Wednesday 23 January 2019

A true blue legend

Manager Godkin hoping to lead North End to glory

Pike Rovers manager Mike Shiels, left, with North End United manager John Godkin during the FAI Intermediate and FAI Junior Cup Finals media day at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin
Pike Rovers manager Mike Shiels, left, with North End United manager John Godkin during the FAI Intermediate and FAI Junior Cup Finals media day at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

Dave Devereux

When John Godkin first took the reins as a manager at North End United, this year's world snooker finalists, John Higgins and Mark Williams, were just turning professional.

Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were winning the FA Youth Cup with Manchester United and, like the Class of '92, Godkin passed his first test with flying colours and went on to make what would become an indelible mark on the beautiful game.

Godkin was a talented boxer in his youth, winning four All-Irelands, but a serious injury in 1982-'83 put paid to his Olympic dream, and boxing's loss was football's gain as he brought his ring craft to the world of soccer and he has been perfecting it ever since.

After winning the Premier Division as a player in 1986, Godkin first dipped his toes into North End's managerial pool in 1992 when he took over their second team and quickly showed his aptitude on the sideline, leading their 'C' team to an historic Wexford Cup win, beating top flight kings New Ross Celtic 4-1 in the final.

His instant success earned him a shot at the first team job, and 25 years and a host of trophies later he's still steering the ship in an assured manner. The highly-decorated manager is so immersed in North End United Football Club that if he cut his finger you'd expect him to bleed sky blue.

When talking to the North End supremo at the start of each season, two things seem to be a constant motivation: seeing new players coming through the ranks and also capturing one of the big prizes away from the domestic competitions. Well, they certainly don't come any bigger than the FAI Junior Cup and Godkin feels their time could be now after knocking on the door so often in the recent past.

'We've been beaten in five semi-finals and quite a lot of quarter-finals in the big competitions outside of Wexford. A couple of years ago I knew that if I could keep the foundations of the team that won their first cup in 2012 together that we could challenge on a national level. In between lads have gone to League of Ireland or whatever, so it's very difficult to keep players at Junior level now with all the other distractions that are there. This current team have been beaten in a few quarter-finals and a semi-final so hopefully we can go all the way,' he said.

Godkin says capturing the FAI Junior Cup is not just important for him and the players, but for the club as a whole as it would really announce their arrival as a top force on the national stage.

'This is important for the club, because you only become a really big club if you win the national competitions. Dominating your own county is great but the next step is to go on to the national level and do it consistently,' he said.

However, the Sky Blues boss is under no illusions about the task at hand, with Limerick giants Pike Rovers standing in the way of them and the prize. The Treaty county men have a rich pedigree in Junior football's premier competition, and have talked the talk and walked the walk, so they won't be an easy nut to crack on Saturday.

'On a national level Pike would be a bigger club than us. This will be their third FAI Cup final in seven years, and we've been looking up to clubs like that, the likes of Pike, St. Michael's and Sheriff, and striving to get to that level. We want to be one of them as well and in the last few years we've been locking horns with a lot of these teams and have beaten them,' he said.

Under the tutelage of the maestro, North End have amassed as much silverware as a High Street jewellers, but the astute Godkin always hunts for more and nothing would look better in the Belvedere trophy cabinet than the Holy Grail, the FAI Junior Cup.

'To be honest if we won this one it would definitely be the pinnacle for the club and for me personally. I would swap everything else to win it,' he said.

If the Hollygrove-based side do go on to lift the trophy they will have done it the hard way, playing a host of tricky ties on the road, and their only 'home' game was in Curracloe due to the redevelopment of their Belvedere Road pitch.

'It's amazing that we've reached the final this year and haven't played a home game in Belvedere. We always looked at Belvedere as our fortress but sometimes you learn different things when you don't have a choice.

'Even if we had Belvedere this year it wouldn't have mattered much because we were only drawn at home for one game anyway,' he said.

The father-of-two has given so much time to the club that he deserves all the accolades that come his way, and it's testament to his dedication to the cause that he'll be managing North End's Under-18s in the Youths Cup final as they go for the double the Saturday after the big Aviva showdown.

'The last few years I've been able to give more time to the club because my own kids are grown up, but for the first few years it was the first team and the first team only because that takes up quite a lot of time.

'I think we had won one Premier title up until I took over and I've won eleven leagues since and won ten cups in that time as well. This team would probably be my fourth era in terms of teams. Each era probably lasts six or seven years and it's constantly evolving. I take great pleasure from seeing kids coming through. It's very important,' he said.

Godkin will be hoping to go one better than New Ross Celtic, who were runners-up in the FAI Junior Cup in 1994, when he himself was only cutting his teeth and was still wet behind the ears as a manager.

He is aiming to sew another beautiful segment into the rich tapestry he has already weaved with North End United by adding a much sought-after prize to their staggering roll of honour and is hoping the whole football fraternity in the county will be behind them.

'We're the first Wexford team to get to the Aviva and the second Wexford team ever to get to an FAI final after Ross Celtic.

'There seems to be a lot of genuine goodwill, even from other clubs. Hopefully we'll get good support on the day. It's great for Wexford soccer,' he said.

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