Winning the FAI Cup, playing with Liam Coyle and my ambitions with Cliftonville: Paddy McLaughlin
As Solitude’s new supremo Paddy McLaughlin settles to the task at hand with Cliftonville, Brendan Crossan talks to the former Derry City defender about his influences, football philosophy and highs and lows in football…
Brendan Crossan: Which clubs did you play for?
Paddy McLaughlin: I played for clubs mostly around the north west. I played youth football for a Derry & District League club called Tristar. John ‘Uug’ Clifford produced some very good footballers at Tristar.
I played for Derry City, then I went on to play for Finn Harps. I had a spell with Coleraine and finished my career with Institute and went in as assistant manager with Kevin Deery for two years. When Kevin left I took the job on myself for the next 18 months. I’ve been lucky enough to have played for some big clubs in my career.
BC: When were you happiest during your playing days?
PMcL: To be honest, I enjoyed all the clubs I was at. I won trophies at them all, bar Coleraine. We lost an Irish Cup final to Linfield (2007/08). I scored in that final to give us the lead and Linfield came out in the second half and scored a couple of goals and played really well.
I won an FAI Cup with Derry City and that was brilliant, winning with my hometown club and being a Derry City fan and my father was a Derry City fan. That was a brilliant achievement.
Coaching-wise and management-wise, ‘Stute winning promotion into the Premier. But I’ve enjoyed my time at all the clubs – I've had good experiences at them all.
BC: Age-wise, when do you think a central defender is at his peak?
PMcL: In my early days at Derry City I played against some really top players and you had to be at yourself to be able to compete against them.
At Coleraine, I was playing against the likes of Glenn Ferguson who was one of the best strikers in the Irish League.
I don’t think I could narrow my best form down to an actual year though. I always felt I had to punch above my weight my whole career so I had to be on top of my game all the time. I was up against better players every week.
BC: Who was your toughest opponent?
PMcL: In the north, Glenn Ferguson was excellent and probably towards the end of my career I played against Joe Gormley a few times.
I think I contributed to half of Joe Gormley’s goals! He is as good a goal-scorer that I have seen.
For technical ability, I’ve got to mention Liam Coyle. He was one of the best Ireland ever produced. To be lucky enough to play against him and play with him in training, what a player he was.
People will talk about Liam Coyle forever. But players I played against, the toughest were Ferguson and Joe Gormley.
BC: You’ve probably answered this already: the best player you played with?
PMcL: Liam Coyle. He was something different – a genius. I don’t think we’ve produced anything like him since.
Paddy McCourt has been the closest one we’ve produced. They were two players who were in a class of their own. I was lucky to share a pitch with both of them.
Paddy came to Derry the year I was leaving so I was lucky to play with him for a season. They were special players. I think Liam retired twice and came back to play and was still producing brilliance.
BC: What has happened to that type of player – a Coyle or a McCourt? Nowadays all the kids get scooped up and go to play organised games; you don’t see kids playing football out on the street as much as before…
PMcL: Where has all that individual brilliance gone? I’d guess the likes of Paddy McCourt and Liam Coyle did was once they got out of bed they went and played football in the street.
That’s why it looked so easy and so natural to them. That’s probably missing in today’s game. Everything is structured, robotic at times. Kids don’t play with a ball unless they’re on a pitch.
BC: Most memorable moment in football?
PMcL: Winning the FAI Cup down in Dublin with Derry City in 2002. We beat Shamrock Rovers 1-0 and Liam Coyle scored the winner.
The final was in Tolka Park back then, it was sold out. There were thousands upon thousands of Derry fans crammed into Tolka Park.
It was ‘live’ on TV at a time when there weren’t too many ‘live’ games on TV.
All my family and friends were at the game. It was as if the whole city was in Dublin that day. Kevin Mahon was the manager at the time. It was a great day.
BC: Toughest moment in football?
PMcL: Getting beaten two years in a row in two play-offs with Institute in the last kick of the ball.
Against Ballinamallard (2016) we were promoted in the 93rd minute and they scored in the 94th minute with the last kick of the ball and seeing all the players collapse on their knees, some of them heartbroken and crying, that was tough. That was a sore one to take. I was so close to many of those players, and still am.
They were heartbroken, it was hard to watch. Losing an Irish Cup final with Coleraine was tough but that play-off defeat to Ballinamallard was the toughest.
BC: Maradona or Messi?
PMcL: It’s a toss of a coin, isn’t it? I wasn’t around to watch Maradona play, but I’ve watched videos of him. But when you’re watching Messi week in week out and seeing how brilliant he is on a regular basis, he probably shades it for me, probably because I’ve watched him more than Maradona.
BC: Ronaldo or Messi?
PMcL: Messi, because he’s a team player. I think Ronaldo is all about himself. He’s still a brilliant individual player but Messi is more of a team player and I’d be more into the team ethic rather than a one-man show.
BC: If you could attend one football match what would it be?
PMcL: Liverpool’s final league game of the season at home to Wolves. Being a Liverpool fan, it would be great to see them lift the big trophy, but whether they do it or not is another thing.
BC: Did you always feel you would go into football management?
