Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Joe McGrath

1996 - 98 : New Zealand

Joe McGrath was an Irish striker who played for Dundalk, Drumcondra and Limerick during the 1960s. His only trophy as a player was the President's Cup in 1964. 

In 1985, after completing his UEFA coaching badges, he was appointed as Liam Tuohy's successor of the Irish youth team. He later served as FAI Director of Coaching.

In 1990, he was appointed as manager of the now-defunct Kilkenny City Football Club. He held the post for only a year however, and left in 1991 without any trophies.

In late 1996 he left his post with the FAI to take up the reigns as coach of the New Zealand national football team, replacing Scotsman Keith Pritchet. His task was to try and get the All Whites to the World Cup in France in 1998. New Zealand had only graced the world stage once before, when they reached the 1982 World Cup in Spain, where they were eliminated in the group stage.

His first match was an unofficial May 21 1997 friendly against a combination team of the New Zealand league, which his players drew 1-1. This was followed by a loss to the same side, 2-1, two days later.

On May 31 he finally took charge of his first official game. The match was a World Cup qualifier away to Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby. Disastrously McGrath's side lost 1-0 to the islanders, most of whom were part timers. After a friendly with a Gold Coast XI, his side bounced back, beating Fiji 1-0 in Suva seven days later. Back in Auckland they thumped Papua New Guinea 7-0 and Fiji 5-0, to leave them top of Group 2 and facing Australia in the Oceania Final. 

In the first game in Auckland, in front of 25,000 fans; Australia smashed them 3-0, leaving them with little hope. A week later, in Sydney they were again beaten 2-0 by the Socceroos. Australia went through to face Iran in a play-off, only to loose on away goals. Thus, the 1998 World Cup saw no teams qualify from Oceania. 

As well as managing the senior side, McGrath was also working with the youth teams. In June of that year, he coached the Under 23's to two friendly losses to Australia. And in September, McGrath personally took charge of the country's youth squad for the 1997 Under 17's World Cup in Egypt. This proved a bad move however, as his side were beaten 4-0 by Mahamadou Diarra's Mali and 5-0 by Mexico, before being slaughtered 13-0 by Xavi, Iker Casillas and Spain.

Later that month, on 21 September 1997, McGrath took his senior players to Jakarta to face Indonesia in a friendly, where they were beaten 5-0. 1998 saw them claim a respectable 0-0 home friendly draw with Chile, before losing 1-0 at home to South Korea. This was the Irishman's last match in charge.

In spite of his less than impressive record he was offered a new two year contract with the All Whites in April 1998, but turned it down to return to Ireland and manage Bohemians. While with Bohs, he signed five members of his New Zealand squad. Jason Batty, Harry Ngata, Gareth Rowe, Ross Nicholson and Dean Dodds all moved to Dalymount Park within the year, however, of the five; only Batty would be a success and outlast the manager.

McGrath would later return to Kilkenny in 2000 for one year. This was his last job in coaching.

McGrath was fourth Irishman to manage a foreign national football team. Joe Kinnear managed India and Nepal, Frank O'Farrell managed Iran and Jim Donnelly managed Turkey. McGrath is by far the least successful and least remembered. 

Ten years after he left New Zealand, Brian Kerr would become the fifth Irish coach of a foreign nation by taking the reigns of the Faroe Islands.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Declan O'Brien

2009 - 10 : Valletta F.C. (Malta)

A striker from Dublin, Declan O'Brien spent one season in Malta with Valletta, a side he had helped knock out of European competition not long before. In December 2009, O'Brien moved to to the island's capital after a fairly successful seven years in Irish football. He had begun his career with Drogheda United, before signing for Dundalk early in 2009. His time at Oriel Park was troubled however, and he went on loan to St. Patrick's Athletic.

With Pat's he scored on his début in the Europa League, against Maltese Premier League side Valletta. In the return leg, he found the net again, undoubtedly impressing the island club.

So much so that in December, after his loan deal with Pat's ended and his contract was not renewed at Dundalk, he was snapped up by Valletta on a free transfer. 

Valletta Football Club were founded in 1943, after a merger between two successful local sides. They dominated the island's league in the 1990s, and today remain the most popular and strongly supported team in Malta. To their name they count 17 League titles and 12 Cups, as well as a host of other titles. 

Like most sides in the Maltese Premier League, Valletta don't have their own stadium, but share the 18,000 capacity Ta' Qali ground with the other clubs.

O'Brien was brought in by Dutch coach Tom Caanen, who had been in charge since June. A journeyman career coach, Caanen had previously managed sides in Israel and Ukraine. His newly appointed assistant at Valletta was former Manchester United, Barcelona and Espanyol midfielder Jordi Cruyff, in his last season as a professional footballer. O'Brien was envisaged as a replacement for departing Dutch striker Geert den Ouden.

