I was brought up in Waterford in the South of Ireland – where gaelic football
and hurling are more popular than soccer! My Mum Marie works in a creche and
my Dad; John, is a fitter. I’ve three brothers and a sister; Anthony, James,
Sharon and Noel. As I grew up where football wasn’t the big game, most of my
childhood was spent kicking a ball around with my brothers and friends. We certainly
didn’t have a school team at Clonea Primary! One of my brothers, Noel is also
a pro, and presently plays for Dunfermline Athletic (August 2003).
My first introduction to organised football was when I moved to the Christian
Brother’s secondary school in Waterford at the age of 11. During my time at
secondary school I also began playing for Johnville near Port Carrick. This
got me a degree of recognition and I played for Waterford County – where I got
to know a certain character by the name of John O’Shea – I believe he now plays
for small team in the north of England? I still speak him on a weekly basis
– even though the man once denied knowing me to his team mates (See the ‘Beautiful Game’ section).
At the age of 16 a number of clubs became interested in me, one of which was
Crystal Palace. The club had just been relegated from the Premiership, Terry
Venables being appointed as manager and Mark Goldberg had become Chairman -
money was being invested into the club. I felt it was a move that offered opportunity
and potential. However it didn’t quite work out that way, nevertheless, the
silver lining to the cloud was the appointment of Steve Coppell in January 1999.
During his playing days he also operated on the wing, and perhaps it was because
of this that he seemed to understand my game. We got on very well and to this
day I have the utmost respect for the man. Indeed during the summer of 2003
I was heavily linked with a move to Brighton – where Coppell is now manager.
The move never took place but it was nice to know that I’m rated by my old boss.
To be truthful I didn’t settle very well at Palace. There were a few ego’s
knocking around and I never felt at home. Having said that, I got on very well
with Jamie Fullarton, he was one of the established players and he did his best
to offer me advice and keep me on the right track. I also remember Attilio Lombardo
– the baldy Italian winger signed from Juventus. He once borrowed a watch of
mine - which he managed to break. I wasn’t very happy about it, but as a senior
pro, and a good bloke I didn’t say anything to him. However a few days later
I arrived at training where he presented me with a replacement watch – one that
was a lot more expensive than the one he’d broken – all was forgiven, top man!
I made my debut in a first division 1-0 defeat at Fulham, and in total made another three league appearances that season before I broke my ankle. The injury effectively cost me a year in football, although I spent a good time in the gym and came back physically stronger for it.
However the bad news for me was that Steve Coppell had been replaced by Alan Smith - I certainly wasn’t in Smith’s plans! I was pushed into the Palace reserves and felt I was going nowhere. Although there was a bit of interest from Preston North End, Steve Coppell had moved to Brentford and was back in for me. I had no hesitation in taking the short trip to Griffin Park and jumped at the chance to link up with my old manager. It was a step down in division, but sometimes you have to take a step down to move back up – and if Brentford wanted me in their first team, then I wanted them.
Next Part: Life as a Pro