|Date Of Birth:||5-Jan-68|
|Place Of Birth:||Downpatrick|
Former Co Down GAA star Peter Withnell was an instant hit when he joined Dundalk in February 1995 from junior club Kilmore Rec. Spotted by club director, Nicky Coffee, while playing in an Irish Junior Cup tie, he was the fourth centre-forward to feature in Dundalk’s 1994-95 Championship-winning squad. Although signed after the January transfer window deadline, as an amateur he was available for the closing League Championship games.
Thrown in at the deep end in the middle of March against Shamrock Rovers after Mick Byrne’s hamstring acted up, he became an ever-present for the last seven games, scoring crucial goals against fellow-contenders Derry and in the second-last match win in the Sligo Showgrounds.
A double All-Ireland medallist with Down, in 1991 and 1994, Dundalk was not Peter’s first senior club—back in his teens he had been on the books of Irish League clubs Bangor (1988-89) and Crusaders (1989-90).
For the following couple of seasons he was preoccupied with Gaelic matters and was one of the stars of the County Down All-Ireland Championship victories of 1991 and 1994. His two goals in the ’91 semi-final win over Kerry were crucial. Throughout his career he continued to play both games.
He was Dundalk’s leading goalscorer in 1995-96, but afterwards he struggled in a team that went from League Champs to Relegation in a period of just four seasons.
In the summer of 1997 Cliftonville had made an offer for Peter but caretaker manager Tommy Connolly rejected it as a ‘joke’. At the end of that season Cliftonville were celebrating their first League Championship in 90 years, but when they called again in January 1999 they were in relegation trouble and Dundalk were in the First Division. This time they got their man.
He was the club’s saviour in the play-offs against Ards, coming off the bench after an hour’s play to give the Premier Division side a 1-0 first leg lead and hitting a hat-trick in the second leg for a 5-2 aggregate win. In that season he had the distinction of sharing the League marksman’s list with Dundalk and was the all-competition topscorer with Cliftonville (8 from 15 games).
In January 2000 he moved to Newry Town, where he continued to wear the mustard coloured boots that at Cliftonville had brought equal measures of derision and laughter, and newspaper headlines that went from ‘ghastly’ to ‘bizarre’. To his Newry manager they simply made him a marked man and in his attempts to convince Peter to make a change the manager argued “If I was playing against an opponent wearing boots of that colour, I'd want to kick him”!!
For the 2000-01 term he paid a second visit to Crusaders, where his 8 League goals played a big part in avoiding relegation.
His next season move brought him to demoted Ballymena United, who in a disappointing season never got near the promotion zone. Peter finished topscorer with 16 goals and was the unanimous choice as Player of the Year.
A further 24 goals (17 League) in the following year made a significant contribution to three runner positions in the Ulster Cup, County Antrim Shield and the First Division, earning promotion back to the Premier Division.
For Peter there had never been such a thing as a close season—come April time each year, when his playing colleagues were heading for R and R, Peter was linking up with his latest Gaelic team. But now in his mid-30s he was beginning to pay the price and inevitably a short-term contract with Larne for the 2003-04 year was terminated after a couple of months as a result of an injury received while playing Gaelic football.
He finished that year with Distillery helping them to a third place Premier League finish and their best placing in many years, but in the following season another Gaelic-incurred injury shortened his Glenavon stay and he played only to the end of September before being transfer listed in November.
He continued to participate at both games beyond his 40th birthday, playing soccer (and continuing to score) at Reserve Division level with Banbridge Thistle and later with Killyleagh Rec and Drumaness Mills, while his gaelic activity was mainly with St Colman’s, Drumaness and Clonduff. As of the spring of 2010 he was turning out with Portadown junior team St Marys.
His honest whole-hearted play made him a popular favourite wherever he played and in one of his last Irish League games, with Distillery at the Ballymena Showgrounds, on his first return there since an acrimonious departure the previous year, he received a rare accolade. Late in the game he got an ovation from the home supporters, watching their team take a 4-1 hammering, in acknowledgment of his 40 goals and two seasons honest endeavour and his absolute commitment to the cause when in the Ballymena colours.
The Dundalk Legends games against Manchester United (Nov 2009) and Liverpool (2011) were his most recent Oriel Park opportunities to display his wares and his well being.
For the 2011-12 season he was appointed assistant manager to Pat McGibbon at Newry City, now playing in the Irish League Division 1.
What They Said About Him
Commenting on his role in the closing stages of the 1994-95 League Championship win, the Argus review highlighted “his power and explosive finishing that gave the side a vital fillip in the run-in.”
1 Win: League 1994-95.
1 Runner Up: Presidents Cup 1995-96.
2 LOI Caps
Leading Scorer:1995-96 (10)