On signing he said "I'm delighted to be here, I want to show the people of Valletta that I'm a good player, that I can score goals and hopefully I'll win trophies with the team."

Another Irishman, Roddy Collins had been managing on the island, but would leave his post at Floriana within days of O'Brien's arrival.

The Dubliner's non-competitive début came against Italian giants Parma, in a triangular tournament. Valletta lost the match 3-1. He scored a flying header in the game. On February 15th, he netted 4 goals for the Citizens in the 6-0 hammering of the Dingli Swallows. Twelve days later, he came off the bench in a league match against Tarxien and found the net twice in just 15 minutes. Valletta won the match 6-2. 

In March, the club signed Maltese international and former Coventry frontman, Michael Mifsud, and O'Brien's chances were limited after that.

Valletta finished the season's First Round in 1st place, enabling them to qualify for the Championship Pool. In that subsequent round, they lost out to Birkirkara, who were crowned League winners and qualified for the Champions' League qualifiers. Valletta finished in 2nd place, giving them the right to play in the Europa League the next year.

However, in spite of their League heart break, Valletta did win the Malta FA Cup, beating Qormi in the final in May 2010. O'Brien's contract had already ended by the time the tie was played, and he had returned to Ireland. However, he did receive a medal from the Maltese FA, making him a member of that small band of Irish players to have won medal's in Europe.

He scored an impressive 9 goals in 12 matches for Valletta. He is now back at Drogheda United.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Paddy Mulligan

1967 : Boston Rovers (U.S.A.)
1968 : Boston Beacons (U.S.A.)
1980 - 82 : Panathinaikos (Greece)

Patrick Martin Mulligan was born in Dublin in 1945. A right-back, he earned 50 caps for Ireland and was a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup medalist with Chelsea in 1971. 

He began as a schoolboy with Bohemians in Dublin, but moved across the city to rivals Shamrock Rovers when he was 18. In six years with Rovers he won 4 FAI Cups, 1 Top Four Cup, a Dublin City Cup and a Leinster Senior Cup. It was during his time with Rovers that he won 10 of his Ireland caps.

In 1967, he was one of fourteen players Rovers brought to America to compete as the Boston Rovers in the 1967 edition of the United Soccer Association. The 22 year old Mulligan made just 6 appearances for the Boston side, netting a goal.

Mulligan and the Boston Rovers in 1967
The following season, the Boston Rovers had become the Boston Beacons, and the United Soccer Association had become the North American Soccer League (NASL). In the summer of 1968, the new Boston side invited Mulligan to return to the city and play for them as the Irish season was finished. 

This time, Mulligan made 21 appearances for the Beacon's, scoring 4 goals. Playing at Fenway Park, in front of an average attendance of 4,000 people, the Beacons finished last in the Atlantic Division. The franchise was disbanded later that summer, and Mulligan returned to Shamrock Rovers.

He didn't stay long in Ireland however, as he was signed by London giants Chelsea for 17,500 pounds. In three years at the Stamford Bridge club, he made over 60 appearances, including one as a substitute against Real Madrid in the Cup Winners' Cup Final in Athens.

Over the next 8 years, Mulligan would line out for Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion and again for Shamrock Rovers, before retiring from playing, for the first time, in 1980.

In June of that year, his former manager at West Bromwich Albion, Englishman Ronnie Allen, asked him to come with him to Greece. Allen had just been appointed manager of Athens based giants Panathinaikos, and for the Dubliner this was an adventure that proved too good to turn down.

Founded in 1908, Panathinaikos remain one of Greece's most successful and well supported clubs. In their 104 year history; they have claimed 20 Greek Championships  17 Cups and reached the final of the European Cup in 1971. Known as To Ttifylli (the Shamrock), they play home matches at the 69,000 Olympic Stadium in Athens. However, in Mulligan's time at the club, they played at the smaller Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium. (Despite myths to the contrary, the clubs colours and emblem have nothing to do with Ireland or any Irish connection)

Ronnie Allen took Mulligan to Greece
After a poor start to the 1980-81 season however, Allen was sacked. Unusually, Mulligan didn't also face the chop and follow his mentor out the door. He was kept by the club and interim manager Andreas Papaemanouil retained the Irishman as his Assistant.

On 17th September, Mulligan was on the bench as Panathinaikos took to the field in Turin to play Italian giants Juventus in the 1980-81 UEFA Cup First Round. With Liam Brady in their squad, and coached by current Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni, the Old Lady ran out 4-0 winners on the night, thumping PAO on the counter attack. Mulligan admitted to becoming a huge fan of Trapattoni after this game. He continues to defend the Italian's record as Ireland manager today.

Mulligan's Panathinaikos beaten by Juventus

In the return leg in Athens, Panathinaikos won 4-2, and were eliminated from the competition on a 6-4 aggregate scoreline. Papaemanouil would also lose his job due the side's poor early season form, and the club then hired Austrian Helmut Senekowitsch to coach the side. Again, Mulligan would outlive his manager, and Senekowitsch also kept the Dubliner on as his number two.

