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From Gaelic football and Boxing to Bolton Wanderers’ last match winner at Derby County

We look back at the interesting career of former Bolton defender Gerry McElhinney

It’s safe to say that Bolton Wanderers are well overdue recording three points at Derby County. The last time Wanderers managed that feat I - and I’m pretty sure all the LOV writers - hadn’t been born, Adam and the Ants were top of the charts with ‘Prince Charming,’ and movie lovers were flocking to cinemas to see Chariots of Fire. It was 37 years ago.

Bolton have failed in their quest for victory on their last 11 league visits to Derby, and only managed to draw three of those games. Their last visit, almost two years ago to the day on 9th April 2016, saw Wanderers’ relegation to League One confirmed with a 4-1 thumping thanks to a Johnny Russell double and goals from Tom Ince and our former loanee Jacob Butterfield.

We’ve only managed five league wins at Derby since 1909, in 1919, 1947, 1965 and, most recently, 1981. However, there was the small solace of two League Cup wins at Derby back in 1999 and 1976.

But it’s not just away games in which we struggle against Derby. We’ve failed to beat The Rams in the last eight attempts, lost four of the last five, and only beaten them five times in the last 27 clashes between the two sides going back to 1982. We’ve also lost 63 of the 130 meetings with Derby in all competitions, winning just 45. Oh dear...

Now that you’re all feeling thoroughly depressed, let’s go back to the last time we did manage to defeat Derby on their home turf. Wednesday 23rd September 1981.

Bolton actually managed to complete the treble over Derby that season, with two 3-1 home victories in the league and the FA Cup sandwiched by a 2-0 win at The Baseball Ground. And an unlikely goalscoring hero that day has a really intriguing story.

A central defender honed on Gaelic football and boxing

Defender Gerry McElhinney, not content with being a professional footballer, was also a star Gaelic football player and a champion amateur boxer. You would not fancy being a striker on a cold Wednesday night in Bolton against this bloke - and Derby certainly didn’t that night in September.

McElhinney made his name as a Gaelic footballer in his homeland representing Derry, for whom he made his debut aged just 17 in 1974 against an Antrim side containing Sky Sports’ Spanish football commentator Gerry Armstrong. He won the Ulster State Football Championship the following year and became the youngest ever recipient of an ‘All Star’ award as Derry reached the semi-finals of the All Ireland championship.

Away from the field he was also a boxer of some stature, winning mid-Ulster titles in the middleweight and light-heavyweight categories.

But his attentions soon switched to soccer, and he began playing for local sides Finn Harps and Lisburn Distillery. He then moved out to America in the late 1970s, playing before the Cavan club in Philadelphia, Connemara Gaels in Chicago and the Sligo club in New York before sealing a move to Scottish giants Celtic.

His physical defensive prowess caught the eye of sides in England and he was snapped up by Bolton for £25,000 in 1980. The second goal at Derby aside, McElhinney took some time to settle at Bolton but really sealed his place in the first-team a few years later following the club’s relegation to Division Three and subsequent departures of Sam Allardyce and Mike Walsh.

While at Bolton he earned six caps for Northern Ireland, including starring on his debut in a 1-0 win over West Germany in 1983 and leading his country to victory in the final ever Home Championship tournament.

McElhinney made 109 appearances for Bolton, scoring just twice in total, before being sold to Plymouth Argyle in January 1985. His rugged but fair style of play made him a firm favourite of the Pilgrims fans, who soon gave him the nickname Rambo. He captained the club to promotion to Division Two in 1986 then led them to a solid seventh placed finish the following season.

Injuries soon took their toll and he made a move to Peterborough United in August 1988, where he continued for three seasons before joining their coaching staff, before dropping into non-league with Corby Town.

To use the old phrase, they don’t make them like this anymore. Gerry McElhinney is the epitome of the old school defender, in an era where defenders defended, and he remains our last match winner at Derby County. Until tomorrow? Maybe...