#14: The Patron Saint Of Wasted Talent

Listen to the latest episode of our podcast, in which we discuss Stephen Ireland and some of the most wasted talents football has seen over the years:

Subscribe on iTunes or your podcasting app, or download directly here.


What constitutes a wasted talent?

Once you start debating and trying to define it, you quickly find yourself emerged in the weeds, in a futile attempt to discern who has thrown away their god-given talent and who was just never that good in the first place.

It’s a wholly subjective task, one that will never have a truly definitive answer. In this writer’s effort to define it, the best I could come up with is this: A player who appears or appeared to have all the necessary tools to go far in the game or become a great player, but for one reason or another, did not reach those heights.

There are some caveats, the obvious one being injuries. They are inevitable in football, and one wonders how much greater Ronaldo would have been had his knee not have exploded just as he hit his prime. His namesake Cristiano, and Lionel Messi have been extremely lucky not to suffer the cruel ignominy of a serious, long-term injury, allowing them to flourish throughout their careers. On the other hand, injuries can also be a consequence of not looking after oneself properly, so it can be a tricky one to decipher in this context.

Media coverage is easier to measure. Freddy Adu is often included in lists of wasted talent, but the fact is, he was over-hyped and overrated by the media and sponsors such as Nike, trying to make as much money as possible in promoting him. He had never played a senior game in his life, so how could anyone reliably know his talent level at that point? Many players endure this kind of hype early on in their careers and can’t live up to it, through no fault of their own. Sometimes they were never that good to begin with.

If we want to nail down the essence of a wasted talent, then we should look no further than Stephen Ireland.

When he emerged in 2005, Ireland was just another hopeful youth prospect, but soon became the great white hope of a nation. His performances for Man City and the Republic of Ireland garnered praise, demonstrating a quickness of thought matched by his feet. A rare commodity in Irish football.

The Cork native scored three goals in his first four international caps, including a vital goal against San Marino. Whereas the team was going through a rough patch circa 2007, his class was evident with stellar performances in qualifiers against Wales and Slovakia. And yet to this day he only has six caps to his name.

Ireland didn’t know it at the time, but he reached his peak in 2009, wresting the Man City player of the year award away from Richard Dunne’s grasp; thereafter it all went south. Deemed surplus to requirements by the end of the following season, the midfielder had forgettable spells at Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Stoke City, failing to recapture the kind of magic that defined his early years in the sport.

What happened? Injuries, for one. Ireland’s knee has taken a battering over the years, to the point where he didn’t play a single minute in the 2016-17 season for the Potters. In turn, his match fitness has been woeful whenever he has been available for selection. Injury struck again while he was on trial at Bolton Wanderers in August, scuppering a potential move to the Trotters.

While that is desperately unlucky and unfortunate timing, the Irishman has also been his own worst enemy at times. His infamous underpants celebration and the photos of him with his bright pink car can be explained away as the actions of a young messer, but they helped to create this image of a professional athlete who didn’t take things all that seriously.

Still, the football fraternity gave him the benefit of the doubt, in no small part thanks to his ball-playing abilities, handing him enough rope with which to hang himself. He duly did: complaining about his “money-obsessed” Manchester colleagues while holding out for a £2m payoff, being photographed smoking from a shisha pipe, going on a mad rant against Giovanni Trapattoni, all of which contributed to the public’s perception of him as a tosser.

Ireland did go through personal heartache during the ignominious episode that was Grannygate, when his partner apparently suffered a miscarriage, the true reason behind his leaving the Irish squad in 2007. Given the two splendid seasons he would play at club level following that incident however, it cannot be judged as the turning point in his career.

The signs were there from early on, following a dispute with Brian Kerr at youth level which left the Corkonian ostracised from squads until the coach left the FAI in 2005, that he would get in the way of his innate talent. For others the fall can be more obvious. Renato Sanches, who was cast as the next big thing when he moved from Benfica to Bayern Munich as a teenager, is dangerously close to wasted talent territory. A Euro 2016 winners medal was later followed by a disastrous loan spell at Swansea City. He has plenty of time ahead of him, but the Portuguese should take heed of Ireland’s story and arrest the slide before it becomes irreversible.

George Best is sometimes offered up as an example of wasted talent, and while his retirement at the age of 27 is convincing evidence of that, the Northern Irishman still won a European Cup with Manchester United while dazzling huge crowds for years with his outstanding skill and trickery. Perhaps Robin Friday is a better example. Although we have next to no footage to prove otherwise, the Reading and Cardiff City legend was a tremendous player who lived a life of debauchery off it. He spent his short career in the lower reaches of English football when, with a different attitude and lifestyle, he should have been at the very top level.