The 1980-81 Alpha Ethniki season would see Panathinaikos finish in a poor 5th place, 10 points behind champions Olympiacos. However, this finish allowed them to qualify for the next season's UEFA Cup. In the Greek Cup they were knocked out by AEK Athens in the Third Round, and ended the season trophiless. 

Mulligan's team in 1981
Senekowitsch was relieved of his duties, and Mulligan found himself working under Lakis Petropoulos, in the Greek manager's third spell at the club. The 1981-82 Alpha Ethniki season bore fruit for the club. Petropoulos was sacked in mid-season, and Mulligan found himself working under his fifth coach. 61 year old former Romania, France and Ajax coach Stefan Kovacs was brought in the reignite the club's league aspirations. Like his predecessor, he kept Mulligan on the books,because of the Irishman's valuable insight into the squad. 

Kovacs brought the club back to the top of the league, and Panathinaikos finished joint 1st place with Olympiacos, only to loose to their rivals in a play-off. The Romanian would inspire the club to the 1981-82 Greek Cup beating Larissa 1-0 in the final. This would be the crowning moment in Mulligan's time in Greece and his only trophy in coaching. He left following the final and returned to Ireland.

He later managed Galway United and Shelbourne in the mid-1980s and also applied for the Ireland manager's job, only to loose to Eoin Hand.

In 1999, Mulligan auctioned off all his trophies and medals and emigrated back to Greece, but for soccer reasons. "I want to make a new start, so I don't need all the trappings of a lifetime in football."

Mulligan today

Richie Ryan

2007 - 08 : Royal Antwerp (Belgium)

Richie Ryan is an Irish midfielder born in Tipperary in 1985. As a youth he spent his school years at Belvedere College.

In 2003 he was brought to England by Premiership outfit Sunderland. In just over two years with the Black Cats, he made 2 substitute appearances in the Premier League.

Sadly, he was released by Mick McCarthy at the outset of the 2005-06 season when he was 20 years old. He spent the next two years at Scunthorpe and then Boston United. At Boston he experienced relegation, and the club went into administration. Ryan left England, intending to return home to Ireland.

Instead he was offered a move to Belgian Second Division outfit Royal Antwerp FC. 

Antwerp are the oldest registered club in the Belgian Football League. Hailing from the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in Northern Belgium, they have been a member of the Belgian FA since 1895. Between 1928 and 1957; they won four First Division titles and a Belgian Cup. More recent successes have been another cup win in 1992, a Second Division triumph in 2000 and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup Final appearance in 1993. Despite being one of the country's best supported clubs; for most of its recent history, Antwerp have plied their trade in the Second Division. Known as the Great Old, they play home matches at the 16,000 capacity Bosuilstadion.

For 20 years the club has been a feeder club for English giants Manchester United. As a result, Antwerp have taken many of United's youth players on loan, to afford them valuable experience. Irish internationals John O'Shea and Darron Gibson benefited from this system, Gibson having just returned to United the summer Ryan was signed.

Unlike most other British or Irish players at the club, Ryan was not a United loanee but rather a full time Antwerp player. He signed for the Great Old on July 1st 2007, and his new manager was Englishman Warren Joyce. Also in the squad were Northern Irish players Craig Cathcart and Henry McStay, on loan from United. 

Ryan sustained an injury in his first training session but managed to make his non-competitive début for the club in a 4-0 pre-season victory over minnows Tubantia Borg. In all, he made three pre-season appearances, putting in solid performances. His competitive début came in a 4-1 hammering to Kortrijk on September 30th. 

In all, Ryan made 11 appearances, 3 as a substitute. The season ended in bitter heartbreak for Antwerp, as they reached the promotion play-offs, but were pipped to first place by AFC Tubize, who gained promotion. Ryan's last appearance for the club came in a classic 4-1 away win over KVSK United. His performances all season were encouraging, but in the end he decided to see out his initial plans, and return to Ireland.

Ryan lifts the FAI Cup
The move bore fruit for the young man, as he signed for Sligo Rovers, just was the club were in its ascendancy. In three years and as captain of the Red Army he would win 2 FAI Cups and a League Cup medal. He was also named PFAI Players' Player of the Year in 2010, and was selected for a League of Ireland XI the same year. With the League XI he played Manchester United in front of 50,000 fans at the Dublin Tournament.

In 2012, he signed for Scottish Premier League side Dundee United, and has gone to become a regular fixture in the Terrors squad, wearing the number 10 shirt.

Ryan has become a mainstay at Dundee

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Johnny Giles

1978 : Philadelphia Fury (U.S.A)
1981 - 83 : Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada)

"As I look at all the talent and character at my disposal today, my one regret in that John Giles wasn't born an Englishman".

