Bar­a­clough stay­ing on trend, from Sligo to Wind­sor Park

The Irish Times - - Sports - Michael Walker

It was late June 2013 and at the Show­grounds in Sligo, Ian Bar­a­clough and his as­sis­tant Gary Stevens were sit­ting in their of­fice talk­ing about win­ning a League of Ire­land ti­tle, the pos­si­bil­ity of the Cham­pi­ons League, Dixie Dean and all the rest of it.

Bar­a­clough was en­thused. “The town is foot­ball mad,” he said. “It’s lit­tered with sto­ries – Brother Wal­frid founded Celtic; Sean Fallon, Jock Stein’s as­sis­tant, has just died; Dixie Dean get­ting off the train and be­ing car­ried all the way from the sta­tion.”

In Bar­a­clough’s first sea­son, Sligo Rovers had won the League of Ire­land for the first time in 35 years, build­ing on the fine work done by Paul Cook – thriv­ing at Wi­gan Ath­letic un­til Wed­nes­day’s ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­plo­sion.

Bar­a­clough and Cook were part of that English man­age­rial tra­di­tion at Sligo and it was a rec­om­men­da­tion from a pre­vi­ous English man­ager, Steve Cotterill, which led Bar­a­clough to the Show­grounds.

Al­most 20 years ear­lier, Lawrie Sanchez had sat in the same chair as Bar­a­clough and dis­cussed sim­i­lar things – Sligo pas­sion, qual­ity of life in the West, the stan­dard of do­mes­tic Ir­ish foot­ball. And Dixie Dean.

As of this week, Bar­a­clough, 49, has fol­lowed Sanchez again. This time Bar­a­clough has be­come man­ager of North­ern Ire­land and on Tues­day he used the term “trend”.

Partly, this was be­cause on the an­nounce­ment of his ap­point­ment by the IFA, Bar­a­clough’s phone pinged. “I got a text from Stephen,” he said. It was Stephen Kenny, 48, of­fer­ing con­grat­u­la­tions, hav­ing no doubt thought back to when Bar­a­clough was in Sligo and he was at Sham­rock Rovers.

On that day in 2013, Bar­a­clough said he had ap­plied for the Dundalk job a year ear­lier, with­out get­ting a re­ply.

Should the two Ire­lands be suc­cess­ful in their Euro play-offs, the two men will “lock horns again”, as

Bar­a­clough put it, in Novem­ber in Belfast. A guess is that “lock horns” would not quite cap­ture the fraught na­ture of that night.

As with Kenny and the FAI, Bar­a­clough was pro­moted to the top job hav­ing worked as the na­tional Un­der-21 coach, where, like Kenny, he over­saw change – North­ern Ire­land beat Spain, in Spain, for ex­am­ple.

Bar­a­clough re­ferred to Gareth South­gate’s pro­mo­tion from the same post with Eng­land and to Ro­ma­nia ap­point­ing Mirel Radoi from the same sit­u­a­tion. This is the trend: coaches mov­ing up through their do­mes­tic sys­tem.

As seen in Sligo, there are oth­ers. One is that Bar­a­clough’s Un­der-21 play­ers, eleven of them, have been given se­nior de­buts by the de­parted Michael O’Neill.

It means there is an el­e­ment of con­ti­nu­ity to Bar­a­clough’s ap­point­ment, which also ap­plies to the stay­ing-on se­nior play­ers such as Steven Davis, Jonny and Corry Evans.

Those Un­der-21 play­ers such as Gavin Whyte at Cardiff City, Jor­dan Thomp­son (now with O’Neill at Stoke) and David Park­house at Sh­effield United – on loan at Derry City last sea­son – have seen a rise in cau­tious op­ti­mism about the cal­i­bre of player com­ing through the IFA youth net­work.

Youth devel­op­ment

Un­der the nur­tur­ing su­per­vi­sion of Jim Mag­ilton, the IFA’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor – and for­merly O’Neill’s as­sis­tant at Sham­rock Rovers as well as Ip­swich Town man­ager – there has been a re­newed fo­cus on youth devel­op­ment. This has brought an IFA Academy at Jor­danstown Univer­sity out­side Belfast.

Mag­ilton was once one of these hope­fuls, mak­ing an Ir­ish League de­but for Dis­tillery at 15 be­fore go­ing to Liver­pool in the late 1980s. But that trend, of Ir­ish boys join­ing top six English clubs, waned.

