Aaron Callaghan: 'You're 17, in Villa Park, before 40,000 people. It's surreal - months earlier you're watching this on Match of the Day'

Mon, Jan 08 2018

Callaghan's most recent head coach job was with UCD in 2014. Credit: Steve Alfred

Aaron Callaghan has been appointed as Athlone Town manager ahead of the upcoming 2018 League of Ireland season.


In a new interview with Extratime.ie, the Dubliner talks about his 35-year career in senior football to date.


During a 20-year playing career, Callaghan was most-associated with Dario Gradi's Crewe Alexandra, while he also had long spells with Crusaders and Dundalk, but it was in Stoke that it began.


Progression through Stoke City’s ranks saw Aaron given a late first-team run in an already relegated side during the ill-fated 1984/85 campaign, including an overwhelming debut.


“You’re 17, in Villa Park, before 40,000 people. It’s surreal because only months earlier, you’re watching this type of game on Match of the Day.


“In the first half, I played full back against the French international, Didier Six, and the second up against an England player, Mark Walters. It was a baptism of fire, but over in an instant.”


The same year, the young defender earned selection for Ireland’s 1985 World Youth Championship squad, but Mick Mills withdrew him for first team duties. Oddly, Callaghan didn’t play for the Potters for the next six months.


“Another Stoke player, Steve Parkin, was also picked to play in that tournament, for England. Even though I missed out, I went on other trips. I wasn’t too disappointed because I was progressing, as even then it was hard for a youngster to breakthrough.”


A loan spell at Crewe Alexandra and a solitary season with Oldham Athletic followed, until a permanent move to Gresty Road in 1988.


While there, Aaron experienced promotion from and relegation back to the Football League Fourth Division within three years.


“Dario Gradi was fantastic at developing young players. I had several offers within that period, but stayed because I enjoyed my football.


“We were victims of our own success because upon promotion, we lost David Platt, Craig Hignett, Rob Jones and others to bigger clubs. We became weaker and it took Dario a few years to get players of a similar calibre back into the fold.”


The Irishman went on to spend a further two seasons at Preston North End, before returning home in 1994, to play for Shelbourne.


“I was in and out of the Preston side. John Beck was manager and I came from trying to play out from the back at Crewe, to a Wimbledon-like culture of football. Eoin Hand was at a reserve game, chatted with me afterwards and I came back on loan initially.”


A maiden Irish League appearance coincided with Callaghan joining Crusaders in 1995 and he compares the standard to the League of Ireland’s at the time.


“The games were more open. Before going up, my research suggested an ‘if you score four, we’ll score five’ mentality.


“My job as a defender was to tighten things up. We became the best defence in the league, culminating in us winning two titles and we should have had more.”


In addition to both league triumphs, Aaron and the Seaview outfit also captured the 1995/96 Gold Cup and the subsequent season’s Irish League Cup.


On the back of this success, he took over as player/manager in 1998.


“I was 33 and club captain. I understand that the club wanted continuity, but they were completely different roles. You’re selfish when you’re playing and concentrate on your own skills.


“Whereas with managing, you’re trying to affect the players you pick. A couple of months earlier I was one of the lads, but then dropping some of them.”


Callaghan wound down his playing career on the books of St Patrick’s Athletic, Glenavon (on loan), Dundalk and Longford Town.


Besides a short stint as Athlone Town’s manager in 2004, he was a coach at Longford from 2002-2006. After a year out of the game, Aaron became their manager at the end of 2007, but resigned just eight months later.


“Commitments were made to players and weren’t followed through. They weren’t getting money, meals on away trips weren’t arranged and the club even gave me a car, which wasn’t paid for. I was trying to motivate guys missing their wages.”


Coaching jobs at UCD and St Patrick’s Athletic preceded Callaghan becoming Bohemians boss for the 2012 season.


“Despite more monetary cuts, he led the Gypsies to a steady midtable finish, got rewarded with a two-year contract extension, but still got let go in the summer of 2013.


“Everyone knows the amount of time and effort I put into developing Bohs. Two days before I took the job, they were closing the club’s doors. T


“The budget went from 1.2 million to 130,000 and made a huge difference to the players we were attempting to attract.


“I’m proud of what I achieved because we had a good link-up with the North Dublin Schoolboys’ League, which drew 12,000 young players to the club. The biggest impact I made was tying in with Dublin City Council, who eventually bought the ground.”


In charge of UCD for 2014, Aaron resurfaced as a manager in Northern Ireland during October 2016. Taking over Carrick Rangers, he then resigned ahead of a crucial promotion/relegation play-off, a mere six months in.


“A couple of players were playing GAA, some signed for different sides and others would miss training. I stepped down so it would be up to players to save the club.


“They didn’t show desire or commitment and my departure got them focused. Fortunately, they had a meeting and it worked in their favour in the end.”


Callaghan concludes by stating the attraction to his current position in the Athlone Town hot seat.


“It was an opportunity because Roddy (Collins) was talking about moving up, to look after operational matters, in a general manager’s role.


“Roddy’s a good football man, even though he has enemies. I’ve worked with him before, but it’s also the club’s history and tradition.


“There’s something about to explode there because of the under-15s' success, in winning this year’s national league.


“With all the shenanigans and bad press over the last few years, it’s our job to get normality into the club and hopefully, we can do that.”