The famous words of England's World Cup winning manager, Sir Alf Ramsey. The man he speaks of is worth the sentiment. John 'Johnny' Giles, central midfielder, Dubliner and hard player was arguably the greatest footballer to ever come from the island of Ireland. A true great, who achieved glory with a fantastic Leeds United team in the 1960s and 1970s; Giles is a symbol of Irish football.

A young Giles, at Leeds
Yet while his exploits at Leeds, Manchester United and Shamrock Rovers are well documented and known, relatively little is remembered about his time across the Atlantic, in the glamourous and odd world of the NASL. First as a player, but mainly as a coach, Giles tasted some success out there, and is the subject of this entry.

After 12 years with Leeds and 7 trophies, Giles moved to West Bromwich Albion in 1975 as player-manager. His two years with West Brom were his swansong in England, as in 1977 Giles returned to Ireland to become player-manager of Shamrock Rovers. 

The Shamrock Rovers project was intended to create a powerhouse in the country and a team that could compete in Europe. Giles was brought in to build a strong side, well disciplined and trained, that could realise this dream.

However just a year later, Giles would shock Shamrock Rovers' fans by deciding to go to America for the summer and play with the North American Soccer League's Philadelphia Fury. He was 38.

Philadelphia were a brand new franchise in NASL, having been just set up earlier that year. They played home games at the colossal Veteran's Stadium in the city, and were preparing for their maiden season in the NASL in 1978.

The side's first manager was Englishman Richard Dinnis and the team that year was a highly talented one. Included were English World Cup winner Alan Ball, Chelsea legend Peter Osgood and Irish international John Dempsey. Dempsey and Giles were two of 5 Irishmen, the other three being Fran O'BrienEddie Byrne and Pierce O'Leary, who had come with Giles on loan from Shamrock Rovers.

Back in Ireland, Rovers' fans vented their annoyance at Giles' decision to play in America that summer, as many felt that he should be preparing for the pre-season. The wider Irish footballing community were also annoyed, as many believed he needed to be home preparing for the 1980 European Cup qualifiers. 

The midfielder himself justified the decision, correctly stating that "we have much to learn from the Americans about football promotion and development". 

Meanwhile in America, the Fury were drawn in the NASL Eastern Division along with Noel Cantwell's New England Tea Men, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. This meant that Giles & co. would be playing against the likes of Gerry Daly, Rodney Marsh, Mirandinha, George Best and Ian Callaghan.

In spite of their fine squad, the season was utterly disappointing for the Fury as they lost 18 matches, winning only 11. This left them bottom in the Eastern Division. Coach Dinnis resigned in mid season, and Alan Ball replaced him at the helm as player-manager.

The play-offs also ended disappointingly as they were knocked out in the first round by Trevor Francis' Detroit Express. Ball was named in the Team of the Season, but otherwise Fury won no other accolades. Giles himself put in 20 solid performances, including 3 assists. The 19 year old Pierce O'Leary played well too, making 14 appearances.

Giles, Dempsey, O'Brien and O'Leary 
all feature for Fury against Rochester

After the Fury's play-off defeat, Giles and O'Leary returned to Ireland and Shamrock Rovers. However, the much vaunted project at Glenmalure Park was failing, and within a year, many of Rovers' professional payers had to revert to amateur or semi-professional status. They did manage to win the FAI Cup, but a League title remained elusive. In 1980, Giles stepped down as manager of the Ireland football team, he would also never play the game again.

In 1981, he further irritated the by-now highly vexed Rovers' fans once again by venturing back to the NASL for the 1981 season. He took up the offer to coach the Vancouver Whitecaps. He held this post until 1983, essentially making him the manager of two clubs at the same time. 

Vancouver were founded in 1973, and in 1981 they played home matches at the 32,000 capacity Empire Stadium in Vancouver. In 1978 they won their first National Conference (Western Division) and repeated the feat a year later, this time going on to win the 1979 Soccer Bowl. The season prior to Giles' arrival had seen them finish 3rd in their conference and knocked out in the first round of the play-offs. The club's average attendances were on the rise, however, settling at 21,000 in the Irishman's first season.

He brought in some talented footballers, attracted to working with a man of such legendary status in the British game. Notable arrivals included Liam Buckley (who Giles took from Rovers), Jimmy Holmes, assistant manager Peter Lorimer, Pierce O'Leary, Dave Thomas and Terry Yorath. The distinctly British-Irish make-up of the squad was a suggestion of the type of football Vancouver would play.

He managed to steer Vancouver to 1st in their Conference, beating the likes of the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. They won 21 matches, but were ultimately hammered by the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the play-offs. New York won the Soccer Bowl and Giles returned to Ireland. 

The following season saw Giles return to Vancouver yet again to act as manager. This time Peter Beardsley joined the side, bolstering a squad that still contained the likes of O'Leary, Yorath and Lorimer. 

