WEEKLY FOOTBALL COLUMN: Liam Beckett talks

James McLaughlin.
James McLaughlin.

It has proved popular in the past, so once again it’s time for me to offer up my choice for mid-term team of the season.

It’s always a certainty to get a good debate going and it’s also a good reason for some armchaor pundits to raise a few eyebrows.

Only last week I was stopped in the street and asked would a certain player be in my Christmas ‘Team of the Season’.

So it’s always good to know that football fans around the country are ready and waiting to either agree or disagree with my selection.

As I always say, football is a game of opinions, so fasten your seatbelts and hold on tight – here goes with LB’s choice in a 4-4-2 formation.

Goalkeeper – Sean O’NeilL –

Crusaders

This was a really a tough call , not for the fact that several goalies have been superb this season but rather the opposite.

I’ve struggled to find any who have been consistently very good. Even the very top ones have had more than their fair share of uncomfortable moments to date.

Michael Doherty (Coleraine) has been good as has Ross Glendinning (Linfield) and Jonny Tuffey (Glenavon) when I’ve watched them, but it’s the Crues custodian who gets the nod at this stage of the season.

Right Back – Tomas Cosgrove – Cliftonville

Again, a very tough call. Billy Joe Burns has been really impressive, and young Lyndon Kane at Coleraine looks a real star of the future.

But for sheer quality, both in defence and going forward, it has to be young Cosgrove – this lad just oozes class.

Centre back – Colin Coates – Crusaders

Just always ‘does what it says on the tin’, defends in a ruthless and no-nonsense manne.

On the ground or in the air Coates is a colossus, and he’s also an inspirational leader of men . So therefore he’s also my skipper.

Centre Back – Steven Douglas – Coleraine

I’ve known and admired this lad for a long number of years , but to date this season he has rolled back many of those years and has so far had one of his best seasons ever.

When I’ve watched him and spoken with others who’ve watched him every week he has been Coleraine’s most consistent player since the first game of the season.

Well done, Scotty, you are in there on merit my friend.

Left Back – Levi Ives –

Cliftonville

Whilst I unashamedly admit to being a big fan of Crusaders left-back Craig McClean – he is Mr Consistency – I’ve got to hold my hands up and also admit that I’ve been really blown away by this Cliftonville new kid on the block Levi Ives.

This lad has the lot, great defensive qualities and bags of skill when he pushes forward into the opposing half, what a talent, what a future.

Right Midfield – Chris Curran –

Cliftonville

Now free from injury and back to the form which he is very capable of.

Possesses seemingly endless energy in every game and is very direct with the ball at his feet.

On current form he’d give any defender in the league a torrid time and has impressed me every time I’ve watched him this season.

Centre midfield –

Andy Kilmartin – Glenavon

Now playing the best football of his career in my opinion and has been simply superb so far this season.

I covered the Coleraine v Glenavon game for BBC Radio Ulster on Saturday past and for me Andy was the best player on the pitch.

Great ball winner and can use it when he gets it. Plays with passion and he’ll give me that presence that every good team needs.

Centre Midfield –

David Cushley –

Ballymena United

Always a threat to any defence in any game, this lad has that X-Factor which all matchwinners need.

More than capable of punishing any team with his ability to strike a ball with tremendous velocity on his left foot.

It’s little wonder this lad is hot property at this very minute in time , and of course he would have a licence to roam while Kilmartin sits tight.

Left Midfield – Paul Heatley – Crusaders

This lad has just continued on this season from where he left off last season – torturing defences week in, week out.

Virtually unplayable (particularly with hard tackling almost gone from our game) on his day.

Scores goals, creates goals and is unquestionably every defender’s nightmare . Every time he gets the ball he puts people on the edge of their seats and that’s exactly what our game needs.

My one and only criticism of Paul is that sometimes he tends to go down far too easily and I’d like to see him try and eradicate that from his game.

Striker – Jordan Owens –

Crusaders

Scored 12 goals so far this season and for me is a step back in time to what the traditional big bustling centre forwards of my era used to be like.

Never gives the centre half a minute’s peace, physically very strong but also surprisingly skilful for such a big lad. He also never leaves a football pitch with an ounce of energy left in the tank, always gives his all for the team – a manager’s dream.

Striker – James McLaughlin – Coleraine

Without doubt the find of the season. Living locally I was well aware of Jimmy’s undoubted talent, but he’d had a few knock-backs at other clubs earlier in his career and had basically given up all hope of getting a proper chance at senior level, subsequently he had let his fitness levels drop.

But fair play to Coleraine, they decided to do what other clubs had failed to, and that was to get him fit and stick him in the team for a prolonged period of time, and then stand by him.

Coleraine did just that and James has repaid their faith big time by banging in 14 goals to date which has helped propel the Bannsiders up to third spot in the table. James has some of the best technical ability I’ve seen in a striker for a long time and his ball striking is sublime, so therefore this lad takes his place on my team once again, and just like all the rest, on merit alone.

Manager – Stephen Baxter –

Crusaders

Has his team exactly where every other manager worth their salt would want their team to be, top of the league at Christmas.

Having won the league title last season it’s always a helluva challenge to replicate that success the following year again, but at this minute in time and with hand on heart I can honestly see the Crues doing just that once again this time around.

I know the big lad will hate me for saying this as very often it can and does tempt fate, but I’m being perfectly realistic and honest when I say this fella Baxter is currently the best manager in the Irish League. Gerard Lyttle (Cliftonville) , for the short time he’s been in the job, has been exceptional, and Oran Kearney deserves a mention.

So there you have it – does anyone out there agree with my selection? Answers on a postcard please.

No players from Linfield or Glentoran?

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d pick an Irish League team without one person from either of these two.