Belfast born Bertie Mehaffy began playing in the Irish Junior Alliance with Lurgan-based Queen’s Park in 1911 before being pitched into the heat of the Irish League with Belfast Celtic in 1913 while still a teenager. The pressure didn’t wear too heavy on the youngster as he claimed an Irish Championship medal in 1915 with the best defensive record in the League, and being runner-up in the Irish Cup Final when they lost 1-0 to Linfield. With the Irish League suspended due to the First World War, Celtic dropped down into the Intermediate League, and Mehaffy was replaced as first-choice ‘keeper by Elisha Scott who had returned from Liverpool to “guest” for his hometown club.
After the War, Mehaffy, having spent some time with another junior club, Queen’s Island, returned to the Celtic first eleven, helping them to win the 1919-20 Irish League Championship. He was in goal, with his brother John at the other end, for the infamous riot at the Belfast Celtic-Glentoran Irish Cup semi-final replay of 1920 that led to Celtic’s expulsion from the Cup and eventual voluntary suspension from the Irish League. With Celtic in exile from senior football, Mehaffy joined Glenavon in 1920. Once again the Mehaffy brothers found each other in opposition for a big match, this time in the Irish Cup Final, and once again it was a match marred in violence and controversy with the Belfast Glens overcoming the Lurgan Glens, who had a player sent-off, 2-0.
For the 1921-22 season Bertie Mehaffy re-joined Queen’s Island, who had been elected to the Irish League to fill the void left by Belfast Celtic and the departure of the Dublin clubs for the new Free State League. Island spent big on building a team to challenge for the top honours. As part of that team, Mehaffy was recognised as the outstanding ‘keeper in the Irish League, displacing his own brother for the inter-League matches against the Football League and the Scottish League in October 1921. In April 1922 he was awarded an Ireland cap in a 1-1 draw with Wales at Windsor Park, which would prove his only full international honour in an era when the Ireland gloves were dominated by Elisha Scott.
Mehaffy’s ambitions meant that he was not to stay long enough at the Island to claim the big honours, they were to win the Irish League in 1923-24, instead he sought a move to across the water. He had previously had trials with Everton and Glasgow Celtic, before trying his luck with Tottenham Hotspur in 1922. Nothing came of that trial and he was forced to turn out for Carrick-based Woodburn in the Intermediate League on his return to Ireland.
Finally his efforts to make it in English football came to fruition when in June 1923 he signed for New Brighton, who had just been elected to Division Three (North) where he was actually joined by his brother John – the two had not been at the same club since their teenage days at Belfast Celtic. He made his Football League debut at Bradford Park Avenue that August. Bert was undoubtedly number one goalkeeper, playing 37 (and scoring from the penalty spot in a 1-1 draw against Ashington on Boxing Day 1923) times to John’s five. John moved on to Rotherham after just a season, leaving Bert as virtually undisputed custodian for another six seasons as New Brighton battled manfully to keep away from the dreaded re-election places. In 1929 Mehaffy, on leaving Merseyside behind, returned to Belfast Celtic for a third brief spell having made 235 appearances for New Brighton.
The Mehaffy family could lay claim to dominance of the Irish League goalkeeping scene during the 1920’s. Bertie and younger brother John (Jack, who played for among others Glentoran, New Brighton and Rotherham County) between them played four times for the Irish League, with the elder sibling also claiming full international honours. Add to that the fact that Billy and Elisha Scott were their cousins and another Mehaffy, Sam, had played in goal for Distillery and Cliftonville, and represented the Irish League in 1911-12 and the clan have some legacy. Two further brothers, David and Hugh, also played for Linfield.
NB there is some doubt as to whether the actual photograph shown is actually Bertie Mehaffy or his brother Jack.