Proud moment for Jim on Belfast return

YOU can take the boy out Belfast, but as Jim Magilton demonstrates, you can't take Belfast out of the boy and football writer Derek Davis is with the Ipswich Town manager as he proudly shows off his promotion-chasing squad to the Northern Ireland believers, hoping his players can absorb something of the Belfast spirit.

YOU can take the boy out Belfast, but as Jim Magilton demonstrates, you can't take Belfast out of the boy and football writer Derek Davis is with the Ipswich Town manager as he proudly shows off his promotion-chasing squad to the Northern Ireland believers, hoping his players can absorb something of the Belfast spirit.

VIRILTER Age - act manfully - is the motto of Jim Magilton's old school and a message his Ipswich side will do well to adopt in their quest to reach the Premiership.

Magilton went to St Mary's Christian Brothers Grammar School in the predominately nationalist area of West Belfast, where high profile politicians such as Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and Joe Devlin are also former pupils, along with Dr Martin McAleese, the husband of Republic of Ireland president Mary McAleese and many other high-profile Irish folk.

Hurling and other GAA sports dominated and the school did not allow soccer on its hallowed grounds until 2002, years after Magilton had left.

That didn't stop him and he came through to win 52 caps and captained his country while playing in the top flight of the English league with Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town.

The gritty capital of Ulster has a unique spirit of its own borne out of its working class roots so typical of dockyard cities and Harland & Wolff still looms large in the lives of Belfast people.

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Even with the new investment brought in following the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Belfast is a tough place to be brought up in and although 'The Troubles' are largely a thing of the past, religious divides can still explode into violence as events during the Orange Parades over the last weekend have shown.

But there is an honesty, work ethic and passion ingrained into the Belfast psyche, and Magilton epitomises that.

It is this quintessential character that he hopes his players can benefit from during the week-long stay where the trip is more than about just playing three games of football.

Magilton said: “I love the place. I want the players to feel the spirit it has and take that on board.

“Belfast is a fantastic city steeped in sporting tradition. They know their football and will be a knowledgeable crowd who hate losing.

“Most of these lads we play are semi-pro but they take it so serious it is frightening. Our lads will soon understand what it means for them and the hunger and desire they have.

“The Irish league has gone into a real professional era with the coaches and managers conscientious and doing things properly. They are all pro-licence qualified and top class people.

“We will take the opportunity to pick their brains and go to various universities.”

With games tonight, Thursday and Saturday, there will be some time in between to explore in depth the city and its character and partake in some team bonding while meeting those Blues fans in the province.

Magilton said: “It will be about enjoying it and working hard at the same time.”

“We are going to play competitive games and I know just how competitive they will be.

“We will have a couple of nights when we have a few bonding sessions. We will lay down the ground rules for next year and get the attitude spot on.”

The Blues start their mini-campaign at Cliftonville's Solitude ground tonight, with the North Belfast club gearing up for the first leg of their UEFA Cup qualifying round tie against FC Copenhagen on Thursday.

Magilton said: “Cliftonville will also be looking to avoid injuries with a big cup match a few days later.

“But it is a game I wanted us to play. Eddie Patterson is a very good manager who was unlucky last year not to push on further. It is fantastic club with great tradition and it is credit to them that they will play us just a few days before the UEFA Cup.”

Among the Town squad is 20-year-old Belfast boy Chris Casement who has represented his country at Under 21 level and is looking to break into the Town first team - something Magilton is confident he can do.

Magilton said: “Chris is having a very good pre-season and this is a big year for him.

“His fitness levels have improved massively and we feel he has all the attributes to be a good player.

“We need competition and Chris needs to show he is desperate to play and kick on.”

No doubt he will 'act manfully' and be proud to show his team-mates what Belfast is all about.

derek.davis@archant.co.uk