Treaty City to the Terriers: One trip, multiple trophies and a talented trio! (Part One)

Mon, Jul 13 2020

Sam Warde, Tadgh Ryan & Ronan Coughlan pictured (L-R) in a Huddersfield Town under-18s game) Credit: Liam Coughlan (ETPhotos)

In 2014, three young Limerickmen joined English Championship side Huddersfield Town – Ronan Coughlan, Tadhg Ryan and Sam Warde. The trio enjoyed considerable success in the club’s academy which subsequently saw a restructuring in 2016. They were also with the Terriers when they were promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their history in 2017, although the players would all depart that summer.

Told in three parts, this is the story of how they signed for Huddersfield, the details of life as an Academy scholar and their subsequent return to life in the League of Ireland. spoke with:

Declan Farmer – UEFA 'A' Licence coach, former Limerick FC under-19 Head Coach and FAI Head Coach for Limerick Emerging Talent Programme

Eddie Hickey – Former Limerick FC goalkeeper and former Limerick FC under-19 coach

Liam Coughlan – Father of Ronan and former League of Ireland player Garbhan Coughlan

Ronan Coughlan – 23-year-old Sligo Rovers striker

Tadhg Ryan – 23-year-old Waterford FC goalkeeper

Sam Warde – 22-year-old Galway Utd midfielder

Was there anything which marked out any of the three lads as having great potential?

Declan Farmer – “Coming into the Emerging Talent Programme, the majority of the kids have been assessed so they’re at the same level. When looking at Ronan when he came him, you knew straight away. He was like his older brother Garbhan (once of Limerick, now playing in New Zealand). Ronan was technically very good. In games he’d be quiet and then out of the blue he'd do something special. He was a good player, he had this ability to glide as he ran. He was very good to watch on the ball.

“Tadhg would have spent more time with the goalkeeping coach. He was a very respectful young lad, his attitude was very good, he always willing to learn and anything we did he would do it to the maximum.

“Sam was also on the Emerging Talent Programme, similar to Ronan he would also be a number 10 player when he was with us, scored lots of goals at his club and had a very good relationship with Yoyo (Mahdy) who is now at UCD.”

Eddie Hickey – “I got to know Tadhg through Fairview Rangers. I went back playing for one season at the age of 38 and Tadhg’s brother Michael was playing for them. Tadhg was only a young lad, 11 or 12 at the time but every game I played, Tadhg was always standing behind my goals. He was watching the warmup and he’d come in after games to chat to me in the clubhouse. We went on and won the FAI (Junior Cup). I saved a penalty in the game and Tadhg’s brother scored the winning penalty (in the shootout) down in Turner’s Cross. After that, I invited him into my academy – that’s about seven or eight years ago and, for me, he was such a standout keeper at such a young age.

“He wasn’t the tallest but height never meant anything to me in terms of goalkeeping but his feet were just so quick, his agility was just so quick, his athleticism was unbelievable. From there then when I was with Declan Farmer with Limerick Under 19s, Tadhg was only 15 at the time – possibly 14 – he hadn’t made the Kennedy Cup team which had really surprised me.

“Moving forward I identified him then to Declan and we got him in then at 15 to the Limerick under-19s to do a few training sessions and from there he just excelled. I think he only played 45 minutes for Limerick FC before he got the move to Huddersfield. He got the move on the back of going on a pre-season tour with Limerick under-19s.”

In the summer of 2013, Farmer brought his Limerick under-19 squad across the Irish Sea to Huddersfield. Games against Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers saw the young Shannonsiders impress, but it was against the Terriers where the most profound impact was made.

Can you tell me about the trip to Huddersfield Town in the summer of 2013?

Declan Farmer – “The Limerick FC board wanted me to bring over the players to showcase them and see the different level of football over there. Originally when we went over, the year before, we played Bolton Wanderers and Blackpool under-23s and it was a really good eye opener for me.

“We went over when we were only training twice a week and we were at a completely different level. Technically we were good enough but strength and conditioning we were far behind. So when we came back, in August 2012, I started to up the training sessions…we were training five sessions a week whereas in England they’ve up to nine or eleven sessions in a week.

