Cross-channel hotseats never comfortable for Irish managers

Brighton’s decision to remove Chris Hughton’s steady hand from the club’s tiller this week couldn’t help but bring to mind again the pithy reaction of Joe Kinnear when Kenny Dalglish got the heave-ho from Newcastle 21 years ago.

“It seems you can get sacked for farting in the wrong direction at the moment,” said the then-Wimbledon manager, who would make the claim 15 years later that he had never been shown the door through spells in charge of the Dons, Luton Town, Nottingham Forest and the Toon.

The circumstances surrounding his departure from Kenilworth Road have been debated but it was ill-health which brought an end to his days with the Crazy Gang and the Magpies and he walked away from Nottingham before they were relegated from the Championship.

All of which tends to overshadow the fine body of work he put together at the start of his managerial career when taking Wimbledon to sixth, ninth, and eighth in those nascent Premier League seasons.

And to two cup semi-finals to boot.

Kinnear’s six seasons in charge of Wimbledon haven’t left a huge imprint on the football consciousness here in Ireland and yet that stint stands as the longest an Irish manager has managed, literally, in the Premier League.

Only 13 Irishmen have held the ultimate position of power in a football club in England’s top flight since the Premier League era began in the autumn of 1992. 

Of that, seven were from the North. Of the half-dozen who were eligible to represent the Republic, only two spent their formative years in this jurisdiction. Take a bow, then, David O’Leary and Roy Keane.

David O'Leary
David O'Leary

Frank O’Farrell spoke of the challenge “for a humble Irish boy who once worked as a fireman on a railway train” when he was named as Matt Busby’s successor at Man United in 1971. 

It remains a most daunting journey that is beyond the navigation skills of most, almost 50 years on.

Only O’Leary, at a high-flying Leeds United, and Brendan Rodgers, with Liverpool, have held posts at what Alex Ferguson might — or, come to think of it, might not — regard as ‘top, top clubs’ in the Premier League era. 

Simply having an Irishman at any top-flight team is an achievement in itself these days.

There were none at all across the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons. 

Hughton’s exile from the south coast leaves Rodgers as the sole top-flight Irish manager as this campaign ends, and he is just one of six across the 92 clubs that make up the four divisions on the English league’s landscape.

The stats are eye-opening from any number of angles. Take, by way of example, the fact not a single one of that half-dozen has been in their current role for more than a year. The longest serving? Grant McCann. 

The ex-Northern Ireland midfielder has been the gaffer at Doncaster Rovers in League One for all of 322 days. It’s a shelf-life like that which made the League One tie between Bristol Rovers and Rochdale last Easter Monday so unusual. Managing Bristol was Dubliner Graham Coughlan. 

Overseeing the ‘Dale was Cork’s Brian Barry-Murphy.

As odds go, it was like bumping into a buddy at a bar in Bolivia. 

Brian Barry-Murphy
Brian Barry-Murphy

Very few heads were turned back home by this meeting of like minds, but consider the roads both had to take just to get that grip on the lower end of the ladder: From playing careers that started at League of Ireland clubs before switches to Britain where they made a collective 18 moves before hanging up their boots.

Barry-Murphy hinted at the unglamorous nature of life at this level when, having just arrived at Rochdale as a midfielder in 2010, he spoke to Liam Mackey about how he had “never had any big money” from football. 

Working for a club that has never been higher than the third tier is unlikely to generate a fortune.

The ambition will be for more elevated and profitable postings, if not at Rochdale then somewhere else, but Barry-Murphy and Coughlan have already beaten the odds in being handed the keys to the gaffer’s office at the Crown Oil Arena and Memorial Stadium. 

You’d wish them well.

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie Twitter: @byBrendanOBrien

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