WAR­REN FEENEY

Chris Dunlavy pro­files the ca­reer of the new New­port County boss

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN War­ren Feeney quit Ply­mouth to take his first coach­ing role at Sal­is­bury, his old gaffer, Roberto Martinez, im­me­di­ately tapped out a text.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions,” said the Spa­niard, who signed Feeney for Swansea in 2007.“And wel­come to the world of stress.”

Yet, as Martinez knew well enough, the new man­ager of New­port County was never a man to take life – or in­deed foot­ball – too se­ri­ously.

Quick-wit­ted with a boom­ing voice and in­fec­tious grin, the striker was the dress­ing room joker ev­ery­where from Bournemouth and Stock­port to Cardiff and Ply­mouth.

“War­ren is a fan­tas­tic lad,” said Nigel Wor­thing­ton, who handed Feeney the ma­jor­ity of his 46 North­ern Ire­land caps.

“He al­ways has a smile on his face and al­ways has some­thing to say. He is a bun­dle of en­ergy who lifts team-mates and gets a crowd go­ing. It’s so re­fresh­ing to work with some­one like that.”

Craig Levein, his man­ager dur­ing a loan spell at Dundee United in 2008, called Feeney ‘the loud­est man in the world’.

Riccy Scimeca, a team-mate at Cardiff, re­mem­bers a man per­pet­u­ally on the wind-up. “Michael Cho­pra was prob­a­bly the No.1 prankster, but Feeno pushed him close,” said the for­mer As­ton Villa de­fender. “He was a devil and not a shy lad

ei­ther. His mouth was al­ways go­ing and he never stopped smil­ing.”

Feeney’s com­fort with dress­ing room ban­ter is un­sur­pris­ing. Grand­fa­ther Jim was a de­fender who made more than 200 ap­pear­ances for Ip­swich and, as a boy, Feeney spent his life around foot­ballers as dad War­ren Snr plied his trade with the likes of Lin­field and Glen­toran.

Though Jim died when Feeney was an in­fant, War­ren Snr al­ways told his son to sim­ply en­joy the priv­i­lege of play­ing foot­ball for a liv­ing.

Char­ac­ter

That ebul­lience was ap­par­ent from his early days in Belfast (where he played along­side David Healy in a trial game for Manch­ester United) to the ap­pren­tice­ship at Leeds, where he be­came close friends with Aussie star Harry Kewell.

“War­ren’s never changed,” said Kewell, who was best man at Feeney’s wed­ding. “He is a char­ac­ter who al­ways brought a lit­tle bit of light-heart­ed­ness if teams were down.

“He has a great heart but he also knew what he was talk­ing about with foot­ball, so I al­ways knew he’d make a qual­ity man­ager. lt’s been great to see him make that step and I think he’ll go a long way in the game.” Yet, if man­agers val­ued Feeney’s per­son­al­ity, they also warmed to his work ethic. Though never the most gifted, the

striker pos- sessed legs and heart in spades.

“My game is blood and thun­der, chas­ing things and up­set­ting peo­ple,” he said last year. “That's how I made a liv­ing in Eng­land for 17 years.”

One ben­e­fi­ciary was Steve Fletcher, the Bournemouth striker who formed a pro­lific part­ner­ship with Feeney in the early 2000s and re­mains in touch to this day.

“War­ren first came on loan from Leeds, then we got him per­ma­nently,” he said. “On a per­sonal level, we got on great. There was noth­ing to dis­like about War­ren. Ev­ery­thing he did was with a pas­sion, with a smile on his face. No­body from that era will say a bad word about him.

“As a player, he wasn’t rapid but he was sharp. And he’d work his nuts off for the team.

“Even when he wasn’t scor­ing goals, he was work­ing back, chas­ing down cen­tre-halves, wind­ing peo­ple up.

“He was a work­horse who never whinged about the role he was given and I’d put him up there as one of the best part­ners I’ve had. He made my job easy.”

Feeney was the Cher­ries’ player of the year in 2002 and, over the next decade, would be sim­i­larly ap­pre­ci­ated at Stock­port (where he scored 15 goals in the 2004-05 sea­son), Lu­ton, Old­ham and Ply­mouth, not to men­tion a host of loan clubs.

But his most pas­sion­ate per­for­mances were al­ways re­served for his coun­try. Capped for the first time in 2002, Feeney – who scored five in­ter- na­tional goals – set a new record by be­com­ing the third gen­er­a­tion of one fam­ily to play for North­ern Ire­land.

In­spi­ra­tion

“He was an in­spi­ra­tion to have around,” said Wor­thing­ton. “The pride he had in that shirt car­ried him and he rel­ished ev­ery se­cond he spent on the pitch. What an ex­am­ple.”

Nat­u­rally, then, the 35-year-old de­mands the same of his play­ers. As a coach at Sal­is­bury and then man­ager at Ir­ish side Lin­field, where he was ap­pointed in 2014, his stan­dards were sim­ple.

“All I ask is hon­esty and de­sire,” he said. “I like pos­i­tiv­ity around the place but I can’t take slop­pi­ness.

“I’ve never been brought up like that. I’m not one who will just sit there and pick up my money. I want to earn it.”

He will cer­tainly need to do that at New­port, a club so low on cash that two of their last three man­agers jumped ship. Fletcher, though, has backed his old friend to suc­ceed.

“War­ren al­ways had a burn­ing am­bi­tion to be a first-team man­ager,” said Fletcher, now a coach at Bournemouth.

“Yes, he’s in­ex­pe­ri­enced, but the same could have been said about Karl Robin­son at MK Dons and Ed­die Howe here. Ev­ery­body needs a chance.

“He’s had a great ground­ing in Ire­land. He’s a great per­son­al­ity. And one thing I know for sure is that he’ll put ev­ery ounce of his heart into the job.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

READY FOR THE CHAL­LENGE: War­ren Feeney will al­ways be the man to lift spir­its

MR POP­U­LAR: War­ren Feeney won 46 caps for North­ern Ire­land

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