Sport Soccer

Saturday 16 December 2017

Ireland have character to qualify for World Cup despite early setbacks, insists Coyle

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

In the early summer of 1994, Owen Coyle travelled to Dublin in hope.

The Scottish-born son of parents from Donegal had won his first – and only – Ireland cap in a 1-0 win over Holland in Tilburg that April and was back with the rest of the squad for a host of pre-USA 94 engagements.

He posed for pictures, helped record the World Cup song and trained his heart out. But, having been named in Jack Charlton's extended squad, the Glaswegian was cut before the championships and watched from home as Ray Houghton's goal sent the Giants Stadium into a frenzy.

As a player who maximised what he had for a successful career, the disappointment was couched in the realism that Ireland had a coterie of established strikers and his chances were slim.

Yesterday, he was back in Dublin on media engagements with broadcaster ESPN and says he is biding his time for the right opportunity to return to management after being sacked by Bolton Wanderers in October following relegation and a difficult start to life in the Championship.

Once the rising star of the management game, Coyle must now ride the merry-go-round and try and ensure that the next opportunity is the right one to rebuild his reputation.

"As a player I had a career of highs and lows but I've been very fortunate as a manager," he said.

"All I'd had was an upward spiral until I left Bolton Wanderers and even then, in leaving – considering the job we'd done over that period of time – I think we actually did very well to a degree.

"If it was the right opportunity then I would come back in tomorrow, there's no doubt about that. I mean, I've been very fortunate in that I've had three or four approaches already but I didn't think they were the right opportunities for me.

"I'm not naive. It could be a Premier League club fighting for their lives or a Championship club with aspirations of going to the Premier League and I have no problem with that."

Last week, Coyle attended the funeral of former Ireland and Celtic great Sean Fallon, who was an early manager of his at Dunbarton.

He declared for Ireland while playing under the Sligo legend and scored on his U-21 debut against Scotland at Easter Road.

Recent converts like James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady have come in for fierce criticism for switching allegiances, but the 46-year-old said he rarely encountered the same negativity.

"I didn't in that era," he recalled. "When I played growing up, everyone knew my background. I got bits of stick when I went places. I loved playing against Rangers and had great success playing against them. It was always a battle.

"I know Aiden McGeady got a fair bit of stick. It comes down to the individual and what their background and feelings are. I was extremely proud of being born in Scotland but also of my Irish roots and everything that goes with it.

"I spent whole summers here growing up and that was a huge part of us. For me there was no difficulty in terms of how it came about."

Coyle revealed that it was the Irish connection with Fallon that gave him his first start in football and one that he cherished throughout his career and led to his eventual declaration.

"Sean Fallon signed me when I was 13. I was supposed to sign for Dundee United but my two older brothers – Joseph and Thomas – were professionals at Dumbarton.

"He came to see my family and my dad is from Donegal and Sean is Sligo and he said okay, he'll be going to Dumbarton with the brothers.

"I got in the team and was scoring goals. Maurice Setters came to watch me a number of times with a view to playing for Ireland. When I said I'd play for Ireland, I think people accepted it, knowing what was in the family."

Managing Ireland, he says, is something of a dream for the future and he believes that the squad can put recent disappointments behind them to reach the World Cup in Brazil.

"Coming off the Euros, you want to make sure in the qualifiers you're up and running, and the Germany game hurt everybody," he said.

"I think they showed character in going to the Faroes, which was always going to be a difficult game.

"The important thing is come the end of the campaign we can qualify. Of course it's going to be difficult, with Sweden and Austria being big games, but I think we can do it. If it means going through the play-off, so be it."

Irish Independent

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