“In 2013, the board asked me to make contact with a few clubs. Being from Huddersfield and my mentor doing my (coaching) licences was Gerry Murphy who was the former Academy director of Huddersfield Town. I did my A Licence with Tony Carss, the Huddersfield Town U18s manager, and I knew Mark Lillis, the new Academy Manager, very well so I’d a good relationship there. So I arranged to play against Huddersfield in preseason.”

What were Huddersfield Town looking for? Was it something specific and why did they sign the three lads?

Declan Farmer – “Originally, when we played Huddersfield in preseason, we weren’t looking for them to sign anybody. We were sticking to our programme. (On matchday) we were five minutes away from the pitch and we got stuck on the motorway. The game was supposed to kick off at 11, the referee was waiting on us, Mark Lillis was ringing me. We had to get changed on the bus, we pulled into the academy, there was no tactical work, no set pieces, we just ran up the bank, did a quick warmup and played against them straight away.

“Specifically, what were Huddersfield looking for? We didn’t know, we just played our game, we played an attacking 4-3-3. We were 3-0 up at half time and the game finished 4-0. Nick (Colgan, the Huddersfield Town Academy goalkeeping head at the time) was interested in both ‘keepers. We had Nathan Murray who was 18 and Tadhg (Ryan) who was 16. At the time, I didn’t know but they were looking for goalkeepers and looking for midfielders.”

Eddie Hickey – “Nathan Murray was the number one goalkeeper at the time who was 18 Tadhg was only 15 or maybe he was touching 16. So, they played Huddersfield Youths and Nicky Colgan spotted Tadhg, he was very impressed, even though Tadhg only played 45 minutes in the game.

“He couldn’t believe his agility, his reading of the game at such a young age. He wanted to know more about him then. Huddersfield sent over Nicky Colgan and Frank Bunn to sign Tadhg and they agreed on a fee that was appropriate and Tadhg then went to Huddersfield.”

As players what were your memories of the trip?

Tadhg Ryan – “Playing Huddersfield at their training ground, Nick Colgan was watching and he liked what he saw in me.

“I found out when I returned from the tour a few days later Huddersfield wanted to bring me back on trial and take a look at me. A few weeks later I went on trial for about a week, then at the end of the trial they told me they wanted to sign me, so I was chuffed.”

Ronan Coughlan – “I signed for Limerick under-19s when I was 17. Declan Farmer was the Head Coach and Tommy Barrett was the assistant - two fantastic coaches. I learned so much in the time I was there, and I would still keep in contact with them regularly.

“I remember we were late for the game (in Huddersfield); I think there was an accident on the motorway. So, we got dressed on the bus. We headed up to the pitches, you had to go over a canal to these back pitches which were the Academy pitches. We played up there and I think we did a five-minute warmup. I think we played their under-18s which would have probably been boys who wouldn’t have been playing.

“We were obviously 19s, with 17s and 18s, so it was a mix of us as well. I think we all, including myself, played fairly well – weirdly considering we only had that five-minute warmup. I think I heard one of the managers, Tony Carss, had actually asked Deccy during the game how old I was and that’s all. I don’t remember having an unbelievable game, probably just did alright.

“I remember being pulled aside by Deccy when we were back where we were staying and he said, 'There's a few clubs looking at you all of a sudden’. I think we were playing Blackpool and we comfortably beat them…he just gave me that talk but not to play it up. That was it and then we went back to Ireland and me and Tadhg got an opportunity to go on trial shortly after that.

“We went for a week’s trial and we both did well. They told us they wanted to sign us; we couldn’t sign straight away because we’d just missed the transfer window. We went over again on a mid-term break around Halloween time, went over for another week, did well again and then we signed in the January transfer window.”

Liam Coughlan – “All went well on the trip and particularly for Ronan as Huddersfield wanted him back for a week’s trial with their academy team. They have great new facilities at Canalside, and Ronan got accepted into the academy. This was in September 2013 and the next transfer window was January 2014 which is when he signed for Huddersfield.”

January 2014 saw former Limerick FC under-19s Ronan Coughlan and Tadhg Ryan sign for Huddersfield Town and Sam Warde signed six months later.

Signing for Huddersfield, how did the club look after you in terms of accommodation, education etc?

