Sport Soccer

Thursday 17 October 2019

Barry-Murphy ‘excited’ as he prepares to bring his Rochdale side to Old Trafford

Colourful Corkman opens up to David Sneyd about life in the lower leagues

Rochdale manager Brian Barry-Murphy, son of Cork legend Jimmy. Photo: Getty Images
Rochdale manager Brian Barry-Murphy, son of Cork legend Jimmy. Photo: Getty Images

David Sneyd

There are times when Brian Barry-Murphy speaks in a whisper, as if what he's telling you is a secret that must not go any further.

"All these courses that you go on, you will hear coaches talking about plans, they talk about having three-year plans, five-year plans. I have no plan. I don't know if that is right or wrong, but I've never thought down the line because you never know what can happen. I don't have any limitations about what I think about myself as coach. I just love it." And it shows.

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A conversation with Barry-Murphy, like this one as he sits bounding back and forth on a high stool in the bar of the local cricket club where Rochdale train, should come with a warning: be prepared for a journey through his consciousness.

Once you're on there is no getting off. You don't really want to. A member of his backroom staff is playing a frame of snooker by himself and, while he quickly makes his excuses mid-break when the manager arrives, Barry-Murphy is not the one to ask him to leave.

The Rochdale manager, son of Cork and Jimmy Barry-Murphy, is one of only three Irish-born bosses in the English professional system. League One rivals Bristol Rovers have Graham Coughlan in charge, while Daryl McMahon recently replaced Sol Campbell at Macclesfield Town in League Two. As a player, Barry-Murphy spent the entirety of his 20-year career in the lower leagues of England; first with Preston, then Southend, Hartlepool, Sheffield Wednesday, Bury and Rochdale. It is why, when discussing the progress of fellow centre-back Eoghan O'Connell, whose father he played with at Cork City, he is determined to eke out every ounce of talent.

"A brilliant player, brilliant player. We're friends, I've no problem saying that at all. Eoghan, me, Kevin Long at Burnley, we're all good friends and I'm in Eoghan's ear all the time - there is no excuse whatsoever for him not to achieve what he wants in the game," he says of the former Celtic defender, who is now 24.

"I loved his dad, Damien, and his mum. I looked out for him all the time and feel I should look out for him, but I'd f***ing kill him too because I love him.

"People go on about the manager-player relationship and how it has to be different, it has to change. It doesn't, does it? I don't think so.

"Well, I don't know. I might be wrong. But the best managers I ever worked for would make it seem as if you were best mates and they could still nail you once a week if they needed to."

David Moyes was his first at Preston after joining from Cork. "He was like a messiah. You wanted to please him and you hung on his every word. He created a sense for us all of wanting to achieve something great.

"And that's why I don't think there's any way in the world I should be trying to curtail the ambitions of my players, or the way they view themselves."

There is no need to ask Barry-Murphy to elaborate. "If I said, 'Lads, we're a small team', they'll go, 'We don't think we are, what are you on about?' That is my f***ing self, that talk is based on my own insecurities.

"We give them ideas about how we think they should play against any opposition but then I'll always say to them, 'Are you ok with this?'

"You have to have some game-plan. If we get players to buy into it, if you totally get them to believe in what they're doing and be prepared for when it goes wrong, that's the challenge for us."

Barry-Murphy's side have caught the eye since the start of this season with their possession-based style of play - a recent goal away to Southend United came at the end of a 16-pass move and went viral online.

"The goal, the goal, the goal," he laughs. "People watching probably thinking, 'Who do they think they are? They're obviously watching (Pep) Guardiola'. But I know that if we lose a few then people will be questioning that. I won't be."

Rochdale sit 16th in League One, with a 6-0 hammering away to Peterborough last weekend followed by a 1-1 draw at home to Lincoln City in midweek.

Today they face Fleetwood, while on Wednesday they travel to Old Trafford for a third-round EFL Cup clash with Manchester United.

"Brilliant, there's nothing wrong about being excited by that," he insists.

This is Barry-Murphy's first full season in charge, having taken over last April when Rochdale were in the relegation zone. He kept them up and he is still brimming with fervour.

"When you win games it's all about the culture and the environment," he reckons, again reducing his tone to a whisper.

"I couldn't give a s**t, just be yourself and try to understand what the players will respond to.

"If I try to do something different or be someone else they'll see it in a flash and know it's a bluff."

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