Friday 20 April 2018

Six aborted Irish transfer deals that could have altered careers - for better or worse

Dermot Keely’s beard was among the reasons his move to Celtic didn’t come to passr. Photo Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Dermot Keely’s beard was among the reasons his move to Celtic didn’t come to passr. Photo Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There's one more week of the transfer window remaining, a chance for players to secure moves that change the course of their football lives. This functions as a spurious reason to look down memory lane at some aborted Irish moves that turned out to be Sliding Doors moments for the characters involved.

Tommy McConville to Manchester United

McConville, who sadly died in 2013, was one of the greatest defenders to grace the League of Ireland.

He made his name at Dundalk, but he was at Waterford when he thought he was on his way to United in 1974.

United boss Frank O'Farrell had completed a £28,000 deal with a former player, Shay Brennan, then manager of Waterford.

"I was on top of the world," said McConville in a 2011 interview. He was due to fly for a medical the day after a final game against Shamrock Rovers. But Waterford's directors scuppered the plan by going over Brennan's head and requesting double the money.

"United told Waterford they wouldn't deal with a club that reneged on a handshake between the two managers," McConville said.

Later that night, Waterford contacted Old Trafford to say they'd accept the original offer; they were told where to go on a point of principle.

The furious McConville went on strike for five weeks, determined not to play for Waterford again.

He agreed to join Shamrock Rovers on condition that Waterford didn't receive a singlepenny for the deal and the directors eventually allowed him to leave for free after admitting their grievous error.

Gary Breen to Inter Milan

Ireland fans still sing about having a team of Gary Breens but there was surprise in 2002 when Inter Milan expressed an interest in the man himself, having noticed him while scouting Robbie Keane.

When he came back from the World Cup in Japan and Korea, where he impressed, the central defender thought he was about to embark on a new adventure in Serie A with a two-year contract on the table. The only hitch was a medical.

An old knee injury provoked scepticism and the deal collapsed. Breen spoke recently about how the regret still lingers.

Dermot Keely to Celtic

McConville's best pal also had the ability to operate at a higher stage, although he was different in the sense that he turned down his ticket away.

After the famous European Cup tie between Dundalk and Celtic in 1979, where the Lilywhites came within inches of making the quarter-finals, the Scots made their move.

Keely met manager Billy McNeill and was told he should be honoured to join a club of that stature, but he wasn't too fussed because he was never a fan of English or Scottish football.

What put him off was Celtic's demands. They wanted Keely to give up his passport, sell his house in Dublin to prove commitment and to shave off his wild beard because - wait for it! - it made him stand out to referees. "That was the straw that broke the camel's back," he later explained.

He reasoned that, as a 25-year-old adult, he was well able to look after himself.

"They didn't want somebody like me with an opinion," he said, "The thing is, the very thing that gave me strong opinions was the very thing that made the player I was. They wanted me to give up on the things that attracted them."

Roy Keane to Blackburn

We don't even need to dwell on the detail here. Just imagine what would have happened if Keane had signed a deal with Blackburn on the day he shook hands with Kenny Dalglish, instead of just giving a verbal commitment that mattered little when Alex Ferguson made a late play.

Would Keane and Alan Shearer have enjoyed multiple title successes together? Would Manchester United have won a treble? Would Alf-Inge Haaland still be remembered today? And it would be remiss not to mention Saipan in some shape or form. . .

Jackie Jameson to FC Haarlem

There are plenty of League of Ireland cult heroes who never got the moves their talent deserved. Liam Coyle always comes to mind; he suffered a catastrophic knee injury after impressing Benfica boss Sven Goran Eriksson.

Jameson was the darling of Dalymount Park, a gifted performer who shunned attention. He let his football do the talking. In October 1986, representatives of Dutch side FC Haarlem came to watch Bohs host a Galway side containing their intended target Paul 'Ski' McGee. The hosts won 5-3 and Jameson, then 29, was sensational.

The Haarlem officials made a play for the Gypsies star but the homebird was reluctant to move and McGee went instead.

It's a crying shame that Jameson, who died tragically in 2002, never got the opportunity to showcase his skills to a wider audience.

Seamus Coleman to Finn Harps

One wonders what Rob McDonald, the Englishman who took over at Sligo Rovers towards the end of 2006, makes of the fact that Coleman is now one of the top right-backs in Europe. McDonald arrived at The Showgrounds and decided that Coleman was surplus to requirements, even though he'd never watched the teenager play.

Coleman discussed the uncertainty a few years back. "We all met for pre-season in January and, thank God, I had a year left on my contract. Otherwise I was out," he said.

"I went in and he said 'you are not in my plans. . . we will try and get you on loan to Finn Harps."

For the Donegal lad, who had made big sacrifices to leave home and give up his GAA commitments for a full-time contract, it was a major setback.

Luckily for him, and for Sligo, McDonald left due to frustrations with the running of the club before his first campaign started and Coleman stuck around. Paul Cook came in, realised his potential and the rest is history.

If he'd gone back home, it's still likely that his talent would have come to the fore but Harps were part-time at that juncture and not in great shape. Careers can turn on a small twist of fate.

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