Monday 25 March 2019

Colin Young: 'Seasoned duo feel old-school values mustn't be forgotten'

Ian Harte and Graham Kavanagh enjoy a lighter moment during Ireland training in Cyprus in 2005. Photo: Brendan Moran
Ian Harte and Graham Kavanagh enjoy a lighter moment during Ireland training in Cyprus in 2005. Photo: Brendan Moran

Colin Young

There is not much danger of desertion in the Kavanagh household. Calum Kavanagh, son of former Ireland international Graham, is making a name for himself scoring goals in Middlesbrough's youth teams, and he is becoming a regular in Ireland's underage sides too.

Their courage piqued by Declan Rice's dithering declaration, the English FA approached the 15-year-old (born in Cardiff so could also play for Wales) and his family, through his club, about 'trying out for England'. They received short shrift.

"Calum never wants to play for anyone else," says Graham Kavanagh. "He is Irish, he feels Irish and is proud to wear the jersey and go over to play for his country at any level. He was asked to go try for England but there is just no chance.

"I would be devastated if, with my history and heritage and my roots, my son decided to play for Wales or England. It is his history, his country.

"I can see why young players do it now. They are massively influenced by their agents. I am a million per cent Irish but kids are brought up in that environment in England and are swayed by their clubs. Your value might be X amount but if you are English it is literally off the chart and the kids and parents are thinking, 'does it mean so much to play for Ireland?'"

Across the table at the Wynyard Hall Golf Club in Teesside is Kavanagh's neighbour and former Sunderland and Carlisle United team-mate Ian Harte, who is now working as an agent. Both played under Mick McCarthy in his first reign as Republic of Ireland manager and have watched the Rice saga unfold.

"If I am Mick, I have to go out and try and get the best players available," Harte says. "But if you talk to England and you don't want to wear the jersey, as an Irishman and an Irish fan, then no, I don't want you. Declan Rice is a very good player. I watched him and he was excellent against Liverpool recently and he'll be in the next England squad.

"But how many caps will he win for England? They have such a vast pool to choose from and young players coming through in midfield all the time. He could have played for Ireland one hundred times, first name on the teamsheet.

"The big disappointment for me is that we didn't play him in a competitive game. That was stupid."

Former Carlisle manager Kavanagh, now scouting for Bristol City and coaching in a Middlesbrough academy, made 16 appearances for Ireland in a 19-year career which spanned six clubs and more than 500 appearances. He played in the early McCarthy era, making a home debut against Sweden.

"I came on at half-time and scored at the home end and I remember just going wild. I think Cas (Tony Cascarino) set me up and I hit it at the edge of the box, it bent into the top corner and I just lost my mind. Steve Staunton jumped on top of me and I looked up, thinking 'fucking hell, I was stood on those terraces for all the games and dreaming and thinking about playing for Ireland at Lansdowne Road and scoring'. It was just surreal."

Harte adds: "He can't remember any-thing about the night after it. That's a total blur!"

The former trusty left-back of the McCarthy era, who was part of Leeds' Champions League journey, scored 12 Ireland goals in his 64 games and has fond memories of the old Lansdowne Road.

"We were coming from pitches that were good in England and sometimes you would train on it the day before a game and it would be a shit-tip and it was kind of expected. But you knew that the teams from any nationality would walk out there and think 'this is horrible'.

"And after that bus journey on our way to the game when you've got the rebel songs on and Mick Byrne dancing, you would be so pumped that whether it was Holland or whoever, you knew 'we will beat them today'. And from the city centre to the ground you'd see fans hanging out of windows and all the pubs full and think 'we have to win today'. It was brilliant."

McCarthy's return means a return to the club mentality installed on his mentor Jack Charlton's first day as manager 33 years ago. He has had two months to digest Rice's defection after a negative response to their first meeting and find a replacement for a player he didn't have in the first place.

"Delighted for him. It needed a lift and he's the right man for that," says Harte of McCarthy's return. "It's a very different squad and a challenge. But look at Ipswich now. He worked wonders and pulled rabbits out of hats for years. They should never have got rid of him. We're lucky to have him."

Harte and Kavanagh were both schooled at Home Farm before moving to England. Dubliner Kavanagh was educated by John Pickering at Middlesbrough when Colin Todd was manager and stayed for the start of the Bryan Robson Riverside revolution. Drogheda-born Harte joined his uncle Gary Kelly at Leeds, and the likes of Jonathan Woodgate, James Milner, Harry Kewell and Paul Robinson in Paul Hart's outstanding youth teams.

Kavanagh, 45, retired in 2011 to assist Greg Abbott at Carlisle, and Harte's final game was four years ago for Bournemouth during their ascent to the Premier League. Both have hands-on experience of the current generation, and the youths, and their parents, to come. It's not all good.

They are frequent social media users and they know the modern-day player's obsession with online followers is fraught with dangers they could never have envisaged when they were playing.

The approach to a young footballer's development has changed beyond recognition since Kavanagh and Harte left Ireland to pursue their dreams in the '90s. Technology may be helping technique and tactics but they feel some of the old-fashioned traditions are still necessary.

Kavanagh said: "I was a young boy when I came over from Ireland and I would have done basically anything John told me to become a professional footballer," says Kavanagh. "They don't have to do jobs, clean balls, clean boots, sweep the stands, clear snow off the pitch. That was a huge part of our discipline. You were a dogsbody but it was good grounding.

"We didn't have a training ground so we trained on Redcar Beach but the YTS (Youth Training Scheme) lads could only wear tops and shorts; first-team players had hats, scarves, gloves, you name it. But that was the incentive. You had to earn that right by being a first-team player. It has all changed now.

"It is a lot softer, a lot of Q and A, whereas when we were growing up it was basically command coaching - do this, do that, do it this way, this is what is expected, don't answer back. Now they get homework on iPads and it is a completely different way of improving a player such as pass on information at half-time and after the match, rather than shout and scream during a game. The old-style coach is being fazed out.

"That's fine but it can be difficult for a young player to handle when he gets in the first team and his manager, team-mates and fans are screaming at him because he's made a mistake and there's points at stake. When Nigel Pearson came to Middlesbrough and he screamed at you, you literally shit your pants. I'm not sure how they would handle that now."

Harte was signed as a striker by Leeds 'for his blistering pace' but Paul Hart found his left-back niche eventually. He said: "He kept putting me further and further back. He was demanding, but ask any player that didn't make it and he gave us the best chance, he was unbelievable. We were fitter than any other team and he worked us hard on the training ground.

"He is probably milder now, still working at Stoke, but he will still be demanding of young lads if they are not pulling their weight. But you have to be careful how you speak to young players now."

And how you tackle them. The sturdy left-back's art has been hindered by greater protection for wingers. Harte concedes he might struggle in today's game on that front. "Trust me," says Kavanagh, "Hartey is one of the nicest men you will ever meet, and one of the biggest c***s in the world on a football pitch."

Harte admits: "That might be true. I would do you in a heartbeat, silent assassin. But you had to be like that as soon as you cross that white line. You are going to war whether you are playing your best mate or not. That's the difference. It is difficult getting across the message that it's OK to want to win and have a bloody winning mentality. It does drive me mad. You go out and do your job, otherwise there is another left-back on the bench waiting to take your place.

"When I was a player, you had Overmars, Pires, Henry, Poborsky, some of the quickest lads to play the game but you could nail them then . . . Now there's cameras everywhere . . ."

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