In more modern times we can see the slide more clearly; there is a very evident before and after. Adriano only had a few great years at Inter before losing his way. Ravel Morrison didn’t even get that much. Jermaine Pennant, Anthony Stokes, Willo Flood, Ricardo Quaresma, Darron Gibson; all players, to name a few, who showed glimpses of what they could be if they squeezed every last bit of talent they had for what it was worth, but ultimately failed.

And yet, sometimes this writer feels as if it is actually our fault for projecting our own feelings onto these players, desperate to proclaim the new king before they’re ready to wear the crown.

[Sources: The42, Irish Times, Wikipedia.]

Let us know on Twitter and Facebook what is the greatest talent you have ever seen go to waste.

Intro theme by The Shaker Hymn.

13 Reasons Why We Absolutely Love Brian Kerr

There are those out there who will tell you they don’t like him, that he’s overrated as a manager and even worse as a commentator. Thankfully they are few and far between. Brian Kerr is indeed one of Irish football’s most beloved figures. But why exactly do we love the former Ireland manager so much?

Listen to episode 12 of the podcast: Brian Kerr, the Grandfather of Irish Football

Subscribe on iTunes or download directly here.

He was only a teenager when he started his managerial career.

At 13 years of age, Brian Kerr got his long career in football management started with the Crumlin United U-11’s side.

He won his first trophy less than a month after getting his first senior managerial role.

brian kerr
[via independent.ie]
Appointed St. Patrick’s Athletic manager in December 1986, Kerr guided them to Leinster Senior Cup glory just three week later, the club’s first trophy in a decade.

He remortgaged his house to help save St. Patrick’s Athletic.

When the Inchicore club were on their knees financially in the nineties, a number of investors raised £82,000 to save the club from going bust. It’s believed that some of them, including Kerr himself, remortgaged their homes to do so. Despite the turmoil surrounding the club, he was able to win two league titles in 1990 and 1994 as manager.

He’s the only manager to have won major trophies with Ireland.

A bronze medal at the 1997 World Youth Championships was followed up with victory at the U16 and U18 European Championships the very next year.

He used to breed rats.

“I was part of a very important scientific experiment where we used to breed rats; they were huge, huge rats. They were on feeding trials in my days as a lab technician with the Department of Agriculture in UCD.

Occasionally there would have been escapee rats running around the floor, who escaped out of the cages. So I got quite handy at capturing white rats on the floor. Overall I thought it was good training for managing in the League of Ireland!”

He is one of the Faroe Islands’ most successful managers of all time.

Kerr’s record of two wins and a draw in 16 competitive games ensures his name will be forever etched into Faroese folklore.

His commentary is often the best thing about RTE’s football coverage.

brian kerr

His description of Shaqiri is just brilliant.

Or as Brian likes to call him, ‘The Powercube’.

But he’s not afraid to change his mind either.

His nicknames are on the money too.

Harry Maguire won’t forgive him any time soon though.

This conversation with Apres Match.

His analysis is always spot on.

“Biff, bang, wollop.” Kerr’s take on the state of Irish football is just one such example of his excellent punditry.

Kerr is a Proper Football Man, but he loves cheering on the Irish team, no matter what code it is.

He’s so beloved he might even have a shot at higher office, you never know…

https://twitter.com/LallyDec/status/1025040614075916288

Follow us on @nostalgiaultra5, and follow the writer at @thenoveltyact on Twitter.

#12: The Grandfather Of Irish Football

Listen to our tribute to Ireland’s foremost grandfather figure in football on the latest podcast:

You can also subscribe on iTunes, find us on your Android podcast app, or download directly here.

Brian Kerr is one of the most influential figures in Irish football, producing some of the country’s best talent as the FAI’s youth manager in the nineties.

Yet, he’s not only out in the cold from the game, but he also divides opinion among football fans in Ireland. Some see Kerr as a legend, others as a jackeen fool.

Ste McGovern and Colm Boohig discuss his legacy as a manager and why he’s now performing a public service as a TV pundit.

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Sources: 

Brian Kerr And The Revolution Of A Problem Child – These Football Times

From banjoed to wojous: The Brian Kerr World Cup phrase book – The Irish Times

Malaysia 1997: A Glorious Chapter In Irish Football – RTE Sport

How Brian Kerr scores the co-commentary hat-trick – RTE Sport

Brian Kerr reveals he used to be a ‘caretaker of rats’ in UCD – Dublin Live

 

#9: The Last Great Tears Of An Irish Fan

LISTEN – Episode 9, Ireland vs Spain, World Cup 2002:

Subscribe on iTunes; find us on your Android app; or download directly here.

Intro theme by The Shaker Hymn.


