Corr flying high after 'nightmare' injury low
Southend's Wicklow-born striker eager to repay manager Brown's faith by shooting down Hull
BARRY CORR is a footballer who faces an important 90 minutes every day. He is a stranger to a normal routine, a slave to the idiosyncrasies of his own body.
On a regular morning the players of Southend United walk onto the training pitch at 10.30 to limber up. By then, the 28-year-old son of Wicklow has already endured an hour and a half of work in the physio room. The 9.0 daily deadline is the price to pay for living with the consequences of an injury that would have broken many others.
This afternoon, in front of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, he will play the underdog when Southend host Premier League Hull City in the fourth round of the FA Cup. It is a role that sits easily on the shoulders of a man who has defied odds by making it this far.
It was November 2011 when a surgeon opened up his right knee to find a scene which he politely described as a 'nightmare'. Over the course of the previous year, Corr, a physical striker used to putting his body on the line, had damaged ligaments and then started to feel persistent pain in his tendons. Scans indicated they were caused by previous injuries, of which there were many.
As a youth in the academy at Leeds United, fitness issues had stunted his progress. He has always operated by his own pain threshold.
But this was serious. Quite simply, it could have been the end. The expert uncovered a plethora of problems, and set to work on a microfracture, stitching ligaments and tackling the complicated tendonitis.
Corr, desperate to build on his 21-goal haul in his first season at Southend, faced up to the certainty that he wouldn't be playing any part in the second year of his contract and the possibility that he was completely finished. The recovery process from operations sapped his spirit, especially the twice-weekly trips to the hospital to have fluid drained from the knee because it was swelling up so much.
"I was panicking, to be honest," he admitted earlier this week. "All I know is football. I came over here as a 16-year-old and, to be fair, the clubs do try and give you an opportunity to continue your education. But at 16, you think you'll play in the Premier League and become a millionaire, so a lot of players neglect it and I was certainly one of those.
"Down where I am, in League Two, the pay is still good but you're never going to retire on it. You always look for the next contract and I didn't know if I was going to get it."
In a dog-eat-dog environment with a short memory, caring individuals count for a lot.
Paul Sturrock, who signed Corr for Sheffield Wednesday, Swindon Town and Southend, pulled the worried striker to one side and told him there would be a job on the staff if this was the chequered flag.
During the course of what proved to be a 17-month absence, Corr did his 'B' Licence, enrolled for the 'A' and embraced a temporary role as opposition scout. When his Southend colleagues were running out on a Saturday afternoon, Corr was miles away watching the next team they would encounter.
"I enjoyed it," he says. "I'm a big football fan too, I know all the players in pretty much every league in Ireland so it was good to help the team out. I'd go along with a notepad and pen and take notes on set-pieces, their dangermen, whatever was necessary. It gave me a focus."
The eyes were still trained on recovery, though, and slowly but surely his body began to respond.
Early starts were the sacrifice, an acknowledgement that he would never be the same.
Necessity dictates a punctual arrival to training for the purpose of undergoing a rigorous stretching session. There are days when his cursed knee is stiff and his current boss Phil Brown, better known for his on-pitch karaoke at the peak of his fame with Hull, allows Corr to sit out the session.
The father of two young kids will forever be grateful to Southend for standing by him when others would have politely pointed to the door.
Brown took the reins from Sturrock in March last year and understood that the 6' 3'' frontman required special treatment. In the summer, the club put a two-year contract on the table, a sweet moment in the context of the uncertainty that overshadowed the summer before.
"Phil had only come in with seven or eight games to go in the season but himself and the club were very good to me," Corr asserts. "They had an option to keep me for another year but they offered me the chance for a long term."
Brown is naturally going to come under the spotlight this afternoon, given that he shot to prominence on account of his exploits at Hull.
"I've enjoyed working with him," says lone striker Corr of the 4-5-1 formation preferred by his perma-tanned manager. "You can tell from his preparation for games that he has worked at a higher level."
Corr's specific brief, which involves a lot of running the channels and donkey work for others, means that he has scored just half a dozen goals this term, which is below personal expectations.
Still, the Shrimpers, a community club based just 40 miles from London, are meeting their target of challenging for promotion.
The big man did score in the third round, notching the crucial opener in a barmy match with Millwall that was disturbed by a floodlight failure and peppered by torrential rainstorms.
"We thought it wasn't going to be our day when the lights went out," he laughs. "But it was during the break that we spoke as a group and realised they were really there for the taking. We dominated them."
David Forde was on the receiving end that afternoon and today's visitors have a sizeable Irish contingent, although Corr has only encountered Paul McShane before.
They are both 28 and from the same county but went about getting to England in different ways. McShane went to Dublin and lined out for St Joseph's Boys en route to Manchester United. Corr, a native of the village of Newcastle, stayed with nearby St Anthony's in Kilcoole.
"A lot of people told me I needed to go and play in Dublin to get to England," he reflects. "But I had a really good manager, Freddie Hamilton, and he said to me that if I stuck it out in Wicklow and played well, then people would talk and I'd get over. His coaching was brilliant, and he was right."
He eventually ran into McShane at reserve level across the water and, similar to the other kids who knew each other from the DDSL, there was a curiosity about his background.
"They'd ask me who I played for and when I told them they'd say 'Who are they?'," he chuckles.
Part of him relished being that little different, and it served as adequate preparation for the journey ahead. His unconventional daily workout is just an extreme version of that independence. All the hours of graft were building towards an opportunity like today.
Corr knows that his body will be aching afterwards. He accepts that one knee will always feel different to the other. But they cannot dent the sense of achievement in making it from the hospital bed to here.
"It makes all the hard work worth it," he enthuses. Through his spirit, the magic of the cup lives on.