How incoming England manager Sam Allardyce contrived to keep a hard-drinking Limerick player off the beer was recalled yesterday.
Noel O’Connor, who managed Limerick FC in 2001/2002 before joining Cork City as assistant to Pat Dolan, met Sam shortly after he came to Limerick in 1991 as player-manager. Noel, who comes a well-known Limerick butchering family, said: “I hung around the club a lot and was particularly friendly with one of the younger players who was around my own age and I’d meet him after home games in Rathbane.
“One Sunday before a game, Sam beckoned me near the dressing room before the game and said my friend was drinking too much and wasn’t in great shape when he’d come to training on Tuesday nights. He made his view known in no uncertain terms as he knew I was a friend of the player. We’d watch a game in a pub but this player, who I won’t name, used stay to closing time after watching games on Sky Sports. He’d then give it another lash on a Monday and Sam got wind of what was happening and saw what it was doing to this very promising young player’s game.”
Sam then called Noel aside one Sunday after a game.
Noel recalled: “Sam said to me, ‘I’m making you his minder’. From then on if there was a match on Sky after the Limerick home game, we wouldn’t go to a pub, but watch the game in my house or the house of friends. He’d then go home to bed with no drink.
“On Mondays, I’d arrange to meet him to go to the cinema, or I’d take him out to our farm in Ballyneety where he’d spend hours helping feed cattle. He didn’t know the purpose of the exercise. But his performances began to improve dramatically. After games when me man played well, Sam leaving the field would give me a thumbs up.
“The last time I met Sam was when he brought Bolton Wanderers over to Turner’s Cross for a testimonial for Karl Davenport. The first person he asked about was my buddy and I was able to tell him he had got a contract with a club in the US.
“Sam had huge respect for Fr Joe Young who brought him to Limerick when he was chairman of the club and Billy Kinnane who was helping manage the team before Sam came.”
Allardyce played 23 times for Limerick FC and scored three goals as centre-half and got the club promoted from the first division in the 91/92 season.
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