Old friendships help next generation

Pat McGibbon (second right) with special guest Roy Keane (second left) and representatives from Santander during a cheque presentation.
Pat McGibbon (second right) with special guest Roy Keane (second left) and representatives from Santander during a cheque presentation.

The support of old friends has helped former Northern Ireland international Pat McGibbon provide new opportunities to a next generation of young football talent in the borough.

McGibbon spent over a decade across the water in professional football before returning to his roots in 2002 and signing for Portadown.

The centre-back, now in his third spell at Shamrock Park thanks to the role of club physiotherapist, first arrived at Manchester United from the Ports in the 1990s as a raw teenager.

His full-time career included international recognition and almost 200 appearances for Wigan Athletic after a foundation at United.

Friendships established down the decades helped McGibbon generate thousands last week towards his modern passion of grassroots development.

An appearance in the area by former United and Republic of Ireland captain Roy Keane - a team-mate of McGibbon’s at Old Trafford - was the main attraction to the fundraiser in The Armagh City Hotel which attracted backing from over 500 people.

Items donated by Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg, United ace Paul Scholes and international goalkeeper Roy Carroll confirmed McGibbon’s standing in the game and a desire within the football family to support the development of future players.

McGibbon’s Craigavon-based Train To Be Smart TTBS Juniors charity was founded to provide football coaching and health education for young people.

Now that project can reap long-term rewards from an event which generated over £7,000 from an auction of sporting memorabilia.

“It says so much about Roy that he paid for his own flight and refused to take an appearance fee,” said McGibbon. “The generosity of so many people helped to make the night a success and it could not have gone any better.

“Roy was happy to chat to guests and sign autographs on the night, plus spent time with the children the following day in Craigavon.

“People were so generous in donating items for the auction, including a top worn by Harry Gregg during Northern Ireland’s World Cup in 1958.

“That same generosity was evident from everyone, including the staff at The Armagh City Hotel, volunteers connected to TTBS Juniors and representatives from the education community.

“Nothing was too much trouble for Liam Beckett or Watt Nicoll as part of the entertainment and, of course, the public really turned out in huge numbers to back the whole night.

“We started out about two-and-a-half years ago with 26 kids and now have around 200, which is just about the right number for our coaching staff.

“The night really helped to raise the profile of the club and what we are trying to achieve, plus the financial benefits will allow us continue our progress.”