When the next World Cup comes along, it will have been twenty years since Ireland last appeared at the tournament.

More time will have passed between our jaunt in Korea & Japan and Qatar 2022, than between Italia ’90 and 2002. The more you think about it, the worse the reality gets. It is an absolute age to have not competed at a World Cup.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Ireland’s last game in the competition, a penalty shootout loss to Spain, has become one of the most reminisced upon games in Irish sporting history.

ireland vs spain

It might seem somewhat glib to speak of it in those terms. After all, a defeat is a defeat. But much like the quarter-final loss to hosts Italy three decades ago, Ireland’s final game at the 2002 edition was the side’s best performance of the tournament.

The void, that absence of similar moments on the world stage, and the wider it becomes, the more importance we attach to it.

We recall the moments, the big chances, Duffer’s stellar performance on the right wing, the elation of Robbie Keane getting us to extra time, the penalties – those scored and, regrettably, those missed. But most of all, we remember the tears. The ones shed by the players, but mainly the ones shed by us, the fans.

ireland vs spain

It had been a rollercoaster of a month for Irish supporters, between the seismic activity of Saipan and the opener against Cameroon, Keane’s last minute equaliser and the rout of Saudi Arabia, so much had happened. We — all of us, fans, players, staff — were tired and emotional by that stage.

But we didn’t want it to end.

Anything but that.

Then Gaizka Mendieta showed up. He didn’t even start, but then again it’s all about where you finish. And he finished with the ball, slowly bobbling over Shay Given’s outstretched leg, passing him by centimetres. “By fuck all” as he puts himself.

Shite.

ireland vs spain
16 June 2002; Gaizka Mendieta, Spain, puts his penalty past Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given to win the penalty shoot out. FIFA World Cup Finals, 2nd Round, Republic of Ireland v Spain, Suwon World cup stadium, Suwon, Korea. Soccer. Cup2002. Picture credit; David Maher / SPORTSFILE *EDI*

The collective regret has been enormous ever since. What could have been? A quarter-final with South Korea. And then what? A possible semi-final with Germany? Sure we already knew they were no great shakes.

It hurts to think about those possibilities, even still. Because we haven’t been able to fill that void. 16 years and no World Cup. Germany, South Africa, Brazil, Russia. They all got on grand without us. Ouch.

Sure we had Euro 2016, and we’ll always have it. The night Robbie Brady put that that ball beyond the Italy keeper with that beautiful mallet head of his. The emotion on that night was incredible, a few tears were shed on that occasion alright.

But it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t the World Cup.

The longer the wait goes on, the more you wonder “will it ever happen again?”

Oh, what I’d give to cry like that again.


Absolute must-watch; Japanese highlights of Ireland vs Spain, great quality too. The commentators get very excitable at times:

Highlights of the game, featuring commentary from Ian Darke, which i didn’t know existed until now:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2ni5at

RTE’s incredible montage from the 2002 World Cup. We dare to watch this and not well up with emotion. Go on:

The BBC highlights of Spain vs Ireland, 16 minutes long and with Barry Davies commentary. Oddly, this video doesn’t include the Morientes goal:

https://dailymotion.com/video/x5u3j9m

 

Follow us on Twitter: @nostalgiaultra5

#6: The Irishman Who Saved FC Barcelona

Patrick O’Connell is not a household name when it comes to Irish football, but it should be.

A footballer who grew up across the road from Croke Park, the Dubliner was the first Irishman to captain Manchester United, joining the Red Devils for a then record fee of £1000. But that’s not even the most interesting part of O’Connell’s story.

Listen to the full story here on the latest Nostalgia Ultras podcast:

A committed socialist, O’Connell was running guns for the 1916 Easter Rising while he worked in a munitions factory in England. Conflict would be a familiar feature of his time in football, especially when he was manager of FC Barcelona as the Spanish Civil War broke. He is widely credited with saving the famous club from extinction by bringing the team on a tour of Mexico to raise much needed funds.

In between he was a hugely successful manager at a number of different clubs, including Racing Santander, Real Oviedo and Sevilla. But his greatest triumph was capturing the La Liga title with Real Betis in 1935. To this day it is Los Verdiblancos only league win and he is fondly remembered at the club for guiding them to the top that season, earning the moniker ‘Don Patricio’.

Sadly, Patrick O’Connell died destitute in London in 1959. He couldn’t find work upon returning to the English capital, where no one knew of his successes in Spain. It would stay that way for decades.

Now a film has been made to remember his legacy.

Don Patricio Film from Mulberry Media on Vimeo.

 

We spoke to Fergus Dowd of the Patrick O’Connell Memorial Fund on the podcast in anticipation of the documentary, Don Patricio. You can listen to it on Android or iTunes.