Perched high above the pitch, Seamus Brady will have a bird’s-eye view of Aston Villa’s opening game of the new Premier League season and what he sees could just change everything.
The matchday accreditation badge hanging from his neck will state that he is Villa’s performance analyst, but what his role entails is simply to observe the game against Bournemouth from a high vantage point and scribble down his thoughts.
At half-time, Brady will then hurry down several flights of stairs, take the elevator to the ground floor, squeeze past the security barriers, flip open his notebook, and catch his breath before delivering his opinion to Villa manager Tim Sherwood.
What the Irishman says might just shape Sherwood’s team-talk because the advice of his trusted lieutenant is something that Sherwood has learned to rely on without hesitation – even if few outsiders know who Brady is.
“I have to pinch myself at times that I’ve ended up here,” says Brady of his journey from Ardcath, County Meath to the most hyped league in world football.
In order to discover how exactly this largely unknown Irishman rose to such lofty heights, a meeting was arranged on one of his rare days off at his home in Hertford, which is 13 stops north of London’s Finsbury Park station in the heart of sleepy surburbia.
Waiting with a warm smile and a firm handshake, Brady is gracious and unassuming. Even when chatting about football over lunch, eavesdroppers would never have guessed that his theories were those of a Premier League expert.
It’s fascinating to listen to Brady speak about a game that almost everyone has an opinion on, considering how much of an input he has at a club of Villa’s size and that he was a wide-eyed student with nothing more than a dream just a few years ago.
“I wanted to be a player, as most kids do, but it didn’t materialise so I got involved in coaching with my local GAA team and doing some coaching courses, which I really enjoyed,” explains Brady.
“From there I decided to go to London to study Sports Science and Football Coaching. I was doing that course and picking up some work with OPTA, who provide all the stats for TV and Premier League clubs, when the Tottenham gig came up.
“Basically, Tottenham were looking for sports science students to help out with analysis. It was only the start of clubs taking analysis seriously, so they didn’t want to pay much for it but it was how I got started.”
From basic camera work at reserve games to match analysis for Harry Redknapp’s first team, Brady rose quickly through the ranks at Spurs. Yet it wasn’t until he met Sherwood that someone saw his potential to have an even bigger impact.
Just like the youth team players he was coaching at the club, Sherwood took Brady under his wing and gave him a crash course in coaching. In exchange, Brady supplied the former Premier League-winning captain with a new way of looking at the game.
A bond was struck and once Sherwood landed the Villa job in February, one of his first phone calls was to Brady’s mobile about making the switch with him. Since then, Villa successfully avoided relegation and even made it to the FA Cup Final at Wembley.
“Tim (Sherwood) is great because he is so open to hearing different things. Harry (Redknapp) was more into pre-match analysis, for example, but I’ll speak with Tim before the game, at half-time, and afterwards,” says Brady.
“It’s the little details that can make a big difference and that’s what I try to spot. For instance, if we have a left-footed centre-back and our midfielder keeps playing it to his right side, that’s something to make a note of.
“We need to get the principles of the game right: passing, tackling, movement. Tim wants me to keep an eye on those things as well as providing him with an insight to things that he might not see from the sideline.”
Modesty restricts Brady from drawing attention to himself. He seems both puzzled and humbled that someone would be interested in what he does behind the scenes at Villa.
He arrived in London with a dream to work in the Premier League. And, now, just like the 20-odd Irish people scattered around the backrooms of England’s top flight, he is thriving there because he worked hard to turn that into a reality.
While he is unlikely to be spotted by the Sky Sports or BT cameras this season, many of the other Irish personnel who are thriving in roles away from the pitch for various Premier League clubs will be caught in the camera’s glare.
From assistant managers (Liverpool’s Sean O’Driscoll and West Bromwich Albion’s Mark O’Connor) to goalkeeping coaches (Arsenal’s Gerry Peyton and Norwich City’s Dean Kiely), shots of team benches will provide a who’s who of Irish staff members.
Others, like Brady, prefer to remain in the shadows but that doesn’t mean their ambition is not as great. Many have made huge sacrifices – working as interns, filling multiple roles, living away from family – to get to this stage.
“It’s fantastic to be able to work in the Premier League – it’s the place where you want to be. You always want to test yourself at the highest level but it can be tough to get that break,” says Brady.
“I think if you’re passionate about what you do then you will eventually get there, but there’s no doubt that it’s a tough place to work in. “There is a lot of pressure and so many talented and qualified people are looking to get in.
“I’m grateful to Tim that he had trust in me and I want to help him, and the team, do well. There’s a lot of things I’d like to do further down the line but right now I’ve plenty to keep me busy and I’m honestly really loving it.”
We part ways as he has a new season to prepare for, but he’s excited about the impending workload. After all this is where he wants to be.
Five influential Irish Premier League personnel
Susan Whelan – Chief Executive (Leicester City): Appointed in 2011, this Dubliner was working for King Power in Hong Kong when they purchased the club and asked her to firstly join the board of directors and then take over as Chief Executive.
Whelan has made a huge difference in altering the club’s financial structure and retail operations.
Gary O’Driscoll – Club Doctor (Arsenal): Regularly spotted on the pitch assessing injured star players, O’Driscoll also oversees the U21 and Academy teams.
Previously he worked with the Ireland rugby team and British & Irish Lions, but since 2009 O’Driscoll – a cousin of former Irish international Brian–has been hugely influential at Arsenal.
Andrew Hussey – Head of Football Logistics (West Bromwich Albion): Responsible for organising everything from pre-season tours to match-day travel, Hussey is the man who ensures the first team is fully catered for.
He had plenty of experience doing that during his five years with the FAI, where he looked after underage international teams.
Donough Holohan – Sports Scientist/ Strength & Conditioning Coach (Manchester City): This UCD graduate has built up an impressive CV following spells with Derby County, Preston North End, The English FA, Colchester United, West Ham United, Charlton Athletic, and, now, City, who he joined in 2012. Along with the first-team, he is also responsible for the club’s Elite Development Squad.
Des Ryan – Head of Sports Medicine & Athletic Development (Arsenal): Hailing from Aughrim in County Galway, Ryan made his first splash in the sports industry with Connacht Rugby before joining the IRFU in 2008.
He spent five years there as Fitness Education Manager before moving on to Arsenal in 2013, where he is a highly valued member of their medical team.
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