How Did We Manage That?
by Brian Kennedy
(first published in the September 2011 Cork City match programme)
On my last trip to Cork City I remember having a bit of banter with one of the Rebel Army about how many managers we seem to have gone through in the last 25 years. He seemed to think the pinnacle of our managerial success had ended with Shay Brennan (before I pointed out Tommy Jackson in 1980 and Alfie Hale in 1985) but it got me thinking. After some research I found my Leeside friend had a point. No club has had as many managers as Waterford United in the last 25 years.
Since the club changed its name to Waterford United in 1982 we have had the following: Alfie Hale: A Blues legend by that point, he guided us to the 1985 League Cup, an FAI Cup Final appearance a year later, and our last visit to date into Europe courtesy of a match against French aristocrats Bordeaux.
Peter Thomas: ‘Tommo’ took over from Alfie Hale and again it was generally regarded as a good move. The greatest goalkeeper ever to play in the League of Ireland, and a legend with Blues supporters. However he would last a short time in the job before Derek Casey took over the reins at Kilcohan Park. Derek was a caretaker manager and had served the club well before Everton legend Andy King came to Kilcohan in a surprise appointment which didn’t have the desired effect.
Johnny Matthews then took over at United. The Coventry-born adopted Waterfordian brought great fun and entertainment to the club when he became the manager and took the club back to the Premier Division in the 1989-90 season by winning that Championship when United defeated Sligo Rovers in a two-legged play-off. It was a real surprise however when Matthews stepped down soon after to make way for another Blues legend Shamie Coad. Shamie managed Waterford during an incredibly difficult period of time in the club’s history, switching from one division to the next, amid dwindling attendances and money problems, but always gave his best for the club, as he did as a player.
The next appointment came straight out of left-field when former Leeds United captain Brendan Ormsby was appointed in the mid-1990s. A nice guy who made friends easily and always made time for interviews, it soon became obvious that the experiment of another English manager wasn’t going to work so another move was made locally with the appointment of Michael Bennett. The Carrick-on-Suir native was still something of a surprise choice. He was a top class striker with the club before he went to Belgium to play full time in that country. When he returned, he was a little out of touch with the League of Ireland scene but nevertheless he put his heart and soul into the job. Results however didn’t fall his way and his time came to an end.
Next in line was Tommy Lynch. The former Shrewsbury defender immediately struck a chord with the fans. As a player he was a no-nonsense defender and he carried that attitude on as a manager. Under his watch he got United to a Cup semi-final in 1997 (a record 8,500 turned up) and lost out to Dundalk in a First Division promotion/relegation play-off the same season, before finally winning United the 1997/98 First Division Championship. His heart on a sleeve approach was commendable but he would leave the club soon after, replaced by Mike Flanagan. It turned out to be the wrong move, one which the fans still talk about. His lack of knowledge about Irish football was his downfall, as indeed was his lack of knowledge about the local scene. Shane Robinson was proof of that fact.
Perhaps following the experience with Mike Flanagan, the board decided to go local when they appointed Paul Power as the new boss. In 2000 Paul was distraught when he had managed Kilkenny City to victory over his beloved Blues in the play-off games and following the game at the RSC he left in tears, before the full time whistle. However his appointment breathed new life into the Blues, and when he vacated the chair for a prodigal son to return in Jimmy McGeough, they went on to be promoted as Champions in 2002/03. Since first signing in our glorious Championship year of 1965/66 Jimmy was always a highly respected and popular figure. The Derryman kept us in the Premiership before leaving – ironically his last game in charge was a 1-0 home defeat to his native Derry City which ended up keeping the Candystripes up!
Alan Reynolds then took over to lead us to our most successful Premiership stint in ages, keeping us a safe mid-table side and coming to within 2 balls on a field of winning the 2004 FAI Cup Final – boy does that still hurt! One of the nice guys of local football Brendan Rea then threw his hat into the ring. It was a tough ask to keep us in the Premier but he managed to do it with a little help from Pat Dolan before finishing his role as manager.
Mike Kerley then took over but his tenure, in fairness constrained by some grim financial realities, brought us on one of the worst losing streaks we’d had in a long time, so the door revolved once more. Since then we’ve had Gareth Cronin and Stephen Henderson, both of whom brought the team forward, and both of whom lasted a longer spell in the job than those that have gone before, before the recent, popular decision to promote a local from within, which brings us up to date and Paul O’Brien.
What will happen in the next 25 years nobody knows!