BALLYMENA United’s Irish Cup hero Paul Hardy was today amongst the many who paid tributes to legendary former manager Alex McKee who has passed away after a short illness at the age of 81.
Alex (Alec) McKee holds a special place in the history of the Showgrounds club having led United to their last Irish Cup triumph 31 years ago when they beat Larne 1-0 at The Oval in Belfast thanks to a Paul Hardy goal.
Alex was in charge for almost four years and 179 games after being appointed in 1987 when he was elevated from his role as reserve team coach.
“I’m absolutely gutted,” Paul Hardy wrote on the Ballymena United Facebook page. “I’ve known Alex since schoolboy internationals and had the pleasure of playing for him at three different clubs.
“He was a gentleman, a friend and a very special man. My condolences and sympathy go to all Alex’s family.”
Former United winger Des Loughrey, who was part of the 1989 squad, said: “Best man ever and for me the best manager in my time.”
Ballymena broadcaster Jackie Fullerton said he was “deeply saddened” by McKee’s passing and described the former United boss as a “true football man”.
“Alex was known the length and breadth of Northern Ireland for his contribution to schoolboy and youth football,” he said.
“He also had a real passion and association with rugby and cricket in Ballymena, but will be forever remembered for his legendary status at the Showgrounds.
“I know leading his home town to Irish Cup glory in 1989 meant a lot to Alex and he will be forever remembered for delivering a really special moment to the club,” Belfast Live reported.
Ballymena United said in a statement: “It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of Ballymena United great, Alec McKee.
“Alec took charge 179 times between 1987 and 1991 and will always be remembered with legendary status for masterminding the 1989 Irish Cup campaign that still stands as the club’s most recent Irish Cup success.
“Upon our return to the Showgrounds today we will fondly remember Alec and we will mark our condolences with a minute silence and the wearing of black armbands.
“To wife Margaret, children Valerie, Karen and Colin, and to his wider family and circle of friends we extend our prayers and deepest sympathies.”
Ballymena United Chairman John Taggart said: “Saddened to hear of Alex’s passing undoubtedly a true Ballymena United great.
“The last club manager to bring the Irish cup to the Showgrounds Alex will always hold a legendary position in the history of the club.
“Thoughts and prayers are with Alex’s wife Margaret and the wider family at this sad time.”
A funeral notice reads: ‘Alexander (Alex) McKee 26th September 2020, peacefully at his home 29 Parkmount Crescent, Ballymena. Dearly loved husband of Margaret, loving father of Valerie, Karen and Colin, dear father in law of Sean, Margaret and the late Jimmy and devoted grandfather of James, Philip, David, Sarah and Niall.
‘Funeral service in West Presbyterian Church on Tuesday 29th September at 1pm (for family and extended family only) interment afterwards in 2nd Broughshane Presbyterian Church burying ground at 2pm where friends are welcome, social distancing regulation’s will apply.
‘House strictly private, no flowers please, donations in lieu if desired may be sent to James Henry Funeral Services, 100 Broughshane Street, Ballymena BT43 6EE for N.I. Hospice.
‘Will be greatly missed by his sorrowing wife, children and wider family circle. “Safe in the arms of Jesus”.’