Graham Cummins: Another risk, but Marc Bircham’s first job will be to make Waterford players smile

Waterford's appointment of former Canada international Marc Bircham is another gamble by the club
Graham Cummins: Another risk, but Marc Bircham’s first job will be to make Waterford players smile

Former Queens Park Rangers first team coach Marc Bircham has taken over at Waterford. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

There is never a dull moment at Waterford. Rather than recruit someone who knows the club and the league, owner Lee Power has taken another gamble by appointing Marc Bircham as first-team manager. 

With all the drama surrounding the previous two permanent managers, you might have expected Waterford to go a safer route — that a manager who knows the league would have given them the best chance of survival in the Premier Division. Instead, Power has appointed someone who probably doesn’t know half the players in the league.

There is still hope for Waterford to save their season. They lie bottom of the table but with nearly three-quarters of the campaign remaining, there are plenty of points available. 

But this looks risky. We know now that appointing Kevin Sheedy as manager, with Mike Newell as his assistant, was a mistake. There were far more qualified coaches available who knew the league and would have done a better job.

In Power’s defence, when he appointed John Sheridan as manager last year many were skeptical of the former Irish international’s local knowledge, but Sheridan proved doubters wrong while he was with the Blues – even if it was only for eight games. 

However, Sheridan inherited a squad that had been together for months and knew the league, whereas Sheedy assembled a squad that had little experience of playing in the League of Ireland.

Speaking to players at Waterford, they were happy with Sheedy in the beginning, that the environement was enjoyable, and the 61-year-old was saying all the right things.

But the honeymoon period didn’t last long, and players were soon complaining about the tactics, or lack of tactics.

Sheedy had signed players believing they were going to play in a certain way but ended up doing the complete opposite. Perhaps he wanted to play an attractive style of football but underestimated the standard of player he'd be coming up against. Maybe he quickly realised that the teams he would be facing were far better than he expected. And that a possession-based style wouldn't give his side a chance. Whatever the reason, he changed his philosophy to long-ball because it’s less risky.

As a player, you respect your manager if he explains the need to change tactics in order to get results, but the manager must do so in a certain way. 

Often, a manager tells players that he wants to get points on the board early on with a safer approach and that later in the season the team can start to play more with the ball on the deck. 

It’s a bit like what most managers tell their team just before every game. Most of the managers I have played under have directed us to play the ball in behind defenders early in the game and not to take risks at the back. When the game settles after 20 minutes, then you can get the ball down and pass.

But Sheedy and Newell’s major mistake was that they fell out with captain Brian Murphy. I was fortunate to share a dressing room with Murphy for a short time and I can’t imagine him being any trouble for a manager. He was the ultimate professional.

First into training, always doing extra prehab and flexibility work. One of those guys who didn’t speak much, but when he did everyone would listen. Murphy always had the team’s best interests at heart, so to disrespect him because he might have said something they didn’t like was the beginning of the end for Sheedy and Newell.

Bircham’s first task will be to make the training ground an enjoyable place. Waterford’s budget is low. When you’ve got players who are earning very little, the manager has to make sure that everyday the players come into train, they are walking in with a smile and are not miserable. 

During my second spell with the Blues, Alan Reynolds was excellent at making Waterford an enjoyable club to play for. His only complaint would be when the music wasn’t on in the dressing room. 

He was the only manager I worked under who would be the same in training whether we had lost or won a game. Most managers are miserable following a defeat and make the dressing room a tense environment, but Reynolds would always walk in, ask about our weekend, and demand the music be put on the liven up the place. 

He used to jokingly call us rejects, but also assured us that although other managers didn’t believe we were good enough, he did, and we were there to prove people wrong.

Bircham will have his own philosophy on how he wants his team to play but that could take time. It might take six or seven games before he can implement his ideas and it's debatable if the Blues can afford to wait that long. 

I hope he proves to be a success, but when you're deep in a relegation battle, there were certainly safer bets out there. 

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