The 1982 edition of the NASL saw a change in format, as just three Conferences were set up, to of which contained 4 sides, but one featured 6. Vancouver were entered into the Western Conference of 6 teams, alongside Seattle, San Jose, Edmonton, San Diego and Portland. Giles' boys managed to win more games than any other side, but they still finished in 3rd, behind Seattle and San Diego. In the play-offs they lost 7-3 on aggregate to the San Diego Kickers, while the Soccer Bowl was again won by New York.

For his part however, Giles was named Coach of the Year by the NASL, a feat which stands as testament to the impact that he did have in the league and in the development of soccer in Canada.

The next season at Shamrock Rovers was his last. For reasons which are not worth discussing here, the grand project had been a failure. The grim reality of Irish domestic soccer destroyed the ambitious dreams of everyone at Glenmalure Park, and Rovers would suffer as a result. They would not be a major side in Irish football for another generation.

After leaving the club, Giles did return to Canada for one last season with the Whitecaps. Now, no longer tied to two clubs, he could give all his energy to Vancouver. Big signings were made in the form of David Cross, Mick Martin, Frans Thijssen and David Watson for 1983.

Giles led the side to 1st place again, his second trophy in NASL, in the Western Division, however they once again faltered where it mattered, in the play-offs by losing to rivals Toronto. A 0-1 loss on September 15th 1983 was Giles' last game in North America. He left in a bit of a cloud however, with allegations that he received a cut of transfer fees received by the club.

The NASL was in dire straits anyway. The golden era of the mid to late 70s had passed. In 1983 just 12 teams entered the competition, and attendances were generally low. The Tulsa Roughnecks won what would be the second last season of that fine league, before the whole project collapsed a year later.

In 1986, a new Vancouver Whitecaps emerged in the America Soccer League, and in 2010 Major League Soccer was blessed with a revival of the franchise as a major side. 

Giles's last hurrah in football came at West Brom, where he managed the side briefly in the 1984-85 season. After his stint at the Hawthorns however, he retired from the game, and in 1986 became a senior analyst with RTE Television in Ireland. Today he is renowned in his home country for his tactical knowledge and footballing wisdom, and is rightly still considered to be the greatest Irish footballer of all time.

Giles (left) with Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy on RTE
Giles' reputation at home is secured. His reputation in Britain too is not under question, as proven by his inclusion into the Football League Hall of Fame in 1999. Yet, around Europe he is not as well known as Liam Brady or Roy Keane. What a shame then, he never brought his game to international audiences while still in his prime.

A true legend though, who achieved success in places people are not aware of.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Pat Walker

1982 : OTP Oulu (Finland)
1983 - 86 : Häcken (Sweden)
1987 - 91 : GIF Sundsvall (Sweden)
1992 - 93 : Varbergs (Sweden)
1994 - 96 : Kalmar (Sweden)
2002 - 04 : GF Sundsvall (Sweden)
2005 - 07 : Örebro (Sweden)
2008 - 11 : Sandefjord (Norway)
2011 : Assyriska (Sweden)

Patrick Joseph Walker was an Irish footballer, born in Carlow in 1959. He played for Gillingham between 1977 and 1981, making over 50 appearances in the English Football League and receiving 2 caps for the Irish Under 21s in the late 70s. 

In 1982 he moved to Finland and signed for OTP Oulu. He stayed just a few months with the side, playing in the Ykkönen,  Finland's second tier. Oulu is a city in Northern Finland, and OTP were one of four small sides in the city at the time. In 2002, the four sides merged to form AC Oulu, who still play today in the Ykkönen.

Following his brief spell in Finland, he returned to Ireland and played one season with Bohemians. After 15 games with the Gypsies and seeing his career in 'domestic' leagues slow down, he bravely decided to move to Sweden and signed for Häcken. Bollklubben Häcken, as they are formally known, were founded in 1940 in the port of Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city, and play home matches at the 7,000 capacity Rambergsvallen

Walker arrived just as the club were preparing for their first season in the Allsvenskan, Sweden's top flight. Unfortunately, he couldn't save the club from relegation back to the Division 2. Häcken won just two matches all season, and only scored 12 goals. He remained with the club for the next three seasons, but never managed to help them back to the top flight. In reality, he was a squad player, and only managed 15 appearances in his entire time at the club.

After being released by Häcken, Walker signed for GIF Sundsvall, and returned to the Allvenskan. Sundsvall have a long history, being founded in 1903. Nicknamed Giffarna, they play home matches at the Norrporten Arena, which holds 8,500 spectators.

In 1987 when Walker signed, Sundsvall had just achieved promotion back to the top flight. They finished that year in 10th place, narrowly avoiding relegation as a result. The next season, they came in 5th, just missing out on a place in the UEFA Cup, however the following year they were relegated. Walker retired from playing in 1991, at the age of 32. But by now his heart was in Sweden, as well as his two Swedish-born sons, and so he stayed in the country to earn his coaching badges.

