Sport Soccer

Friday 24 May 2019

'I was always fairly relaxed - no five-year plan, more a five-day plan'

Rochdale boss Brian Barry-Murphy
Rochdale boss Brian Barry-Murphy

Sean Ryan

For Brian Barry-Murphy, being the son of a legendary hurling star was one of the reasons he drifted into soccer. "I was asking myself that question, and I can't think of any reason why I chose to play soccer - I didn't like it any more than hurling," he explained. "In fact, hurling was my favourite sport, but within soccer I was my own entity.

"Jimmy only played a few soccer games, but everywhere I played hurling it was always, 'there's your man's son'. So I played my first game for Noel O'Mahony and Cork City at 16 in the Munster Senior Cup and then I couldn't continue to play both."

Jimmy wasn't only a hurling star, but also an All-Ireland-winning manager, so it's no surprise that Brian has followed him into the managerial game. "Daily I'm in contact with him, playing and managing. I moved to England in 1999 and they (Cork) won the All-Ireland, and even then I was aware of managing and how hard it was. He has been a great help to me."

While Jimmy managed title contenders, Brian is battling relegation in League One with Rochdale, one of Lancashire's smaller clubs. "Rochdale are always underdogs, because they're such a small club, but they are a great club too, bringing through their own players. For the first time in the club's history we've got two players called up for England this year, one at under 17 and one at under 18. They are both in our first-team squad at the moment."

Brian signed for Rochdale in 2010 and was appointed player-coach in 2014. "My job is to help the academy players transition from youth team to first team and to develop in the first-team environment. I have a great affinity with the academy and I see them from the age of 13, 14.

"Initially I did courses the FA put on and got involved with the academy, but I had no masterplan. I enjoyed seeing players improving. I was always a fairly relaxed fellow - no five-year plan, more a five-day plan."

Brian also displayed another side to his character when he took over. "We were on a very bad run, and there was loads of chopping and changing under the previous manager, so I looked to select a team that could stop the rot and, in my first game, I dropped two of my buddies - Ryan Delaney and Stephen Dooley. I took some stick over that, but we've gone on a bit of a run, so they haven't been able to get back since, but they are working hard."

Delaney and Dooley are two of four Irish players at Rochdale. Jimmy Keohane joined from Cork City and former Derry City starlet Rory Holden is on loan from Bristol City. "I talked Rory into coming but I haven't been able to select him either in recent weeks," said Brian.

Having lifted his team out of the relegation places with their win at Accrington last Tuesday, Brian faces a run of cup finals or six-pointers between now and the end of the season, but he doesn't look at it like that. "Last year we were in the same situation, and the games we regarded as six-pointers we couldn't win, and we won the ones we weren't expected to, so on the run-in, they're all just hard games.

"As a club we wouldn't expect to be in League One with our resources, but we want to do as well as we can and we're playing very well. We have a team of young lads and they don't get nervous."

Brian, who considers himself a journeyman, joined Preston from Cork City, signed by David Moyes. It was a move which introduced him to the very competitive nature of the English game. "I found the intensity and fitness very different to the part-time League of Ireland, but I gradually worked my way into the first-team squad. I had a couple of loan moves and then moved to Sheffield Wednesday and they got relegated to League One, but I played quite a few games in the Championship. Overall, I've had a great time."

He is still a League of Ireland fan and says the highlight of his days with Cork City "was the guys I played against - Liam Coyle, Paul Doolin, Pat Fenlon, Brian Mooney, and then our own Patsy Freyne. When I came to England the standard wasn't as good, but teams were much stronger as a group. Now the League of Ireland has evolved and it's more full-time with great coaching."

On Easter Monday, the only two Irish-born managers in England lock horns in a relegation battle when Barry-Murphy's Rochdale travel to Graham Coughlan's Bristol Rovers in a game which could decide their League One fate. The Premier League attracts most of the attention from Irish fans, but suddenly there are two good reasons for keeping an eye on developments in League One.

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