Harryville, County Antrim born right back John “Jock” McNinch was a tough tackling full-back who began his career in the local Intermediate League with Summerfield but was given his chance in the Irish League with the new Ballymena Football & Athletic Club, becoming one of the “Light Blues”’ first signings in June 1928.
It was a dream first season in senior football for McNinch and the ‘Ballymena Babes’, as Jock became a virtual ever present in the team that flourished in local football winning the Irish Cup Final in April 1929 against Belfast Celtic at The Oval. McNinch was the only locally born player in The Braidmen’s line-up as the club won the prestigious trophy in their first season and also finished as City Cup runners-up the following month.
Success continued at the Ballymena Showgrounds, with two further consecutive Irish Cup Final appearances, in which Jock started in both defeats to Linfield in 1930 and 1931. His form in the 1930-1931 season was boosted by the defensive influence former Rangers veteran Billy McCandless and this resulted in a call up from selectors to the full Ireland team in February 1931. McNinch’s impressive debut in the 0-0 draw with Scotland at Windsor Park, Belfast, was enough to attract firm offers from both Liverpool and Preston North End, which were rejected out of hand by the Ballymena committee.
Two further international caps followed during the 1931-1932 season against Scotland and Wales, s again but eventually he lost his place at full back to Glasgow Celtic’s Billy Cook; but he set an unbeaten club record for international caps in the process. He also won two Irish League caps against The Football League and The Scottish League in the autumn of 1931. During the peak of his playing days, Jock found himself in flux as Ballymena were suspended by The Irish League in April 1934 for refusal to submit their financial records as part of an investigation to payments to amateur players and eventually were wound up after only six years of competitive action. Nonetheless he was recalled to Irish League action in September 1934 when he won his third cap in a defeat to The Football League
McNinch was one of the few players who stayed loyal to the new club, Ballymena United, who rose out of the ashes of the suspended club ahead of the 1934-1935 season and continued to play at the Showgrounds, with the same colours and same support base. His eight years’ service to senior football in Ballymena was rewarded with the club’s first ever benefit match against Linfield in April 1936.
This was to be his last appearance in Ballymena blue as following a record combined 316 appearances and 15 goals for both Ballymena and Ballymena United, Jock made the move west to League of Ireland club Sligo Rovers in the summer of 1936. His stay lasted only a few months before he returned to the Irish League to play out his final season in senior football with nearby Larne.