THERE needs to be a sense of togetherness for any team to achieve success and there is perhaps no way to form a stronger bond than through the discovery that one member of a group has a life-threatening illness.
That was most certainly the case for Strabane native James McDaid who along with a host of other Irish ex-pats in Australia agreed to sign for East Perth in Football West’s Amateur League second division at the start of the season when they found out their friend Gareth Morrell had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.
McDaid moved to Western Australia almost eight years ago and immediately got involved in local football there. First he joined the Strabane armada at Gosnells in the State League alongside his friends Brian Patterson, Darren Gamble, Mickey Logue and Paul Carlin amongst others.
From there he became captain at Amateur League Premier Division outfit Belmont Villa and represented the State representative side.
At the end of last season he decided to move away from Villa and seemed destined for Leaming Strikers, but that was until he heard about Morrell’s unfortunate diagnoses and he decided, along with four other Irish State team players, Niall Murray, Niall McCarthy, Oscar Kelly and Stephen Henry, that they would step down to division two and
play for East Perth in order to help their highly regarded peer enjoy a season to remember.
With the six Irish lads forming a strong nucleus of a squad that enjoys a more than healthy Derry influence, ace attacker Medhi Rabei also signed on and from the start of the season until its finish a few weeks ago, they enjoyed resounding success.
East Perth completed the 16 game campaign with an almost unblemished record. They won 15 matches en route to the title with the only blip being a 3-2 home reverse to Kingsway. That match might well have turned out differently had skipper Murray not been sent off just five minutes in!
After that disappointment, they regrouped and sealed the crown with a game to go before receiving the league trophy at their home, Perth Plasterboard Centre Stadium – if there’s a better advert for naming rights then I haven’t seen it! – which they share with National Premier League side Inglewood United, after a thrilling final game against Noranda City.
During the last game of the season, East Perth found themselves 3-0 down with half an hour remaining, due in no small part to a massive collective hangover from the week before. But they put in a display worthy of champions in the final minutes to cap a wonderful campaign.
“The weekend before that last game we all went out for a couple of days and everyone was just relaxed, thinking ahead to going out again after the match and not thinking about the game so we were 3-0 down,” explained McDaid.
“The plan was to bring Gary [Morrell] on for the last 10 or 15 minutes to give him a proper send off.
“We pulled it back to 3-3 and we brought him on with 10 minutes left and he went up for a corner and I think he had a swing and a miss but the ball ended up in the net to make it 4-3.
“That was the main part of it – because he was the founder of it and a good guy, it was important to end on a high and he was the main reason I went to the club.
“I was playing with Leaming in the Night Series and I had intended on signing for them but the boys came to me and said they wanted to put a real team together this season for Gary and we got all the Irish lads who played for the State team.
“The boys rallied to get a real good team together and we walked that league but we’ll be going up and up now.”
FULL STORY IN LAST THURSDAY’S STRABANE CHRONICLE AND TODAY’S TYRONE HERALD