A year after retiring, he was offered his first chance of management with minor club Varbergs BoIS FC. It was with Varbergs that Walker's two sons learnt their trade. His time with Varbergs was a tough one though, as he failed to ever get the club out of relegation dogfights from Sweden's third tier. In 1994, he left the club to take up a new role at Kalmar FF, in the second division. His stint at Kalmar was unsuccessful too, and he left coaching for the first time in 1996.

His return to football in 2002, came at the club where he had spent his most enjoyable years. He was recalled by Sundsvall to manage their side for the upcoming season. Under his reign, the side finished the Allsvenskan in 8th place, missing European football but well avoiding danger of relegation. In fact, that season the Irishman's charges finished ahead of regional giants such as Malmo and IFK Goteborg.

The following year, his side finished in 12th and were forced into a relegation play-off against none other than Walker's first Swedish club, Häcken. A fortuitous 2-1 away win at the Rambergsvallen was followed by a 0-1 loss at home. Sundsvall slid through on the away goals rule.

The 2004 season of Allsvenskan was another good one for Walker. With his limited squad and limited budget, he guided them to 7th, finishing higher than the likes of Elfsborg, Helsingborgs and AIK. One side that were relegated that season, in spite of finishing safely in 8th was Örebro  Following the season's end, the Swedish FA denied them an Allsvenskan licence for 2005, due to their precarious financial conditions.

Walker himself probably wouldn't have cared less, had it not for his sacking from Sundsvall that winter. The following spring he was offered the job at none other than Örebro.

Örebro Sportklubb are one of Sweden's biggest clubs, and anybody involved in football in the country would dream of managing them. England manager Roy Hodgson had even coached the side between 1983 and 1985.

For Walker however, the experience was bitter-sweet, as he came to the club when they were in financial dire straits and preparing for life in Division 1 (Superettan). He did however manage to hold on to most of the squad, and a highly impressive pre-season followed. Expectations were so high that the fans even took to booing the players in the season't first game, despite beating Bodens IF 3-0 at the Behrn ArenaThis would be the last win for a while, as spring would be disastrous for the club and they found themselves battling relegation. A more impressive Autumn saw them finish in 5th, but some way off promotion. 

Walker, while with Orebro
Walker's older son Robert, made his breakthrough with Örebro the next season, and earned a call up to Sweden's Under 19's. A few other impressive signings that year saw Walker's side improve drastically, and they finished that year at the helm of the Superettan and back in the top flight.

Walker's great achievement of bringing the side back to the top, in spite of his troubles and obstacles, was met with a sacking however when Örebro s start to the season was deemed unimpressive. A 4-1 home reversal was the last straw, and the Carlow native was out of a job, again.

That year, he was offered a new role, in a different country. Norwegian club Sandefjord Fotball, a professional side founded in 1998, came knocking. Hailing from the town of the same name in Southern Norway, Sandefjord had bounced between the country's top two divisions since 2002. In 2008, they were gearing up for a season in the Adeccoligaen, Norway's Second Division. 

The previous year they'd been relegated under controversial manager Tor Thodesen, and this had resulted in the players going to the Board of Directors and requesting a new coach. Their request was rejected however, as the Board kept faith with Thodesen. This wouldn't last long however, as their start in the Adeccoligaen that year was abysmal. Thodesen was sacked, and Walker was the new man.

'The Wizard' at Sandefjord

In just eight games at the Arena, Walker managed to steer Sandefjord from relegation contenders to 2nd place. His miraculous success was such, that fans and media in Norway began calling him 'the Wizard'. 2nd was where they finished, and Walker's hugely impressive stint was awarded with automatic promotion for the club and a new contract for himself.

Their first season back in the Tippeligaen was a success, and they finished in 8th, their highest league placing to date. But in 2010, against managers like Henning Berg and Uwe Rösler, Walker couldn't help but see his side finish bottom and suffer another relegation. He only lasted a month back in the Adeccoligaen as he was harshly sacked following a slow start. Sandefjord would eventually finish in 3rd, narrowly missing out on promotion.

For Walker, it was time to take stock of his situation. A host of jobs in Sweden and Norway had brought moderate success, but also bitter disappointment. He had secured some great milestones for his clubs, but was never given the chance to really build his own dynasty.

His last job in management, to date, was back in the Swedish Superettan at Assyriska Foreningen. Formed by Syrian migrants in 1974, it has played primarily in Sweden's second tier, although did play one season in the Allsvenskan in 2005. The club is seen as something of a substitute national team for Syrian-Swedes, and even those outside Sweden who are critical of Syria's regime. Assyriska became the focus of international attention in 2010, when one of their players Eddie Moussa was shot and killed, allegedly because of his brother's underworld connections.

Walker joined the club in May 2011, with Assyriska in 7th place, after manager Rikard Norling was snatched up by Malmo. He could only guide the club to 9th, while old club Sundsvall were promoted. In November, he was sacked and replaced by Bosnian Valentic Azrudin.

