HE’S the latest of the Irish football management wild geese to take wing to exotic foreign climes – and trust Roddy Collins to bid farewell to his home town with a memorable soundbyte.
“If the Faroes is good enough for Brian Kerr, Malta is certainly good enough for Roddy Collins,” says the Dubliner with a laugh. “He’s getting what he deserves – rain 200 days a year. I get sunshine 300 days a year. So someone up there is looking after me and not Brian.”
Based just outside the walls of the Maltese capital Valletta, Floriana is the latest port of call for the larger than life gaffer whose career high to date was doing the double with Bohemians in 2001 before touching down at Carlisle United, Dublin City and Shamrock Rovers.
Three years away from the dug-out had left him feeling frustrated and despondent, but his delight at landing a job which opens up a whole new vista, both for himself and his family, is unmistakable – a few hours before he boarded a flight flew to the Mediterranean island, he described his official unveiling as “one of the happiest days of my life.”
But even for such a well-travelled football man – he also enjoyed a varied career as a player in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic – yesterday’s ceremonials were entirely without precedent. There was the location for a start – the Maltese Embassy in Dublin, with the newly installed Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Joseph Zammit Tabone, making the introductory remarks just 24 hours after he had presented his own credentials to President McAleese at Áras An Uachtaráin.
The attendance included Roddy’s wife Caroline and their five children and his mother, brothers and sisters, as well as many old friends from football and other walks of life – among them the legendary Turlough O’Connor, former FAI Chief Executive Fran Rooney and someone the dapper Mr Collins gleefully described as “the most influential man in Ireland”, tailor Louis Copeland.
Master of ceremonies was Irishman Alan Moore, the Development Officer at Floriana who also has links with clubs in Croatia and Russia. In the last 12 months, Floriana have signed international partnership deals with Shamrock Rovers and Russian 3rd Division club FC Volga Ulyanovs – from Lenin’s hometown, no less – and it was while sitting in a Moscow MacDonald’s negotiating Russian investment in the Maltese club that Moore made the fateful call to Roddy Collins’ mobile phone in Dublin.
But the man on the receiving end he had to be sure it wasn’t yet another wind-up.
“Everybody has my number,” Collins explains, “and I get plenty of calls from private numbers inviting me to take over Newcastle, Sunderland every job that’s going. Then five minutes down the road you hear a big laugh in the background and it’s some fella in a bar in Dublin. So when the private number came up and I was asked would I be interested in going down to Malta, the first thing I said to Alan was, listen I’m a little bit busy at the moment, could you e-mail me on that one please? Which he did and then when I went down to the island with Caroline, the professionalism in the way it was all presented to me made it an absolute complete no-brainer.”
With 103 domestic gongs to their name, Floriana lay claim to being the most famous and successful club in Malta and now have ambitious plans to reassert their supremacy having last won the league title in 1994. A restructuring of the club has also seen them cement historic links with this country. Established in 1894, they gained their nickname ‘The Irish’ after playing friendly games against the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who were based on the then British colony and from whom they appropriated the club colours of green and white stripes with gold trim. Now, in what it is hoped will be a new era for the club,
Roddy Collins is not the only Irish face on board – businessman Dominic McDonnell and MD of Blackwater Press, John O’Connor, have been appointed to the newly established Club Executive Council as Executive Directors and consultants. And talk about the wearing of the green – the latest version of Floriana’s kit has even been supplied by the Waterford sportswear company Azzurri.
Key to the greening of Floriana, however, is Roddy Collins who has signed a three-year deal with the club, although it’s understood that it will be up for review after 11 months. The goal is clear – to bring Floriana back to the forefront of Maltese football and return them to European competition for the first time in seven years. This evening he will have his first meeting with his players, following which a rally in the town square is expected to draw a crowd of around 2,000 fans anxious to see their team back challenging the likes of current champions Hibernians and arch rivals Valletta. “So no pressure then,” laughs Collins.
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