George O’Boyle: From the Shankill to Bordeaux and Back Again

Northern Ireland

If ever there was an example of not giving up on your dreams it’s the career of George O’Boyle, O’Boyle thought his chances of playing professional football were over when he was released as an 18-year-old but after impressing locally in the Irish League he was given a second bite of the cherry and went on to play professionally in France and Scotland, as well as representing his country.

As a young player O’Boyle was at Manchester City at the same time as current Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill but unfortunately, at 18 years of age he received the devastating news that many young players receive, that he was being released by the club. O’Boyle returned home to his native Belfast thinking his career in football was over but while many players would, and have, drifted out of football, O’Boyle refused to be beaten and signed for Irish League side Distillery in November 1985. At the time spirits were high at the Whites as they had just won their first trophy in 14 years, beating Ballymena 3-1 in the County Antrim Shield final. The Whites fared less well in the league though and finished mid-table but O’Boyle played 25 appearances for the club and scored 3 goals which was enough to earn him a move to Linfield for the 1986/87 season. O’Boyle established himself as a key player at the South Belfast side and made 22 league appearances that season and scored 12 goals as Roy Coyle’s side secured their sixth consecutive league title and O’Boyle was soon attracting interest from across the water.

During his time playing in the Irish League O’Boyle has a trial with English side Chelsea but it was eventually French side Bordeaux who signed O’Boyle and brought him back into professional football, Bordeaux, of course, being the side were future World Cup, Champions League winner and World Player of the Year, Zinedine Zidane would later ply his trade. At this time Bordeaux were one of the top sides in France having won the league title and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup the season before O’Boyle arrived. O’Boyle’s spell in France didn’t produce many appearances but the experience was no doubt invaluable and stood him in good stead for his future career, during his two year spell with the French side he returned to Linfield on loan and made a further 24 league appearances and scored nine goals as he helped the Blues win another league title.

O’Boyle left Bordeaux and was transferred to Scottish side Dunfermline Athletic for the 1989-90 season, the transfer fee was £200,000. O’Boyle spent the next 5 years with Dunfermline and made 95 league appearances and scored 29 goals, not a bad return. In his first season with The Pars, they won the First Division league title and promotion to the Scottish Premier League (SPL) but they were subsequently relegated two years later. While at Dunfermline, O’Boyle received his first senior international cap, when Bryan Hamilton brought him on as a substitute against Columbia.

In September 1994, O’Boyle was on the move once more when he signed for recently relegated St Johnstone, eventually, a tribunal ruled that the Perth side would have to pay £250,000 for the players services. O’Boyle enjoyed possibly the best years of his career at St Johnstone as he proved to be a fairly prolific scorer for the side and got his hands on some silverware. In his first season with the club they finished 5th in the First Division but they did reach the quarter-finals of the League Cup and O’Boyle was top scorer with 19 goals. O’Boyle increased his scoring tally the following season as he top scored again with 21 goals and was named the Scottish First Division Player of the Year, and the following season he was part of the Saints side that comfortably won promotion to the SPL. In the Saints first season in the SPL, they surprised many as they finished 5th in the table and O’Boyle continued to find the back of the net regularly, as he returned to the top of the Saints’ scoring charts with 10 goals. Unfortunately, O’Boyle’s later years at the club were plagued by injuries but he did play for most of the 1998 Scottish League Cup final as the Saints were beaten 2-1 by Rangers.

O’Boyle was a big favourite with the fans but sadly he left the club under a cloud when he was sacked in 2001, following a highly published incident at the clubs Christmas party, he had made 146 league appearances for the club and scored 64 goals. He went onto continue his career with other clubs in Scotland and returned to Northern Ireland for spells with Ards and Glenavon before retiring from football in 2008.

In total O’Boyle also made 13 full international appearances for Northern Ireland, despite being named in many squads he could never nail down a regular place in the side, and scored his one and only international goal against Germany. O’Boyle has described his international goal as the best moment of his career and I’m sure scoring that goal was a far cry from being released by Man City as a youngster.

After retiring from playing O’Boyle took a break from football and returned to the Shankill Road, where he had grown up in Belfast, and set up his own oven cleaning business but eventually the call to return to football proved too great and in 2015 O’Boyle joined Shankill based outfit Albert Foundry as assistant manager to Colin MacIlwaine. In 2015-16 Foundry finished 5th in the Premier Division of the amateur league but they did reach the Steel and Sons Cup final, losing out to Championship side Harland and Wolff Welders on penalties and in the summer of 2016 O’Boyle and MacIlwaine moved onto one of O’Boyle’s former clubs, as they took over the reins at Lisburn Distillery, who had just been relegated to the Premier Intermediate League for the first time in their history.

The Whites had been few a difficult few years having suffered two relegations in four seasons but O’Boyle spoke fondly of his playing time with the club upon his appointment and said he was looking forward to hopefully giving something back to the club that had given him his opportunity to return to football after being let go by Man City. In their first season at the club ‘Mac’ and George led the club to a 9th place finish, respectable enough considering they had to assemble a brand new playing squad from scratch. The Whites are currently sitting top of the PIL table this season and have recently been drawn at home to Premier Division leaders Coleraine in the Irish Cup and are still in the Intermediate Cup, here’s hoping Mac and George can continue to work their magic and give Whites fans something to cheer this season.