season he also captained Glentoran to the first of four consecutive Irish Cup successes, a record. By 1987/88 Cleary was widely regarded as the most influential player in the Irish League, and Glentoran finally broke Linfield’s six-year hold on the Gibson Cup. He also slotted home a last-minute penalty in the Irish Cup Final against Glenavon as the Double was completed.
(courtesy of Roy Cathcart)

In 1989 came the shock of Cleary announcing his retirement at the age of just 32. He had won at least one trophy in each of his nine seasons at the Oval, and had scored an impressive 144 goals in 409 games. In the following few years he rejected a number of offers of a return to the Irish League. He has since worked as a coach, and continued to show his mercurial footballing skills into his late-forties for Belfast-based Cromac Albion Old Boys. He also had the pleasure of watching his son Andrew playing for Northern Ireland at Youth level.

Northern Ireland Cap Details:
28-04-1982 Scotland H D 1-1 BIC
27-05-1982 Wales... A L 0-3 BIC
31-05-1983 Wales... H L 0-1 BIC sub
12-10-1983 Turkey.. A L 0-1 ECQ sub
16-10-1984 Israel.. H W 3-0 FR

Summary: 3(2)/0. Won 1, Drew 1, Lost 3.

𝗝𝗶𝗺 𝗖𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗿𝘆 Born in Enniskillen on 27 May 1956, Jim Cleary’s football career began with Enniskillen Rangers in the...

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