I don't have the drive to get back into it - Eric Foley on early retirement

Tue, Dec 11 2018

As someone who’s been at numerous clubs in Scotland, Northern Ireland and domestically, Eric Foley retired from senior football this summer at just 28. A lack of financial security and disillusionment were to the fore of this decision, but as Eric tells ExtraTime.ie, had interest from a Finnish club a few years back progressed to a contract offer, hanging up his boots prematurely probably wouldn’t have materialised.

“At the time, I couldn’t thank the FAI enough. The competition they ran against teams from Finland and elsewhere was brilliant, but Ireland’s such a small country, it’s tough to get exposure. It comes down to the player to make a video and send it out to clubs. Then again, you don’t want to do that, but be seen rather than going looking yourself. The only teams looking at the League of Ireland at the moment are English League Two clubs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great step and some lads have done well out of it, but there’s plenty more out there. Teams in Finland and even Norway are similar to ours, but we don’t get the same interest over here.”

Schoolboy football with Home Farm preceded joining Glasgow Celtic’s underage set-up in 2006 and the young midfielder’s four-year stay included a 2007/08 Scottish Youth Cup final appearance against Glasgow Rangers: “The cup final I played in, there was 30,000 at it ... Playing for Glentoran V Linfield in front of 2-3,000 doesn’t faze you when you’ve done that as a kid. Whether it’s U-17, 16s or U-15s, you can hear the rivalry on the pitch or in the dressing rooms beforehand. If you won against them, you felt great and if not, reach rock-bottom. It’s the game you look forward to all year.”

When Celtic didn’t give the Donabate native a new deal, Liam Buckley recruited him during the 2009 summer transfer window for Sporting Fingal, who went on to capture that year’s FAI Cup at Sligo Rovers’ expense in the final: “I had no problem coming home. I got let go by Celtic and on trial at St Mirren. It was going well and looked like they were going to offer me a contract. I met Michael O’Neill over there during a coaching course and he’d just taken over at Shamrock Rovers. He said to call him if I was going home and I knew then that I was ready to do that, so I trained with them, but signed for Fingal. I was training with lads I went to school with and home afterwards. Winning the FAI Cup final was the cherry on top, but I wasn’t in squad that day. It was worth going home to have that medal and can always say that I won the FAI Cup.”

Linking up with Shelbourne preceded Foley arriving at Monaghan United in 2011, a year in which he excelled during the club’s promotion to the Premier Division. However, the subsequent season saw him turn out for Mick Cooke’s Drogheda United: “Mick would let you play. He’s down to earth and I got on well with him. He didn’t want you having a gargle during the week and to give 110% when you came in. When things were good, he’d be the first to put an arm around you.”

2013 witnessed Eric and Drogheda reach the FAI Cup final, but a 3-2 reverse against Sligo Rovers as an unused substitute awaited: “Before the match, Mick pulled all of us on the bench to one side and said: ‘If I need you, I’ll use you.’ I was disappointed not to start, but that’s the kind of man he was that he’d tell you the truth. I was more disappointed not to get on, but it’s about the team and not you. I remember we had a free-kick on the edge of Sligo’s box and biting my lip to stop asking to come on and take it, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Midway through the following campaign, Foley signed for Athlone Town, but was unable to prevent the midlands outfit’s last day of the season relegation: “No matter when you go somewhere, you’re part of it and it hurts just as much. When something like that happens, it’s horrible … For the town, owners and everyone around the club. It’s not a nice part of football.”

Attempting to resurrect his League of Ireland status, Eric turned out for Tommy Dunne’s Galway United in early 2016, but four months later, had to walk away: “I went to Galway and more or less played for free. They couldn’t help out moneywise, but I wanted and needed to get my career back up and running. Travelling there two to three days a week, I couldn’t keep committing to this. Tommy understood and I thank him for the opportunity. It was upsetting because I enjoyed it there. I’m not the only one in the League of Ireland to struggle with travelling and expenses, but that’s the way it is. I did everything to get back and enjoy my football again, but financially, it didn’t work out.”

Stints with Irish League sides Glentoran and Glenavon came next until Foley announced his aforementioned retirement in July this year: “It was an easy to tough decision. Playing football in Ireland won’t do anything for my future. I’ve got a new job, got engaged last year and we’re looking for a house. There were days I wasn’t enjoying myself like I used to and wasn’t playing enough. In regards to doing anything else in football, I don’t have the motivation. Down the line I might come back and play at some level. It wouldn’t be for anything more than to keep fit. I’ve had some calls and I’m grateful for them, but don’t have the drive to get back into it.”