Former Dundalk and Newry City defender John Whyte is urging supporters to get behind the friendly match between the two clubs on Sunday 26 February, which would give a much-needed cash boost to the Irish League outfit.
The 42-year-old was speaking after the launch of the game, which is set to become an annual cross-border challenge cup, similar to the format of the Malone Cup played between Dundalk and Drogheda United every year.
(Pictured above is Nathan Murphy, Darren King (Newry City Club Captain) and Stephen McDonnell at the cup launch)
Whyte, now first-team coach at Dundalk, made his senior debut with the Lilywhites and also finished his career at Oriel Park, but in between he made 219 appearances over two spells with Newry, who were at the time called Newry Town.
In December, Newry announced an ‘almost complete wage budget reduction for players, management and administration’.
And Whyte is hoping that Dundalk fans can help their neighbours’ coffers.
“I would encourage Dundalk fans to go anywhere, but especially just down the road,” Whyte told dundalkfc.com. “It’s only ten minutes down the motorway now, as opposed to what it was years ago.
“There are no checkpoints or nothing now – it’s just straight to The Showgrounds.
“If the fans can come down, it would be great, and they would be helping out Newry. It’s only £5 in and you have a great opportunity of winning £500.
“Deccy (Declan) McParland is a pal of mine down there and he’s organising this game. He’s doing fantastic work.
“He actually had me down in Kilbroney Park during the week showing me some of the runs, down in Rostrevor; we might take some of the lads from here down as part of pre-season.
“They’re the type of people that you’re dealing with at Newry. They’re the salt of the earth. Especially Deccy – he’s a great contact. I know him a long time.
“It’s horrible to see any club struggling, especially one that you played with for so long.
“They have been very good to me. Overall, I spent eight seasons at Newry. They gave me my chance at senior football and, to be fair, only for that, I may not have played senior football.”
In August 1988, Whyte made his senior debut in football when appearing for Dundalk in the Leinster Senior Cup against Lusk United, before adding a President’s Cup outing against Saint Patrick’s Athletic four weeks later.
In 1990, he joined Newry, where he would initially go on to play over a six-season period. After one-year spells at Randwick Harps in Australia and back at home with Bellurgan United, the Faughart native returned to Newry in 1997 and won a First Division title.
“I really enjoyed my time with Newry,” John said.
“It was probably my first real experience of senior football. I was with Dundalk prior to that and was involved with the Youth team and reserves.
“I was on the bench a few times with the first team in the league, and played in the President’s Cup and Leinster Cup. But then there was an opportunity to go down to Newry and I took it.
“I went down there in April 1990, and it was great. It was a change of scenery. There were different attitudes and different philosophies compared to the southern football. I really enjoyed it.
“In my first game, I came on for the reserves I think it was against Coleraine, and then the following Saturday I was in the first-team panel against Glentoran.
“I came on as a sub that day. The Newry Showgrounds was packed at that time. There were a lot of Glentoran fans there too. The atmosphere was brilliant. It was nice getting out onto the pitch and playing senior football. It was a great experience.”
Whyte eventually left The Showgrounds in 1999 when former Newry boss Ollie Ralph, who was assistant to Terry Eviston at Dundalk, came calling.
“You never like leaving a club,” he said. “However, towards the end, I was actually out on loan to Larne.
“The next stop was Stranraer! The only time I was ever in Larne was getting the boat over to watch Celtic games!
“It was difficult but I always kept a keen interest in Newry. But then I was delighted when Ollie Ralph contacted me and Terry Eviston wanted to talk to me about coming back up to Dundalk. There was only really one club I wanted to go to after Newry.”
Whyte has continued to track his old club’s progress, with Newry currently sitting third in Championship 1.
“I still look out for their scores and results and keep up-to-date in the Newry Reporter and that,” he said.
“I keep an eye on the reports and players, and also watching TV, ‘Final Score’ on a Saturday evening where you get the goals from the north. I have a keen interest in them and the Irish League still.
“I’ve been back to The Showgrounds a few times. I have been down to watch a few games, especially games against Linfield and Portadown.
“I also went back down there last year to play in a charity match. It was good fun. It ended up that the pitch was in such a bad state – there was a storm the night before – we just played five-a-side games. But it was good. It was for a very worthwhile charity, for the prevention of suicide.
“There are still a lot of people down there I know – Willie Young and Seán Gaffney, the groundsmen, would still be about, and I know some of the Board, like Eric Wilson. I have a couple of pals down there still; Declan McParland, as I said, and lads like that.
“I hope this friendly goes some way to helping them, and again I would encourage all Dundalk fans to go to the game – it’s probably the last chance they’ll get to see the team before the season starts.”
The game takes place on Sunday 26 February at The Showgrounds, kick-off 2pm. Entry is £5, which automatically enters you into a draw for £500!
Photographs thanks to David Caldwell and www.sportsfile.com.