PMcL: No. I concentrated on my playing career and didn’t think about anything else. I didn’t have any interest in coaching until the last couple of years of playing.
Some players find retirement difficult, some don’t. Towards the end of my career I knew the game had moved on, the pace of the game had moved and I hadn’t got the legs to keep up with it, so it was only then did I start thinking about getting involved in coaching and doing my coaching badges.
And, as soon as I stopped playing, I was lucky enough to get an opportunity straight away with Institute.
BC: Does coaching come close to replacing your playing days?
PMcL: I loved playing but in the last couple of years I was picking up injuries and was finding it hard to recover and found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the pace of the game.
It got to the stage I was probably looking forward to finishing up because I wasn’t enjoying my football.
So the timing of going into coaching was brilliant for me. I’ve been lucky to work alongside some top players and some of the coaches – the likes of Brian Donaghey (Cliftonville assistant) has been brilliant. I enjoyed every minute of playing but I don’t miss it and I don’t look back with too much regret.
BC: You played under some excellent coaches. You played under Stephen Kenny for one season at Derry City. What was his greatest strength as a coach?
PMcL: His attention to detail was frightening. He knew every opponent and every player around the country, no matter what level. I never came across it before. It was phenomenal.
I remember we drew a non-league team in the FAI Cup and by the time we played them Stephen knew every player in their team, he knew what their team was going to be.
The detail he went into was unbelievable and the work that he’d done behind the scenes was brilliant.
BC: You played under Paul Kee. What was his greatest strength?
PMcL: Paul’s encouragement to play football was his key strength. He was more interested in keeping the ball. He was top class.
He was similar to Declan Devine [current Derry City manager]. He coached alongside Stephen Kenny. I used to love Declan's training sessions and his drills.
It was all about keeping the ball. Those things stayed with me. I had some great motivators too. So you take bits of each of them and try to mould them into what you’re trying to do as a coach.
BC: What was your thoughts when Stephen Kenny was appointed Republic of Ireland U21 manager with the plan to take over the senior job after Euro 2020?
PMcL: Stephen Kenny is very driven. He’s driven for success and is very good at what he does.
He’ll know every player at U21 level he’ll want to work with, north and south, and across the water.
He’ll not leave any stone unturned in order to produce good senior players and I expect him to continue that when he takes over the senior international squad.
The future is definitely going to be bright under him. I’m sure when he takes over the senior job it will be a team full of young players.
BC: Growing up, did you have ambitions to play across the water?
PMcL: I had no plan in place. I just worked as hard as I could and took any opportunities that came my way. I wasn’t a household name and definitely wouldn’t be first pick in any side you were picking.
What I had I worked hard at it and I tried to get the best out of myself. That’s what I tell the players now: they’re all given a talent and to keep working hard and developing it, and they will have every chance of being top players.
BC: When you look back at your playing career are you satisfied?
PMcL: I do believe that I was one of the those players that had to produce a top performance every time I played because I felt I was always punching above my weight.
I had to be self-motivated to get the best out of myself. If I had produced anything below my best, I would’ve been given the run around by the opponents I was marking.
BC: What would you like to achieve in football management over the next 10 years?
PMcL: To produce a nice brand of football for people to come and watch and for players to come and play in. You see a lot of football, north and south, that can be very direct, so it’s trying to break away from that and play a good brand of football.
BC: What’s life been like at Solitude since becoming manager in January?
PMcL: I think it’s gone well enough. The players have done everything we’ve asked of them and bought into new ideas and the extra training sessions we’ve been putting on. To a man, the players have been top drawer, so I’ve no complaints whatsoever.
We’ve got players in positions who are as good as you’ll get in the divisions. I’ve been very impressed with how good they are.
You see them in training and they’re carrying that into games, so we’ve got something to look forward to next season but at this minute in time we’re trying to finish as high as we can in the league…
BC: Do you think your possession style philosophy has been a bit of a culture shock to the Irish League?
PMcL: There’s nothing worse if you’re playing football all week and you’re coming up against a team that just wants to boot it all day long.
But everybody can do their own thing – I’m in no position to tell other coaches and managers what to do. My idea is to try and play a nice brand of football that players enjoy playing but you also have to be able to roll your sleeves up and grind out results.
Plan A, for me, would try to get the ball down and try and entertain but that’s not always going to be the case…
I was manager at Institute for 18 months and we worked on our style of play every day, and I think we improved which was good for us as coaches. That’s what we’re trying to do at Cliftonville – you try to improve the players you have.
BC: What are your thoughts on some Irish League clubs moving to a full-time set-ups?
PMcL: It’s great to see the likes of Crusaders going down that route and I’m sure Larne will go down that route too... Linfield, Glentoran and Coleraine.
There is roughly half of the league trying to go full-time which is brilliant for players to get that opportunity here. And it’s great if you’ve got the resources to do it.
For us, we’ll keep on doing what we’re doing and compete as best we can until somebody comes along and says we can go full-time but we’ll make do with what we have. It would be great if the whole league could go full-time some day.
BC: What’s your favourite second sport?
PMcL: I look forward to watching the Gaelic in the summer.
BC: Hobbies outside of football?
PMcL: Lying on the sofa!! That’s a great hobby whenever I get a chance to do it.