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Damien Richardson is a godfather in Irish football. A club legend at Shamrock Rovers and a figure of folklore on Leeside.
‘Rico’ has enjoyed a career spanning thirty years. With five FAI Cup successes under his belt and a league medal from Cork City’s dramatic 2005 league title triumph, the Dubliner has seen into the heart of the Irish game. 12 years since that faithful night against Derry City, Richardson begins life anew as Director of Coaching at Carrigaline United in Cork City.
Speaking on the move and return to Cork, Richardson was ecstatic looking ahead.
“I'm delighted because it had been a pet project of mine for quite a few years," Richardson told extratime.ie.
"When people talk about the lack of young talent coming through, the FAI did a coaching course which are very good. Coaches sign up for them to get through the badges. I've always felt that the coaches of schoolboy clubs needed something extra because after their badges there are left to their own devices.”
“I always wanted to work with an ambitious club, a well organised club. Not just the players but to coach the coaches on how they can improve and increase their education through my experience and in that you get the coaches to go and be better at their job. If the coaches are not up to standard the players suffer. It is my ambition to get the coaches of Carrigaline United to become better coaches of the better part of the year.”
Reflecting on Cork, Richardson sampled the air of optimism around the Rebel County. In 2016, Seani Maguire’s last minute winner secured the FAI Cup for his former side, while the Leesiders are poised 17 points clear at the summit of the SSE Airtricity League.
"Seeping down through the ranks, City’s under 19s beat HJK Helsinki in the UEFA Youth League last season while, domestically, Rochestown College won the All-Ireland Senior and Junior Cup and College Corinthians celebrated National Cup victory in May 2017.
“Cork is in a very good place but Cork should always be in a good place. For too long Cork isolates itself. You rarely had Cork players playing for Dublin clubs and you barely have Dublin players coming down to play for Cork. At the moment I think Cork is poised perfectly to really become the standard bearer for Irish football.
"I think Carrigaline epitomises everything about a schoolboy football club. It has got whole area, it is inclusive, and it is not about the quality of players. I've watched training and I was hugely impressed by it. If I can be a part of that having my experience then it will help Cork in bringing a deeper focus to Cork and give an impact across the country, really fulfilling the potential Cork has had for many years and far too often having not delivered on that.”
Comparing successes is a different story for Richardson. Having managed Cork City to a last day of the season title success in 2005, as well as into the UEFA Champions League in 2006 and a FAI Cup victory in 2007, Richardson is now watching City reclaim the 2005 charm under new boss John Caulfield. Comparing his sides, the bigger picture quickly came into display for Richardson.
“The league is losing too many payers on a regular basis, the best players. That draining takes away some of the quality we have associated with the league. I do believe that 10/12 years ago the standard of defending was a lot better that it is now. I think that is the reason for goals scoring. If you look at Sean Maguire, he's a very good talent, but him leaving will hurt Cork City’s goals per games ratio.
“John O Flynn was the main goal scorer the year we won the league, and there we also had Kevin Doyle and Shane Long. Cork has always been gifted with quality strikers but the difference at the moment I feel, with leagues in general, is that defending is not as comprehensibly good as it used to be.”
Touching on that time between successes for Cork City, the Rebel Army have been tried and tested and risen from the ashes. Now run by FORAS, a group of fans, City became one of the first of a herd of fan ownership of League of Ireland clubs with Drogheda United, Cobh Ramblers, and most recently Wexford following suit. The new trend is something Richardson could not help but beam with optimism looking on.
“It something which appeals to me greatly. This even comes back to Carrigaline. A club is its own community. It is better than a club that has an individual owner or owners who want to create a club in their own image. I don't like what's happening in England with the amount of foreign investors taking over football clubs. You lose the true history of what the club actually is. I find all clubs have their own individual identity.
"If people buy into that identity the club will prosper, because the people connected are doing it for the right reasons. In England people are starting to do it for purely financial and ego reasons. In Ireland we have a perfect example that if supporters take over a football club and run it they are doing it for the right reasons.
“We have to be careful that they add expertise to the enthusiasm as quickly as possible. We saw the difficulties Cork City went into in 2008/09 because people got involved for what I think are the wrong reasons. Now, I think Cork has cleared its debts so to speak, and got people in place that are running the club in a proper way and for the right reasons and that is done giving you the hope for longevity. That hasn’t just been sadly lacking in Cork football down through the years but in Irish football.”
Between the youth leagues and club structures, Irish football has been in constant flux. Old heads such as Alan Bennet, Keith Fahy, Conor Clifford and even Seani Maguire have recently returned from spells in England and remained themselves at League of Ireland level. Looking on these returnees, Richardson opened up on his future work for Carrigaline and hopefully Ireland.
“My immediate priority in that sense is to prepare players better before they go to England in the first place. When players like Maguire come back, it takes them quite some time to acclimatise to the realities to perform. Many Irish lads go abroad at 15/16 and struggle for various reasons: homesickness, acclimatisation. The competition in England now is more intense than it has ever been. But the vast majority of players that go away are not prepared for what lies ahead of them.”
“I want to prepare people better. Make people realise talent is only a stepping stone. If you have the talent to go to England at 15/16 you think that will make you a player. Your talent will not make you successful. What makes you a success is something deep inside you that means you won't be stopped.
"Character doesn't come easy in professional football. Character had to be chiselled out and formed so when needed it is rock solid. I want to be at Carrigaline a part of the process that is preparing young boys and girls for full time professional football. They will be better prepared in understanding it is not about talent.
“It is also about character and other factors. I don’t think we have been preparing players properly for those going at an early age. Part of my philosophy at Carrigaline is that we instigate a plan that we work on not just the talent but the mental aspect of the players, the psychological aspect of the players, and we will work on the fitness of players mentally and physically.
"So we have a better all-round footballer at 16/17. So he knows what lies ahead and it doesn't come as a real shock to the system like it has for so many players. So much so that many of the players that go to England end up coming back, taking a couple of years to acclimatise and her going back. There's wasted years in there.
"If people like myself, Ruud Dokter and the FAI, if we can work together to make the coaches in the country even better to what they are now and in turn make the players better than what they are in every sense.”