Sam Warde – “I was 14 or 15 , I think, and training with Limerick’s under-19’s when I went on trial to Aston Villa. Tadhg and Ronan moved over in the summer and around January time I started going over for trials. I went for three or four trials before agreeing to sign around March and moving over then for the beginning of the next pre-season. I was in digs with Ronan, who I knew before moving over which made it a lot easier. Still, it took a while to get used to it but having two Limerick lads that I knew who were already settled in made it easier. Then we started education around the same time as the season, it was two or three days a week in the classroom for the first two years.”

Ronan Coughlan – “Because we didn’t sign at the usual time of a scholar we actually missed our first six months of the under-18s, it’s usually a two year scholarship programme. We signed for three years but actually missed the first half of the year. So we weren’t put directly into a digs by the club at the time but we stayed with one of the scouting team in Manchester for the first six months and then the second year we jumped straight into the education. You do a half a day on Monday and then a full day on Wednesday as a recovery day. You’ve to go into the club and you’d get the coaches, there were two tutors who would come in from Barnsley College and it was educating us through football and sports – it was all sports related.

“Then in second year I moved into an apartment with Sam Warde. He came over the next year because he’s a year younger than myself and Tadhg. He was a first year scholar, we were second year in the same team. I lived with Sam and I would have known him growing up as we went to the same school. Living together we’d a good laugh, it was a lovely digs not far from the club it was fantastic. The club really looked after us, I wouldn’t have a bad word to say about the club. The people we lived with were an old couple and they were lovely. They looked after me and Sam very well, we’ll be forever grateful to them.”

Tadhg Ryan- “Myself and Ronan knew each other before we went over. We were both from the same team, both from Limerick and that was a comfort. At first we lived in accommodation which was temporary but then I moved into digs in Huddersfield and they were brilliant. The people I lived with in the digs were very welcoming, very accommodating and even when my family came over to visit they were extremely welcoming. I’d very good times with them.

A very big part of me settling in was Nick Colgan, obviously being an Irishman himself. He went to England as a young lad so he knew what it was like. he was always there to put his arm around my shoulder- off the field, on the pitch, everything. Telling me, 'You're doing well, keep it up' and he was a huge influence on me settling in and finding my feet, as well as Joe Murphy who signed a few months after me at the club.

“I suppose Nick and Joe saw the potential in me. They saw what I was about and really did look after me, especially when I went up training with the first team. Even on a day-to-day basis they’d have the craic with me. Being the goalkeepers union, goalies look out for each other but I think it was the Irish link as well. We’d a good bond and I was very fortunate I was able to work with them.

Moving to an established Championship outfit like Huddersfield Town - with a Category Two Academy set-up at the time – was financially a world away from the set-up the players departed Ireland from. However, did the solid foundations laid down by coaches such as Declan Farmer and Eddie Hickey help the transition from student footballer to Academy scholars?

How did the environment differ from what you had experienced at Limerick?

Tadhg Ryan- “In the Emerging Talent programme, Declan Farmer was my coach and Eddie Hickey as well and they really prepared me to go over to England and live as a professional footballer. I learned a lot from them and they were very good coaches for me. Going over to Huddersfield as a pro, as a 16-year old, obviously there's a higher intensity and the volume of training is a lot greater, training twice a day and you’re in every day and you’ve a game at the weekend. The body does adapt to that but the main thing that I learned was every day you go into training is a learning day.

“I used to go into training every day and soak up and learn as much as I could. I'd look at the senior goalkeepers like Joe Murphy, Alex Smithies, Jed Steer and Danny Ward, the guys that I worked with and I used to look at how they would train, how they would conduct themselves around the training ground, in the gym, the professionalism and the standards they set. I would look at that and I try to bring it into my game, learning what is expected off you as a pro - on and off the pitch. Your diet, your rest, your gym work which Nick Colgan was very influential on, yoga, stretching, what you put in your body as fuel. All these things every day, I was just soaking in. I used to I love looking at the other goalkeepers and their techniques and how I could bring it into my game.

“I feel very fortunate. I used to love going into training every day to see what I could learn from the Senior pros when I trained with the first team and obviously from your cultures as well. You learn from doing as well so it was a very enjoyable experience when I first went over to find out what is expected from you as a professional and how you can be the best you can be.”

Ronan Coughlan- “I suppose the differences from playing with Limerick and being a full-time pro, although Deccy (Farmer) would have known what the boys in England were doing, when you're growing up in Ireland and you don't know what it’s like, you don't know the strict training and stuff like this. He would always try and aim for this but it's tough when Limerick aren’t a professional (outfit) and don't have the facilities. But I remember in Limerick we used to train three times a week - Monday, Wednesday and the day before a game - usually a Friday.

