John Fallon: City slicker Carr rises to Atlantic challenge

Jamie Carr is a former League of Ireland footballer who quit playing at 23 to become a coach and is working with Manchester City’s U18 team.
John Fallon: City slicker Carr rises to Atlantic challenge

CHALLENGE CONQUERED: Manchester City Coach, Jamie Carr.

NEVER before had Jamie Carr felt so physically bereft yet emotionally enriched when his 3,000-solo row across the Atlantic reached Antigua last Friday.

It was exactly 53 days, one hour and 12 minutes since the native of Baldoyle had set sail from the Canary Islands in a £50,000-boat especially made to withstand the rigours of currents, winds, storms, and whatever else the open sea would throw at completing his expedition.

“I lost 10 kilos but it was all worth it,” he said on Tuesday about the bodily toll, enjoying the creature comforts of a hotel buffet in Antigua.

“When your bum takes the brunt of the pain from sitting still, it’s difficult to describe the joy of a soft couch. I’ll relax here for a while with my Mam and girlfriend while my body recuperates. I still have to get my land legs back.”

Yet this wasn’t a regular sea-farer conditioned to the perils of transatlantic voyages.

Jamie Carr is a former League of Ireland footballer who quit playing at 23 to become a coach and is working with Manchester City’s U18 team.

This time last year, he had never picked up an oar, never mind contemplated rowing 18 hours per day against treacherous waves, fearful one momentary deviation to brush his teeth or chew a protein bar would veer him off-course.

Being responsible for City’s next generation was plain sailing compared to this challenge.

But Carr revels in challenges, sparked by the humbling experience of his first coaching job.

Reading FC were recruiting but the spec for the rookies entailed a six-month stint in remote India.

Life lessons were the takeaway from operating in disheveled conditions close to the Himalayas. If the kids kicking ball were content without first-world perks like wifi, then the adults shouldn’t crib.

That sense of perspective, coupled with the onset of dementia in his father, gravitated Carr away from the comfort zone and into the challenges he craves. “Nothing Ventured” was chosen for his apt call to action.

Raising £50,000 for two charities, Cancer Fund for Children, in Ireland, and City Thrive, a mental health programme for young people run by Manchester City provided additional motivation.

Step one of his 2022 mission was running the equivalent of six ultra-marathons in six days across the Sahara Desert during the Marathon Des Sables held in March. Distance was a cakewalk when set against the stifling heat and sharp inclines.

In between the twin peaks there was the day-job at City to consume him. As his employer since he joined from Reading in 2018, they’d been unwavering in their support for his causes, affording time to prepare, execute, and recover.

Pretty soon, the hierarchy realised their Irishman was made of the right stuff to inspire kids setting on their career path, gradually promoting him from the U14s to the U18s, where he flanks Ben Wilkinson in the dugout.

Compatriots have come in and out the door. Donegalman Fergal Harkin left his Football Partnerships and Pathways Manager post for the Sporting Director’s role at Sporting Liège just a year after Brian Barry-Murphy from Cork jumped aboard as boss of City’s developmental squad, effectively the reserves.

Academy graduates like Phil Foden appeared in photoshoots to bolster the fundraising drive and a fleet of other first-teamers sent video messages he was able to view during his limited online windows at sea.

“I had a satellite telephone for outgoing calls to be used once every couple of days,” he explained. “Other than that, there was just a wifi terminal allowing me to send short one-minute videos back to charities.

“However, even that was hard work as I’d hold it up to a satellite to send a one-minute video while steering a rocky boat with one hand.”

It wasn’t just the physical strain he had to cope with. Mental fortitude is essential operating in that solitude — “I never saw another human being for 52 days” — but there was a comical moment over the airwaves when the universal language of football connected.

“I had set sail just before the World Cup semi-finals and didn’t know who’d won,” he explained. “Then on the World Cup final day, I heard through my VHF radio from a cargo ship, situated nearby but which I couldn’t see, a random Indian lad shouting about Argentina winning on penalties.”

Since he’s docked, more pertinent matters close to home at City, both good and bad, had to be caught up on. Amongst them the progression of Rico Lewis into Pep Guardiola’s first-team having just turned 18. “Rico was always a year ahead of my group,” he said. “As highly as we rate Rico, we probably still didn’t expect it to happen so quickly for him and to be involved so regularly.”

Brexit has stalled the recruitment of Irish teens into City’s finishing school but other budding tyros, Carr is glad to report, are not only eligible for Ireland but intend sticking with the cause. They’ll have an ideal Irish role model to emulate.

Readers can still contribute to Jamie’s fundraiser.

Ireland U21s and Turner's Cross a cracking combination for latest Euro tilt

Barring a damp squib in the dry-run against Iceland on March 26, Turner’s Cross is to reclaim its title as the home of Ireland’s U21s.

Between 2005 and 2009, the Cork venue played host to the majority of the side’s fixtures; the likes of France, Portugal, England, and Germany displaying their next generation.

That series was interspersed with the odd game in Galway and Kilkenny before Waterford and Sligo, where Robbie Brady first enthralled an Irish audience, got their turn in the nationwide roadshow.

The latter end of Noel King’s era and start of Stephen Kenny’s saw games return to a Tallaght Stadium gradually adding stands but the turnouts there in the last campaign — the most successful results-wise in history — were disappointing. Not even the first-ever playoff against Israel in September could fill the 7,500-capacity venue.

A number of factors, including bank holiday dates, clashes with senior matches, and ticketing problems, contributed to the problem and Jim Crawford floated a desire to relocate beyond the capital. “This group of players deserve big crowds,” he admitted.

Cork is in the driving seat to secure the campaign which begins in September. Ireland were last week drawn against Italy, Norway, Turkey, Latvia, and San Marino. Pulling a crowd for a March friendly on a Sunday is the first audition.

League of Ireland must up its game to profit from feelgood factor

A winter of hibernation ends today when the League of Ireland officially launches its three tiers for the 2023 season in Dublin City Hall.

Flashbulbs will be plentiful beneath the 244-year-old dome, soundbites equally so and the nine months ahead in the men’s two divisions and women’s sole structure will be buttressed with gusto. But whether the league and its clubs are doing enough to maximise growing popularity is a moot point.

Material for coverage in the lead-up to the opening men’s matches on Friday week arrives in deluge format, just when the GAA national leagues, Six Nations rugby and Champions League emerge in direct competition.

For a league on track to recover from neglect of the previous FAI regime, it really does sometimes miss open goals. Signings and re-signings have been announced by clubs since last season concluded at the end of October, yet press events to promote them have been virtually non-existent. Ironically, the exception is the newest of the 20 men’s clubs, Kerry FC.

January, came and went without clubs optimising the oxygen to push season ticket sales or their sponsors. Not even a league launch guarantees a sea change, if last year’s instalment is a baseline. A couple of managers skipped the event, a few others skipped away early and one restricted his contribution, outside of the LOI’s official channel, to 90 seconds with RTÉ. A whole new ball game awaits.

  • john.fallon@examiner.ie

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