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.