One of the most historic photographs from Cliftonville’s breakthrough in the Irish Cup at the weekend will be legendary duo Chris Curran and Joe Gormley raising the Cup aloft in front of their jubilant supporters in the Kop Stand at Windsor Park. 

34-year-old Gormley, the club’s record goal scorer completed his domestic topflight medal collection at the third time of asking in his 13 years at the club. 

The Ardoyne native was an unused sub but was prominent in whipping up the Red Army faithful for the final hurrah at half-time in extra-time, with his side leading 2-1 and was one of the first on the scene to celebrate when Ronan Hale sealed victory deep into stoppage time. 

Gormley didn’t expect a conversation with Rory Hale during the celebrations to end with him joining Chris Curran in lifting the trophy as he explained. 

“I wasn’t expecting to lift it,” admitted Gormley. 

“Chris [Curran] is obviously the captain and Rory was the captain on the day. Rory, the man he is and the guy he is came over to me and said, Joe listen I want you and Chris to lift the trophy today. I was like, ‘are you sure?’ And he said yes. It’s an honour. I didn’t say to him at the time, but I appreciate him even saying that to me. 

“That is just Rory Hale in a nutshell. Fair play to the man he is, he is a credit to the club, a credit to his family and a credit to the whole of Cliftonville.”

A proud North Belfast native, Gormley perfectly described Cliftonville as a close-knit community club and feels the supporters are the best in the country as he acknowledged the lengths that fans went to in order to attend Saturday’s decider. 

“It’s a close-knit club and a close-knit community all around North Belfast,” Gormley outlined. 

“It is amazing. They deserve everything they get, the Cliftonville fans. Personally, for me, they are the best fans in the country. They travel far and wide. I spoke to two boys during the week, one is actually Rory’s best mate. He travelled from Australia for three days and one of them was my mate. I knew, but they were coming back to surprise Rory. 

“It shows you the commitment of the Cliftonville fans. They deserve everything that has come their way today. Over the last 13-years for me, they have waited for this day for 45 years and It has happened. There is probably going to be grown men crying. 

“Chris Curran, I was going ‘would you stop crying please’. It means so much to the people of Cliftonville. Everything that comes Cliftonville’s way, they deserve it. No one ever gives us a chance, but the Irish Cup is coming back to Solitude.”

Gormley experienced Irish Cup heartache on two occasions prior to the weekend and he admits that he felt a sense of déjà vu when goalkeeper David Odumosu and Odhran Casey were forced off within the first half, but with the striker claiming the club possess some of the best players in the league, he still had confidence that they could turn things around. 

“At 1-0 down with David going off injured and Casey, it reminded me back to the Irish Cup final whenever we were beat by Glentoran the first time round,” Gormley recalled. 

“Boycey had a shoulder knock and it ruled him out for the game practically. I was thinking of the worst. Honestly, you need to watch these boys train week-in, week-out. It’s scary. We have some of the best players in the league. 

“We gave it our best and gave it a good go for the league title. Some of these boys are ridiculously good, they are talented. Kyle McClean is a super player and well done to him winning NIFWA Player of the Year, but Rory Hale is something else. If you ask any team in the league who would they like to buy, it would be Rory Hale. Then you’ve Ronan Hale. I don’t think I’ve seen any people with two kids that are that good at football. It’s incredible. 

“The first half, I thought Linfield probably a were a bit better, but when the lads came out for the second half, we were outstanding.” 

Gormley’s last domestic medal came two seasons ago with a League Cup final win against Coleraine in the same season that Linfield pipped them to the title by a single point. He took to social media after their final game of the season to predict that good things were around the corner and was pleased to be proven correct. 

“I probably said about two years that this group is one to keep an eye out for,” he remembers. 

“It was one that came up in my Facebook memories the other day that I wrote a status saying this team was one to look out for. 45 years this trophy hasn’t been near Solitude. There’s a few boys in the changing room haven’t even been waiting for six months and they’ve won the trophy, I’ve been waiting 13 years. My wee lad is only two weeks old, and he’s seen it before me. It’s crazy. Credit to Rory [Hale], credit to the boys in the changing room and the credit to the boys in the team - they are something else.” 

In the aftermath of their historic triumph, Gormley made sure to seek out match-winner Ronan Hale to shake his hand, as he doesn’t believe he will partner him next season. 

Hale reportedly attracted interest from a host of cross-water clubs in January and will no doubt have suitors chasing a deal in the coming weeks.  

The 25-year-old was previously at Birmingham City and Gormley believes a return to full-time football is imminent. 

“I shook Ronan’s hand and said it is a pleasure playing with you,” he revealed. 

“I said it was a pleasure playing with you because if I’m, playing with Ronan Hale next year, there will be something wrong. I’m telling you, if somebody doesn’t take a punt on Ronan Hale, they must be blind or drinking what I’m drinking. 

“Ronan’s first goal today, he does that week-in, week out in training. When he shoots, good luck to the keepers. I hope they are good and I hope they have hands. He deserves all the plaudits. I actually told him, for as long as he lives, if he is in my company, he’ll not buy a drink.”

Outside of his footballing exploits, Gormley is employed as a classroom assistant at Holy Cross Primary School. 

He may need an extended note of absence from his mother Marguerite if he is to enjoy the celebrations in the coming days after inviting his team-mates back to his house in the early hours on Sunday morning.  

“I’m on the verge of divorce and I’m not even married,” Gormley joked. 

“My permission slip might need to be extended, we’ll see. I’ve already told the lads, at about five o’clock in the morning, it’s my house and they are more than welcome.”