Joe Corcoran: The man who made dreams happen

Joe Corcoran used to like to be known as a mere postman with a passion for football but he was so much more.

Joe Corcoran: The man who made dreams happen

Manchester United’s long-time scout, who yesterday died following a short illness at the age of 73, had devoted his life towards benefiting Irish football.

Whether it was from his early days as a coach at Dublin clubs Bolton Athletic and Cambridge Boys, his legislative nous in the positions of Schoolboys FAI (SFAI) and DDSL chairman, or loyal confidant of Alex Ferguson, Joe’s influence was legendary.

Hogging the limelight was far from his motivation, rather the warmth of his personality generated as much joy to the circle of friends and acquaintances over the decades as it did to himself.

As the FAI pointed out in their tribute to the man following his passing yesterday, his role in bringing Manchester United to Dublin for the first football match in the reopened Lansdowne Road in 2010 was crucial.

In typical fashion, he sought no acclaim.

United, as well as the FAI and Irish football, had much to be thankful to Joe for. After a short stint as Huddersfield Town’s Irish representative, he was headhunted by the late, great Billy Behan during the 70s to assist in scouting players for the Red Devils.

Only late last year, Joe reminisced about sending his first player, a 13-year-old Ronnie Whelan, to Old Trafford on trial only for the stylish midfielder to eventually end up at Liverpool.

He also wore a wry smile in recalling United’s failure to snap up Frank Stapleton as a teen upon his recommendation, yet forked out £900,000 on the Ireland striker from Arsenal in 1981.

Not many more during his 40 years of service slipped away like Whelan and Stapleton did.

Kevin Moran, Liam O’Brien, John O’Shea and Robbie Brady are best remembered as the ones that graced United’s first-team but a flood of others were persuaded by Joe to choose United over rivals as their professional club.

No guarantees accompanied the proposals to youngsters and families, only the opportunity to learn their trade at what he always considered the biggest club in the world.

Although his job description centred on getting the best Irish talent to United, he wasn’t to type to vanish if things didn’t work out for them.

Last year provided an example when goalkeeper Joe Coll, recently back in Donegal after quitting the club, was steered towards the PFAI squad playing a tournament in Norway to showcase their ability in front of potential new suitors.

Of all the managers he worked under at United, Alex Ferguson was the supremo he bonded most with. Outside of football, they shared an interest in horse racing and fine wines while their trust in each other regarding the business of football was unflinching.

Just as Celtic thought they’d landed a youngster from Waterford, John O’Shea, in 1998, a phone call from Joe to United’s chief scout Martin Ferguson and, in turn, to his brother, Alex, would change the teenager’s career.

Flights to Manchester were swiftly arranged for a meeting with the United boss and Joe knew full well upon returning on the plane that night with Jim and Mary O’Shea that their son was set for Old Trafford.

The same magic worked on Paul McShane, who had originally opted for Leeds United before a change of heart occurred following a late intervention by the Ferguson/Corcoran duet.

Ferguson would continue to flank Joe in all negotiations with Irish players, as well as the football partnership they brokered with Shelbourne in 1999.

As an avid fan of Shels, originally from his native Ringsend, it was a proud moment for him.

Laterally, Joe became vice-chairman of the Irish Soccer Scouts Association, his zeal at the bargaining table a vital tool in gaining more rights from the FAI for a section of Irish football sometimes treated with suspicion.

What you saw with Joe, however, was what you got.

To the well-heeled residents of Shrewsbury Road in Dublin 4, he was their stalwart postman but in the eyes of Irish football folk, Joe was the key-holder to realising dreams. His untimely passing will deny people of all ages the chance of accruing more memories.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

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