BLACKBURN Rovers’ signing on a free transfer of wing-back James Brown has incurred the wrath of Drogheda United chairman Conor Hoey after the 23-year-old signed for the English Championship title contenders without a single cent of compensation being paid to the Boynesiders.
Given the player’s desire to play professionally at a higher level, Drogheda were pretty much resigned to losing him at the end of the 2021 season, the only question being whether he would move to another League of Ireland club - probably St Patrick’s Athletic - or secure a deal across the water.
A trial with Blackburn proved successful, and Drogheda thought they would be compensated because Brown was 23 years of age in the season when the English club approached the player.
However, unknown to Drogheda - and, it seems, other League of Ireland clubs - the Fifa transfer status rules were tweaked at some time last year and now state that compensation is due if a club comes calling before the end of the calendar year of his 23rd birthday. Given that Brown will turn 24 in June, he no longer comes into that category.
The development has irritated Hoey, especially as Blackburn also seem to have been unaware of the rule change until the 11th hour.
Outlining his position, Hoey said: “I am not happy with the Jimmy Brown situation and there’s something fundamentally wrong with the system when we’re entitled to compensation if a player goes to St Patrick’s Athletic, but not if he goes to Blackburn Rovers.
“I went to Blackburn and said that we’d been caught on the wrong side of a rule change and tried to get them to do a sell-on clause, but they just said they might come over and play a friendly against us and that’s not really going to make money for us.
“Look at the amount of investment we’ve put into Jimmy to help him to become the player he is.
“I was very disappointed because we have a lot of history with Blackburn. Gary Tallon, who played for Drogheda, went there in the 1990s and we had a game against them when Alan Shearer and Kenny Dalglish came over.
“But they are not breaking the law and it’s done now.
“It’s not Jimmy’s fault. He is a great lad and we wish him the best of luck.”
Drogheda, incidentally, had continued to pay Brown after his contract ran out in November, as under a new FAI player retention rule they would not otherwise be entitled to compensation for losing an U23 player to another League of Ireland club.
Brown, incidentally, could be brought straight into the Blackburn first-team squad for this Saturday’s big league match away to Cardiff City.
Just four days after signing a six-month deal at Ewood Park, Brown started Sunday’s U23 match against Manchester City and he could be an option for first-team boss Tony Mowbray after his regular right wing-back, Ireland international Darragh Lenihan, limped off at half-time in the 3-2 FA Cup defeat at Wigan Athletic the day before.
It had been planned to bring through Brown, the 2021 Drogheda United Supporters’ Player of the Year who also featured in the Premier Division Team of the Season, via the U23 side, but Mowbray said he held his own while training with his first-team during a three-day trial in December and his hand might be forced depending on how serious Lenihan’s injury turns out to be.
Either way, Brown believes that he is in a good position to take advantage of the opportunity afforded to him.
“A lot of lads go over to England when they’re younger and then end up coming back to Ireland,” he told Blackburn Rovers TV after being unveiled.
“It was different for me. I had a few trials that didn’t work out, but everything happens for a reason and I feel I’m mature enough now to take on the challenge.
“I had offers in Ireland and had pressure to make a decision, but this was the number one goal. I had to grab the trial with both hands.”
Mowbray’s first priority is to improve Brown’s fitness levels as his campaign with Drogheda concluded in November.
“I hope he affects our team somewhere down the line, but first and foremost he needs to get fit, he needs to put in the extra work,” he said at Brown’s unveiling.
“He’s been very good in the League of Ireland. For me, he’s coming in to play some U23s football.
“Young (Dan) Pike has gone out on loan to Fylde and he can fit in and we’ll see where he is in six months time. I see that as a no-brainer on what I saw in three days.
“He’ll join in with the first-team squad and then we’ll look to arrange some extra physical work so it feels a bit like a pre-season for him.”
Meanwhile, last season’s Drogheda United Player of the Year Dan O’Reilly has made a dream start to life with Hamilton Academicals in the Scottish Championship.
O’Reilly went straight into the starting line-up for the game at Queen of the South on January 2 which ended in a 3-0 victory.
And the 26-year-old centre-half kept his place for last Saturday’s game with title contenders Partick Thistle, in which Accies twice fought back from a goal down to draw 2-2.
Those four points in two games have lifted Hamilton into mid-table after they had flirted with the relegation zone prior to O’Reilly’s signing.
Back in the FA Cup, another former Drogheda player, William Hondermarck, helped Championship club Barnsley squeeze through to the fourth round with a dramatic 5-4 victory over League 2 outfit Barrow on Saturday afternoon.
Hondermarck, who made his Drogheda debut as a 17-year-old in 2018, came on as a second-half sub with Barnsley 2-1 ahead, but minnows Barrow eventually clawed their way to level at 4-4 before the Tykes grabbed the winner in extra-time.