Saturday 24 March 2018

Brush back from the scrapheap

EVERY trip as a footballer is a bonus for Richard Brush. For most of this year, the Englishman was wondering if his career was over.

Now, he's in Greece, preparing to play another Europa League game with Shamrock Rovers and buoyed by the experience of a strong display at White Hart Lane last month.

After that game, a London journalist asked Hoops manager Michael O'Neill if he would be able to hold on to the goalkeeper.

If only he knew the circumstances of his arrival at the club.

The streets of Thessaloniki -- the home of PAOK Salonika -- are filled with piles uncollected rubbish this week -- just one part of the public revolt against the government's austerity measures arising from the economic crisis.

As recently as July, Brush was on football's version of the scrapheap.

Sligo boss Paul Cook was a big fan but, ultimately, decided that the Birmingham man's persistent fitness problems presented too much of a risk. After injury ruled him out of the FAI Cup final for the second successive year, the Bit O'Red opted against renewing his contract.

All the 26-year-old could do was try and find a level of fitness and wait for an opportunity.

"There were many days when I thought this would be it," he conceded.

Then, the departure of Alan Mannus for Scotland left a vacancy in the Shamrock Rovers ranks.

O'Neill called and asked Brush to provide competition for Ryan Thompson. He took the chance, knuckled down, got into decent shape, and stepped into the breach when the Jamaican suffered a setback in the group stages opener with Rubin Kazan.

Brush gathered the reins from there and is on the verge of league success, in addition to the novelty of this European experience.

The intense atmosphere created by the fans of PAOK is next on the agenda here tomorrow night and, considering the game is being broadcast live in the UK, it is another chance for Brush to remind friends and family of his talents.

"My family couldn't make the Spurs game as they've moved up north to Newcastle," he explained.

"It was on the telly, though, and this is another good chance -- if I'm chosen -- for my family to watch.

"It's also a chance for the football fans over there to see how much the standard of the game has improved in Ireland.

"It's great to be away and involved in these kind of games. I feel good now, and the work with Tim Dalton (Rovers' goalkeeping coach) has really helped.

"PAOK are another good side -- they drew with Spurs. Every game in this competition will be tough.

"We're a bit into the unknown at the minute, but I'm sure the manager has plenty for us to watch between now and the match."

The Rovers squad flew into Thessaloniki yesterday via Budapest.

It is unclear how many fans will be cheering them on due to a nationwide general strike, which is likely to disrupt travel plans and public services.

O'Neill has brought a 20-man squad, with fringe defender Pat Flynn left behind. Midfielder Paddy Kavanagh has left the club with the remainder of his contract paid up. Kavanagh had barely featured this term.

Irish Independent

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