Like most people in Irish League footballing circles, the entire team here at That Football Daily was saddened to hear about the passing of former Irish League player Paul Straney last week at the age of just 42. Paul was a promising goalkeeper from an early age and was at one stage on the books of Stoke City and was also capped by Northern Ireland at youth international level. In Irish League football Paul played for Glentoran, Glenavon (where he played in an Irish Cup Final) and Newry, he was also a GAA player and represented Down Minors but it’s at Solitude where Paul is most fondly remembered following his seven-year spell with Cliftonville and the Red Army still regarded him as one of their own.
Paul signed for Cliftonville in 2001 and after making his debut in the European competition the Intertoto Cup he would go onto make 179 appearances for the club becoming a huge fan favourite. He was a key player in the clubs 2002/03 League Cup win as he made some crucial saves when the Reds seen of their arch-rivals Crusaders on penalties in the semi-final before going onto overcome Larne in the final, it was the first time in their history that Cliftonville won the competition. He was also a goal scoring keeper as he scored from a long-range kick in a crucial promotion/relegation play-off game against Armagh in the 2003/04 season. Paul was regarded as a true character in Irish League circles and due to the opposition supporters being housed behind one of the goals at Solitude was often the subject to much ‘banter’ with supporters but Paul took most of this on the chin and often gave back as good as he got, he was also known for donning black war paint under his eyes when he played on occasions as he believed it would keep the glare from the sunlight or floodlights out of his eyes but also intimidated opposition strikers. Paul eventually lost the number one shirt at Solitude to John Connolly but did receive a League Cup Runners-up medal in his final season with the club before eventually deciding to move onto pastures new.
After leaving Cliftonville Paul dropped down a few divisions and joined his local side Downpatrick and helped them win the Premier Division of the Amateur League for the 2007/08 season and was also part of the Downpatrick side that made it to the last 16 of the Irish Cup that same season. In the last sixteen Downpatrick where drawn to travel to Ronnie McFall’s Portadown team. At the time the Ports were still ranked amongst the top sides in the Premiership and before the game the only question on most people’s minds was how many would the Ports win by but Paul clearly hadn’t read the script and produced a string of superb saves throughout the afternoon to prove he could still perform against some of the best, unfortunately with the score tied at 1-1 and only minutes to go Portadown did find a way past Paul to take the tie but Paul and his teammates received a standing ovation leaving the pitch.
After hanging up his boots, or more appropriately gloves, Paul continued his involvement in football, firstly he took over the management of Downpatrick alongside his brother David and together they led the club to a Steel and Sons Cup final in the 2009/10 but they lost out on the Christmas morning final to Kilmore Rec. Paul then returned to Solitude as a Goalkeeping Coach and was a key part of Tommy Breslin’s playing and coaching team that won back to back league titles in 2012/13 and 2013/14 as well as further success in the League Cup, Cliftonville’s backline and goalkeeper were considered a key part in these ‘glory years’ proving what a valuable asset Paul was. At the beginning of this season, Paul teamed up with his brother David again at Kilmore Rec and was still coaching at the club until his passing last week.
Since the shock news of Paul’s death last week tributes have come in from not only Cliftonville but from players, managers, coaches and supporters from many clubs within the Irish League showing just what a popular character Paul was. Cliftonville Chairman, Gerard Lawlor, led the way describing Paul as not only a ‘top goalkeeper’ but also a ‘true character and great human being’.
Paul will be sorely missed by all who knew him in football but no more so than his partner, sisters, brother and grandmother as well as his wider family circle and friends.
On behalf of everyone at That Football Daily, we’d like to pass our condolences onto Paul’s family and friends at this difficult time.