Walker is now 52 and without a job. His career might well have been damaged badly by his last job. Whether he will enter management again in Sweden or elsewhere remains to be seen, but we salute him for his work in the relative outposts of football.

Of his two sons; Kevin is now playing with Sundsvall, Walker's old club, in the Allsvenskan. Older brother Robert is with BK Forward, in Sweden's third tier. Both of them are still eligible to play for Ireland, and at 23, there is still always a possibility that Kevin might.

Gerry Daly

1978 - 79 : New England Tea Men (U.S.A.)

The New England Tea Men were a North American Soccer League franchise that existed between 1978 and 1984 (although between 1980 and 1984 they had moved to Jacksonville and changed their name).

The franchise was established by the Lipton Tea Company, one of two sources from which the club took its name. The other being the infamous Tea Party incident of 1773 in nearby Boston. Based in the town of Foxborough, Massachusetts, the club played its home matches at the magnificent Foxboro Stadium, a 60,000 capacity colosseum. The ground was home to the NFL outfit New England Patriots, but was sadly demolished in 2002 and replaced by the Gillette Stadium. Given that the population of Foxborough itself was just 14,000 people in 1978, this made the stadium over four times larger than the municipality.
The club's first manager was non other than legendary Irish full-back Noel Cantwell, who had played for West Ham and Manchester United and had previously managed Coventry. Cantwell had returned to Massachesetts, having managed a local team briefly in 1972. His task was to build a squad of talented footballers with the generous funds available in just four months. He did this by buying or taking on loan a host of British based professionals, many of them past their prime, and offering big wages. Players to come included former Coventry striker Brian Alderson, West Brom legend Tony Brown and Peterbrough stalwart Jack Carmichael. Alderson and Brown had played for Cantwell before, in England.

Also signed, on loan, were Charlton Athletic's star striker Mike Flanagan and Republic of Ireland and Derby County midfielder Gerry Daly.

Daly takes on the Cosmos
Daly was born in Cabra, Dublin in 1954. At youth level he played for local side Stella Maris, and then Bohemians before moving to England aged 19. He signed for giants Manchester United whom he helped guide back to Division One and reach the UEFA Cup Final in 1976. He moved to Derby County the following season becoming a club favourite over the next three years. In 1973 he made his Republic of Ireland début against Norway and would go on to make another 47 appearances for his country over the next 16 years.

In the summer of 1978, with the English Football League season finishing, Daly decided to follow Noel Cantwell across the Atlantic and earn some extra money, playing in America. Unlike many of his new team-mates in Foxborough, Daly was not past his prime, and was still just 24.

The season was quite a success for Cantwell, Daly and co. The Tea Men finished 1st in the Eastern Division, ahead of the likes of Mirandinha's Tampa Bay Rowdies, George Best's Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Johnny Giles' Philadelphia Fury.

Mike Flanagan netted an incredible 30 of New England's 62 goals that season, in just 28 appearances. Daly made just 18 appearances for the Tea Men, and scored 7 goals. Yet such were the quality of his performances that he was still named in the NASL Team of the Year, alongside the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia. He also managed to keep out George Best and Alan Ball.

Peter Carr (3), Gerry Daly (12), Flanagan (10) and Laurie Abrahams (8)
Unfortunately though, New England were defeated in the play-offs by Fort Lauderdale, whom they had beaten in the league. The NASL would eventually be won outright that season by the New York Cosmos.

It had been quite a maiden season for the Tea Men. Yet, their average attendance of just 12,000 fans (in a 60,000 seater ground) was disappointing, especially compared with the 45,000 average recorded by the Cosmos.

Back in England in the 1978-79 season, Daly's Derby were relegated. Putting this aside for the moment, Daly again decided to repeat the trick by moving to America for the summer, signing again with the Tea Men on loan. 

The 1979 season was a big disappointment however, for Cantwell, Daly and the Tea Men. Without Flanagan, who was back with his parent club Charlton, the club struggled for goals. The Tea Men won just 12 matches that season, losing 18, and they finished last in the Eastern Division.

Off the pitch, other problems arose with scheduling. The Bay State Raceway motor-racing franchise had also acquired the use of the Foxboro Stadium. Their race days were on Saturdays, conflicting with the NASL. As a result, it was the Tea Men who chanced an unsuccessful relocation to a smaller ground, and attendances dwindled. They managed to move back to Foxboro, but could only play on Monday nights, which kept attendances down. In fact, the average attendance for the club that year was a paltry 6,500 fans. This naturally made it difficult for the franchise to make profits, which would affect wages and investment.

The 1979 NASL season was won by the Vancouver Whitecaps. Daly himself made 23 appearances and scored 9 goals. After this, Cantwell remained with the club for another year, but the franchise had relocated to Jacksonville, Florida. They reached the Play-Off Quarter Finals in 1981, but never saw any success again.

