Crusaders pay tribute to Irish League 'legend' Paul Heatley after retirement confirmed

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Crusaders have paid tribute to Irish League “legend” Paul Heatley after the winger announced his retirement following a successful 12-year spell at the club.

Heatley, who played 486 times and scored 214 goals for the North Belfast outfit, had signalled his intention earlier this year that the 2023/24 campaign would be his last and having won three Premiership titles, three Irish Cup crowns and two County Antrim Shields, that decision has now been finalised.

The 36-year-old is undoubtedly a modern-day great and played a pivotal role at Seaview after arriving from Carrick Rangers in 2012.

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He was named both NIFWA Player of the Year and Ulster Footballer of the Year during the 2014/15 season and alongside his superb goalscoring return, Heatley also provided 138 assists during a golden period for Crusaders.

Paul Heatley celebrates with the Gibson cup after Crusaders' success in 2016. PIC: Presseye/Stephen HamiltonPaul Heatley celebrates with the Gibson cup after Crusaders' success in 2016. PIC: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton
Paul Heatley celebrates with the Gibson cup after Crusaders' success in 2016. PIC: Presseye/Stephen Hamilton

It wasn’t just the Irish League where Heatley made his mark, but also in Europe, playing 30 times across competitions and he scored twice in Lithuania as the Crues beat Ekranas (2014) to secure a maiden European victory over two legs.

"It was with a heavy heart that Crusaders Football Club have accepted Paul Heatley’s decision to retire from football,” Crusaders posted on their website. “The tricky winger has tortured defences all round Europe in the 12 years at the Club and he will be remembered for his spectacular goals, super performances, his tenacity, his bubbly personality and rapport with Crusaders fans.

"Paul’s stats speak for themselves with 486 games played scoring 214 goals in that time...Paul’s performances over the years helped Crusaders to many successes and he certainly was a player who everyone would have taken for their team in a heartbeat.

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"Paul never shirked a tackle or a challenge in his time and would often leave an opponent in his wake as he drove forwards to goal. It wasn't all about goals for Paul either and he assisted in 138 goals for his teammates and again that is some record for the winger.

"Off the pitch he was a great Club ambassador and had time for supporters, media and anything that was asked of the man which made him the approachable and likeable individual he was.

“Paul won three Premiership medals, three Irish Cups, two Co.Antrim Shields and one Charity Shield. He was also named Ulster Footballer of the Year 2014-15 and Northern Ireland Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year 2014-2015.

"Paul also won numerous Player of the Month awards, was named in the Premiership Team of the Year several times and collected many Player of the Season trophies from Crusaders Supporters Clubs over the years also.

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“We would like to offer Paul our best wishes on his retirement and with it a massive thank you for everything you have done for the Club. Enjoy your time with your wife and young family going forward and do not be a stranger at Seaview in the future.

“You are a legend Heats and you will be remembered fondly in such a positive way.”

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