“We'd have a gym session on a Tuesday and it was up to you to do the rest, which was the best you are going to get in the country. Our training was very good, even when I went over to the UK, Deccy would have done his badges and definitely would have been up to date with what was being coached at the time. It's like that but obviously you're trying to juggle school at the time when you're at Limerick but then when you go over to the UK you realise that it's full on. It takes a while for your body to adjust to the constant training, you train twice a day as well as a gym session, some clubs could be different but that's what we did at Huddersfield and they definitely weren't easy on us.

“I had Tony Carss in my second year as a scholar and he's a quality coach, he’s with Blackburn now. Leigh Bromby as well – he’s still at Huddersfield. It's adapting to that and getting your body right - fuel, sleep, recovery, stretches. It's full on and you just have to be focused. I think when you're over there it can be easier because you don't have your friends to distract. Like I said I just lived with Sam, we did our work and we were in and out, worked hard. It can be mentally tough, I never struggled with it but you hear stories of young lads going over and they don't like being away from home - I wasn't like that. You still need to get used to it, your body, your mind - you're a full-time professional now.”

Sam Warde – “Yeah it was great, developing that winning mentality and getting used to demands to be the best every day in training and games. The standard demanded and the standard we got to were so high. In training everyday it was always at 110% and then that came out on the pitch when we played our games. Training was the main difference; we’d train four times a week with double sessions twice and gym so it was a big change.”

 In the period from January 2014 to November 2015, Huddersfield Town saw Mark Robins, Chris Powell and then David Wagner (appointed 9th November 2015) in charge of the first team, as well as Mark Lillis twice in temporary charge. With a lack of continuity at first team level, how did this influence what was going on at Academy level in the club?

There were a number of managerial changes in the first team shortly after you signed. Did these have an effect on you at all?

Tadhg Ryan – “I didn’t have a chance to work with Mark Robins that much, maybe on a couple of occasions. Chris Powell coming in was a great appointment for the club. I felt that when he came in the atmosphere around the club was just brilliant. There was a positive energy around the club coming from him and his assistant Alex Dyer. I think we won the Under 18s league that year and I was performing pretty well.

“I feel my time with the club under Chris was a very positive and enjoyable time for me personally because he did integrate me into the first team as an Under 18 goalkeeper. So I came in training with the first team on a regular basis as well as the Under 18s. What Chris did as well from him being a defender during his illustrious career, he would have appreciated what a good goalkeeper was and I felt that his relationship with the goalkeepers during his time at the club was brilliant. There was a great understanding and great work ethic between us. I was performing very well under him and I felt a good vibe under him. I felt he liked what I was doing, and I was getting positive feedback from him and the goalkeeping coach Nick Colgan.

“He brought me up to do the warm-ups with the first team on match day. I'd be the third choice goalkeeper on the pitch. At the time I think Jed Steer was on loan from Aston Villa and Joe Murphy was there and I was there as well doing the warm ups. As an 18-year-old lad in the John Smith’s Stadium in front of nearly 20,000 people doing a warm-up on a match day I was just like 'Wow!’- buzzing. The strikers did the shooting practice at the end and I'd be in goals just flying about the place absolutely in my element, enjoying soaking up every single second, looking at the opposition players and goalkeepers who I was on the same pitch warming up as. It was an amazing experience and it really made me feel I had a high worth to him. Chris treated me really well and I felt I was rewarded for the hard work I was putting in and it was a very enjoyable period at the club for me.”

Ronan Coughlan – “You do and you don't notice what's going on at the first team I suppose. The whole club revolves around the first team, at the end of the day that's what matters for the club, the first team winning matches. So you're kind of in the background. I arrived when Mark Robbins was there, he left fairly shortly after I arrived and then Chris Powell came in.

“You focus on yourself and when these things happen, it's really about developing and focusing on yourself and hoping that one day you get the chance to go in there. You obviously know what's going on but it’s more about your games and your training, you've got enough to worry about than worrying about the first team and what they’re doing. You want to go down there and train with them, you're more focused on yourself but it's definitely in the back of your mind.”


Part Two: Playing, Premier League and the return to the League of Ireland