Tuesday 12 December 2017

Carr savours his glorious resurgence

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A couple of winters ago, Stephen Carr was moving around Dublin in relative anonymity, dropping the kids to school and adjusting to life as an unwanted professional footballer.

Yesterday, he scaled the steps of the new Wembley to lift a trophy amid scenes of Birmingham jubilation. He smiled; a rare sight in the years leading up to his period in unemployment.

The feat is all the more impressive because he played such a pivotal part in their success, producing a power- packed overlapping display from the right side of defence that brought back memories of his youth.

Carr turns 35 this year, but looks fitter than he did for the majority of his spell at Newcastle, the club where his star waned in the latter half of the 2000s.

In his early days at Spurs, he threatened to become a top player in the game, but injury was unkind to him. He missed Ireland's trip to Japan and Korea in 2002 with a knee problem, and was overtaken by Steve Finnan who went on to win a Champions League medal at Liverpool and enjoy a more consistent run at international level.

Gary Kelly was the other Irish right full of that generation, and is long since retired from the game. Finnan, who is four months older than Carr, has been unable to secure employment this term. Instead, it's the Donaghmede man who has enjoyed a glorious resurgence.

After a humbling end to his Newcastle career, nobody was willing to take a real punt on Carr in the early part of the '08/'09 campaign, with the player reluctant to drop below Championship level.

However, Birmingham doctor Ian McGuinness set the comeback wheels in motion. Having arrived at St Andrew's from Newcastle, he indicated to Alex McLeish -- who was on the look-out for a defender -- that Carr had never quite received the proper medical care in the North East, in the sense that he was rushed back too quickly from repeated hamstring struggles.

McGuinness believed Carr was worth a call if he could be reconditioned. In February 2009, he was offered a short- term deal. Soon, he would be enjoying promotion and the responsibility of the armband. That's what set him off on the road to Wembley, and to the exhilaration of lifting a cup in front of the adoring masses of Blues followers.

He was joined in the celebrations by Keith Fahey, another Dubliner with an incredible story of redemption -- saved from the scrapheap by St Patrick's Athletic and making the most of his second chance in England at the age of 28.

"It's frightening how it's worked out," reflected Carr, in the aftermath. "The gaffer gave me a chance and I took it. Two years later, I'm lifting the trophy. People write you off. So to come out and win a cup, it's a fairytale.

"I said before the game, to the lads, we know the quality they have ... there's more quality in their dressing room, but I don't think there's more heart."

His own desire was questioned by critics at Newcastle, an environment where many talented pros lost their way through the turbulent noughties.

Considering his dislike and apparent distrust of the press, he was never going to be the kind of character who would come out publicly and fight his own corner. He appeared happier away from the limelight, but is now being asked if he would consider extending his career by a few more years.

"I don't know, I'm drained now," he grinned, when it was put to him. "This is what you work for. I never thought I'd get this opportunity."

In tandem with Fahey, he has succeeded against all the odds.

Irish Independent

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