Following this second stint in America, Daly then 26, decided against following Derby to Division 2 and moved to Coventry City. It is surprising that he decided not to stay in America, like many of his New England team mates, but instead spent the next ten years with various sides in English football. He retired from the game in 1991, and later managed his last club, Telford United, in the early 1990s.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Mick McCarthy

1989 - 90 : Olympique Lyonnais (France)

When he left Glasgow Celtic in the summer of 1989, straight talking Republic of Ireland captain Mick McCarthy was already 30 years old. Arguably with his best years behind him, he sought out new pastures and a new challenge by moving to France and the Stade Gerland.

Having had a successful career, first with home-town club Barnsley and then with Manchester City, the defender moved to Glasgow in 1987. With the Bhoys, McCarthy won the Scottish Premier League in 1988, as well as two Scottish Cups in 1988 and 1989. These would be his only trophies as a player.

In 1985, the Heysel Stadium disaster had sent shockwaves throughout the continent, and in the aftermath, English teams were banned from European competitions for 5 years. This led in turn led to a large exodus of British and Irish footballers to Germany, Spain, Italy and France in order to play in the Champions Cup and UEFA Cup. It was during these years that Frank Stapleton, Gary WaddockKevin Moran, Ashley Grimes, John AldridgeMichael Robinson and John Byrne would create small Irish ex-pat communities in foreign leagues.

And so it was, on the back of his latest Cup triumph that Mick McCarthy took his straight talking attitude to Olympique Lyonnais. On the day of the transfer, he was taken to a very fancy restaurant where the special was salmon in a rich sauce. Everybody ordered it and the dishes duly arrived, four salmon with sauce and one grilled and plain, placed in front of Mick. He drew attention to the oversight and it was explained that the chef knew he was a footballer and that footballers were not allowed rich sauces. ‘Look, I’m 30 years old,’ McCarthy explained patiently, ‘I’ve played 400 games, I’m mortgaged up to my t***, and I would like some sauce with my salmon.’

Regarded today as one of France's most high profile clubs, Lyon were however in 1989 newly promoted to Division One (now known as Ligue 1). By then the club's only trophies had been 3 Cups in the 60s and 70s, as well as some other minor competitions. The previous season's Division 2 had seen them top Pool B and earn automatic promotion. They were founded in 1899, and have since 1926 played at the Stade de Gerland, which today has a capacity of 40,000 people. 

McCarthy wasn't the only Irishman knocking about in France that year. John Byrne had been at Le Havre for over a year. Frank Stapleton meanwhile had returned to Britain.

Lyon side in 1989. McCarthy is at the centre of the back row.
He was signed by Lyon's coach, future France manager Raymond Domenech, and notable team-mates were Bruno N'Gotty and Remi Garde.

The season didn't start well for Lyon though, as they went down 1-4 to Marseille in the opening game, at home. Their form was inconsistent however, yet a number of big wins against Toulouse, Metz and Lille had Lyon in mid table. McCarthy's career in France started very brightly however and he made 10 appearances for Les Gomes before Christmas, scoring 1 goal. However, early in the new year he sustained a knee injury and failed to force his way back into the first team.

This was bad for McCarthy for more than one reason. Ireland had just qualified for their first ever World Cup, and a lack of first team football would seriously hinder his chances of making the Irish squad. By March, Lyon were prepared to let him go, and slapped a price tag of 500,000 pounds on his back. However, the only side interested, Millwall, could only afford a loan deal.

And so he was sent to the Den in the spring of 1990. Despite Millwall getting relegated to the 2nd Division, they did opt to sign McCarthy on a permanent deal that summer. 

Back in Lyon, the first season back in the top flight was a successful one as they finished in a respectable 8th place, over 10 points clear of relegation. One big star for the side that year was Congolese striker Eugene Kabongo who  netted 12 goals in the league. The league that year was won by Marseille, who had Englishman Chris Waddle in their ranks.

That summer, McCarthy was instrumental in helping Ireland reach the Quarter Finals of the World Cup in Italy, where they were eventually put out by the hosts. He remained with Millwall for another two years before becoming their manager in 1992. In 1996, he was appointed manager of the Republic of Ireland team, and would lead them to the World Cup finals in Korea/Japan in 2002, before taking up various jobs in English football. As of winter 2012, he is in charge of Ipswich Town, in England's second tier.

McCarthy is now manager of Ipswich
It could be said that McCarthy's move to Lyon happened too late in his career, and much like Frank Stapleton, his best days were behind him. However, it can also be argued that McCarthy's time at Lyon might have been successful had it not been for the injuries he sustained, and the subsequent battle for first team football. He could probably have eventually forced his way back into Domenech's side, but at what cost? It is only right that he got to play at Italia '90, even if it meant becoming yet another Irish Continental flop.