Initially a centre forward and later a half back, Belfast born Joe Gowdy emerged from Irish junior football with a bang, scoring 23 goals in 28 games in his first season in the Irish League with Glentoran in 1919-20. He had in fact been born just a mile away from the Oval, so The Glens were the natural home for the talented goalscorer. His form in that first season, including hat-tricks in the League against Shelbourne and in the Gold Cup semi-final win over Linfield, brought both inter-League and international honours with a first Irish cap against England in October 1919 in a 1-1 draw in Belfast, but only runners-up medals in both the Irish League and the Gold Cup.
After 7 goals in 7 games at the start of the following campaign, Gowdy was transferred to Scottish Division One side, Falkirk, in October 1920, a potential deal with Everton having failed to come to fruition. He walked out on Falkirk after 4 goals in 33 appearances and re-joined the Glens for the 1922-23 campaign, but played just three games before moving on to Queen’s Island in what amounted to a loan deal with Falkirk. By now featuring more regularly in the half-back line, usually in the centre, Gowdy quickly settled in, and played for the Irish League at centre-half in their first ever meeting with the Welsh League – the game at Solitude ended in a 2-2 draw. In total he appeared 4 times for The Irish League.
An early setback the following season saw Queen’s Island fined £100 and docked two points following a registration mix-up, but the team soon found their stride, claiming an Irish League and Cup double in 1923-24, plus the City Cup and Co. Antrim Shield. Gowdy was rewarded with a re-call to the Ireland team at right-half, after a near five-year absence against Wales in March 1924. The following campaign brought Queen’s Island another City Cup success, and runners-up spot in the League – behind Glentoran.
Gowdy re-joined Falkirk in 1925, and quickly regained his place in the Ireland team too. He took his cap total to six with appearances at right-half and centre-half between October 1925 and February 1927. After 8 goals in 88 appearances for Falkirk, he joined East Fife, and in 1930 he helped East Fife to runners-up spot in the Scottish Second Division, and promotion to the top-flight for the first time in their history. In modern football The Fifers would have been crowned champions on goal difference, but as goal average was used at the time they finished behind Leith Athletic. In their first match in Division One he set-up their only goal, in a 4-1 defeat by Motherwell. The season ended in relegation with a club-worst record of 113 goals conceded. He scored 9 goals in 74 appearances for East Fife through to 1931.