League of Ireland Mavericks
Published 18/01/2010 | 05:00
THERE have been plenty of players to emigrate from the League of Ireland with success in the last 15 years, but for the mavericks, those individuals who really succeeded in entertaining during their time at home, the path to success hasn't always been so easy.
With Kevin Doyle the prime example, several homegrown recruits from these shores have quickly adapted to the English game, honing their talents and compromising where possible to become consistent performers. In fact, Stephen Ward, who departed Bohemians for Wolves as a well-regarded attacking player, has been transformed into a left-back.
Yet there are always players like Wes Hoolahan, who have a natural way of operating, who truly need the right club and confidence from a manager to thrive. He's suffered setbacks in the UK but, at Norwich, the Dubliner has found a role to produce the kind of form that those who paid to watch him at Shelbourne will remember with fondness. Other performers of the same ilk haven't always been so lucky.
He could have been a real contender, but the enigmatic Dubliner had his own issues to deal with. After a stint at Coventry where he drifted in and out of the first-team, the supremely gifted playmaker returned to Shelbourne during the mid '90s and offered dazzling glimpses of his ability, with his nonchalant 1996 FAI Cup final strike to break St Patrick's Athletic hearts, his defining moment. Sheridan flourished under Damien Richardson, in particular, but his departure from Tolka Park resulted in an uncertain period which ended when Cardiff City -- whose manager Bobby Gould remained a firm fan -- took a punt in 2000. Alas, it didn't work out for Sheridan who came back to Ireland without playing a single first-team game, with his career petering out thereafter.
A joy to watch, yet what is distinctive about his story, is that he never got the opportunity to showcase his talents at a higher level. Indeed, his full-time aspirations ended at the age of 21. Manchester United were aware of his ability, yet repeated knee struggles scuppered that dream. A break from the game allowed Coyle to resume at a part-time level, unable to withstand much training. The forward's languid style of play and remarkable technical ability endeared him to Derry City followers. If medical science had been more advanced at the time of his troubles, however, then we could be telling a different story.
Ah, Georgie. The man is liable to pop up anywhere. Every maverick has a manager who knew what buttons to press and Pat Dolan was capable of keeping O'Callaghan on the straight and narrow, with the old-fashioned No 10 thriving on Leeside after exiting Port Vale and coming home.
His relationship with Damien Richardson and subsequent managers has been far less routine, though. In addition to that, a player like O'Callaghan is a luxury that couldn't be justified during stints with Ipswich, Brighton and Yeovil in the UK, which, along with a disastrous second coming at Cork and brief visit to Dundalk, ultimately came to nothing. On trial with Brighton last week, although a third spell at Cork is on the cards.
Capped by Northern Ireland at the age of 18, McCourt is another with prodigious talent. He arrived in the League of Ireland in 2005, with Roddy Collins bringing the Derry native to Shamrock Rovers where, in a season that ended with relegation, he provided the few moments of cheer for Hoops fans with a series of ridiculous solo runs that taunted opponents. Ended up back at his hometown club, where he continued to torment his markers, even if the end-product sometimes fell short. It was inevitable that someone would take a punt and Celtic pipped West Brom to the post in 2008. He needed to improve his fitness following the move to Scotland and was largely peripheral for his first season before making a tad more progress this term. Scored a few virtuoso goals to live up to his reputation in that department.
A star of the U-20 World Cup in Malaysia when he was playing for Athlone Town, 'Billy Boy' went on to enjoy great success at St Patrick's Athletic before making his mark with Bohemians as he travelled around the capital at will. Roddy Collins lured him to Carlisle in 2002 to offer a break in England, yet Molloy was simply unable to bring his confidence from home across the water, struggling to settle into a chaotic environment. Ended up back with Shamrock Rovers and St Pat's and, in the January of 2007, at the age of 29, he got a chance with Motherwell in the SPL which proved another false dawn. Now plying his trade up north.
The Tallaght lad was one of the most highly sought-after schoolboys of his generation, but England didn't agree with him in his teens, with Arsenal and Aston Villa unable to cure his homesickness. So, the stylish midfielder, a superb passer with a repertoire of long-distance goals, got stuck into life with St Patrick's Athletic. He could have gone off the rails completely when his switch to Drogheda was followed by a sacking for disciplinary issues, but St Pat's welcomed him back and a sparkling run of form secured a move to Birmingham last winter. Fahey responded, scoring several crucial goals on the way to promotion, while also developing the positional and defensive side of his game. He's there for the long haul.