This week, though, Bar­a­clough also men­tioned the work be­low Un­der-21 level. It is im­per­a­tive to be re­strained about teenagers’ po­ten­tial but four north­ern 16 year-olds – Char­lie Allen, Conor Bradley, Char­lie Lind­say and Dale Tay­lor – have just moved across the wa­ter to Leeds United, Liver­pool, Rangers and Not­ting­ham For­est, re­spec­tively.

Ethan Gal­braith, just turned 19, is part of the U-21 squad at Manch­ester United and made his se­nior de­but in the Europa league against As­tana in Novem­ber. On Thurs­day the for­mer Glen­toran goal­keeper Ol­lie Webber signed his first pro­fes­sional con­tract at Crys­tal Palace.

Think of these play­ers and then add other young Ir­ish­men – Gavin Bazunu at Manch­ester City, Troy Par­rott at Tot­ten­ham, Adam Idah at Nor­wich and Ja­son Knight at Derby County. It is ap­par­ent the is­land is pro­duc­ing tal­ent.

Kevin Zefi at Sham­rock Rovers was part of a Repub­lic of Ire­land U-15 team which de­feated Eng­land away last De­cem­ber and Leigh Ka­vanagh and An­drew Mo­ran are two 16 year-olds due to go to Brighton from Bray this sum­mer. There they will link up with Aaron Con­nolly who, re­mem­ber, is only 20.

Mo­ran played for Bray at 15, just as Lind­say played for Glen­toran at 15. Both All en and Tay­lor have al­ready played for Lin­field. This is sig­nif­i­cant

‘ ‘ Bar­a­clough spoke this week of his Un­der-21 play­ers be­ing “bat­tle-hard­ened” by stay­ing at home and start­ing in the Ir­ish League. It is dif­fer­ent from Eng­land’s Academy foot­ball, of­ten crit­i­cised as for­mu­laic and ster­ile. It could give Ir­ish boys some­thing else

ex­pe­ri­ence and we could do with talk­ing it up.

Ire­land’s two do­mes­tic leagues may be in flux – a gen­er­ous de­scrip­tion – but imag­ine if over time the Ir­ish League and League of Ire­land can earn them­selves a rep­u­ta­tion for youth devel­op­ment and op­por­tu­nity. Then, to re­turn to Sligo Rovers, the likes of Sea­mus Coleman would not de­part for a pal­try sixty grand, as the Ever­ton song goes.


Nor would boys have to fly at 16. Chil­dren, which is what they are, de­velop at dif­fer­ent speeds phys­i­cally and men­tally. Bar­a­clough spoke this week of his Un­der-21 play­ers be­ing “bat­tle-hard­ened” by stay­ing at home and start­ing in the Ir­ish League. It is dif­fer­ent from Eng­land’s Academy foot­ball, of­ten crit­i­cised as for­mu­laic and ster­ile. It could give Ir­ish boys some­thing else.

It could be a trend, and one that ex­tends to de­vel­op­ing coaches. The ex­am­ple of the new na­tional man­agers, Kenny and Bar­a­clough, is there: you can work in Ire­land and get big jobs.

It will not be easy for Bar­a­clough to fol­low the hero­ics of the O’Neill years, though there may be re­duced ex­pec­ta­tion. Ei­ther way one imag­ines it will not dis­turb him.

Bar­a­clough has not had it easy. When we spoke in Sligo those years ago he talked calmly about his fam­ily up­bring­ing in Le­ices­ter.

He was the youngest of five broth­ers; his mother died when he was eight-years-old; he was raised by his fa­ther. Al­though Bar­a­clough joined his boy­hood club Le­ices­ter City as a striker, his play­ing ca­reer was at Lin­coln City, Mans­field, Notts County, QPR and Scun­thorpe as a de­fender.

Nigel Ad­kins was his man­ager at Scun­thorpe and when he left, Bar­a­clough was of­fered the job. As he said: “Gary Hooper, Matt Sparrow and Grant McCann were all sold. I went in at the deep end. I was sacked after six months.”

He signed on the dole after that. But he coached his way back and as he said this week, he has been “on the is­land of Ire­land for a good six, seven years. I’ve been made wel­come.”

There’s noth­ing trendy about his route; in an­other six, seven years, we will re­view if he was on trend.


Ian Bar­a­clough, who was ap­pointed as North­ern Ire­land man­ager this week.

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