In part one and two of this series, we read about how three young players from Limerick signed for Huddersfield Town following a preseason tour, their life in the Academy - the ups and downs - how promotion to the Premier League affected their careers and the decision to return to the League of Ireland. In this concluding piece, we hear about how the moves back home came about, life in the league since returning and their hopes for the future.
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
Shane Keegan - Galway United Manager in 2017 and 2018
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
In January 2018, following his departure from Huddersfield Town in the summer of 2017, 21-year-old Ronan Coughlan arrived at Premier Division side Bray Wanderers under new Seagulls boss Dave Mackey, while Shane Keegan began plans for his second year in charge of recently relegated Galway United by signing 20 year old Tadhg Ryan from the Terriers on the 13th of the month.
Shane Keegan – “Declan Farmer would have been involved in the three lads going across the water. Himself and Tadhg’s brother Shane, also a coach, contacted me about Tadhg’s situation in the summer of 2017. I spoke with Graham Barrett and Paul Clements (goalkeeper coach at Huddersfield Town) but the move was blocked during the summer. Over the winter I got in contact with Tadhg again and he was prepared to terminate his contract.
“I had done a lot of research. Nick Colgan and David Forde were raving about him and when I met him I got a good vibe. All it took was one session to know so it would be a good signing. Tadhg actually alerted me to Ronan as well. I wanted to sign him and I had little to nothing left - maybe I should have pushed the boat out a bit more as he’s done well since so all three lads could have ended up playing for Galway!”
Dave Mackey – “When I was appointed Bray Wanderers manager, it was the last weekend in December and we were practically in pre-season so I was busy putting my squad together. Ronan came on my radar because he was coming home. I got chatting to his agent. I had done my research and he fitted the bill for us. He was technically very good and could play anywhere across the front line. I was delighted when Ronan decided to sign. I'd seen him on video and then in training and he was a pleasure to work with.
“The key thing and difficulty for lads coming home from the UK is that they’re used to a full-time setup and it's a difficult adjustment. His time at Bray Wanderers stood to him because he was playing regularly. Playing full-time football at Cork City also stood to him. He’s flourishing now and he’s doing really well at Sligo and I’m delighted to see it. I’d a great relationship with him, he’s one of the top players in the league and Sligo will be relying on him to a great degree in their bid to climb the Premier Division table.”
That Galway move, Tadhg, you’ve mentioned it starting in the summer of 2017 but you didn’t don the jersey for another six months, what happened?
Tadhg Ryan – “They (Galway) would have been halfway through their season in the Premier Division. The plan was for me to go out on loan to them for the rest of the season. They would have had three or four months left and I was completely down for that. That didn't materialise for whatever reason - I did pick up a calf injury during pre-season but I felt I could still get through it. Even though it didn't materialise I knew the time was right to go that's what I felt in my heart I needed to seek a new challenge and develop myself as a number one because that's what I want to do in my career.
“I used that six months between July 2017 and January 2018 to get myself in the best shape possible. I was still playing games with the Under 23s. I remember I’d be in the gym the day before a game, just getting myself in the best shape possible because I knew I was going to move in January. I just had that feeling. I was always good at gym work but I felt I needed to put on a bit of weight. I was still a bit light to really progress in the men’s game. I needed to put on a few kilograms of muscle in those few months which I did. That really prepared me well for when I eventually moved to Galway in January.
“Shane Keegan had been in contact with me again in December 2017 and they’d actually just got relegated, that didn’t matter to me, not in the slightest. Shane had told me I’d have a great chance of coming in as number one and that was just music to my ears. I spoke to my family and my mentor - David Forde, a Galwayman himself - and he told me to jump at it. That’s what I was feeling in my heart as well. The initial plan was to go on loan for the remainder of my contract at Huddersfield, in January I would have had six months left. But the club (Huddersfield) were like, 'If you’re in Ireland, you’re no use to us here for training.’ I remember saying, 'Jeez, they’re not really caring about my welfare there’. I felt, 'Look just terminate my contract and let me be on my way. I have my ambition to go and be a number one and start a new adventure.’
“So instead of staying on and trying to negotiate different loans/deals etc, I took that leap of faith and decided to terminate my contract and move to Galway and still, to this day, I feel it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My family were delighted and the support they have shown me over the years has been unbelievable.
“For the four years I spent at Huddersfield it was time for everything I learned (to be put into action). Obviously I’d positive spells as well as difficult spells and I’m as grateful for one as the other and it was time now to put these experiences into play as a number one at such a club as Galway. They are a giant club so I felt excited and privileged to be joining Galway. I have a lot of gratitude towards Shane Keegan for him placing his trust in me to be a number one for the club and I'm very thankful towards him.”
You’d a different story, Sam, after being capped at under-18 level for Ireland in 2016, you also left Huddersfield Town in the summer of 2017 - but not to the League of Ireland at that stage, instead you went to Colchester. Can you tell me about the international cap, did it help that you were playing in England and how was your time in Colchester?
Sam Warde – “It was a great moment for me. I had previously played a few friendly games under-15 – under-16 but that was my first international cap. It was a great experience too, my first time in St. George’s Park which is an unbelievable training facility and I was obviously very proud to be a part of that set up. I feel being in England does help. I was having a very good season so I was very happy when it came up. I don’t think it matters too much where you’re playing, it’s just being lucky enough to get the opportunity to play and be a part of.
“My time at Colchester was good. It was a different experience in terms of coaching methods but still a good professional set up. I had quite a few injuries which was frustrating but I settled in well and was just unlucky with a few things but I enjoyed my time there.”
Tadhg and Ronan, how was it settling back into playing in Ireland? Was it about settling down or a route to go back to prove yourself again?
Tadhg Ryan – “The first few months at Galway I felt at home straight away. I felt I integrated straight away and it felt natural. I remember the fans being an absolutely amazing and the support was great. Shane Keegan gave me that number one shirt for Galway and playing every week, I was still learning a lot. Learning every week by doing and, not only for a goalkeeper, but for all young players learning by doing is probably the best way of learning.
“That year in Galway it was inconsistent but still I look back on it very fondly - the fans were with me, Eamonn Deacy Park is such a beautiful ground and the structure and the history involved in Galway. It was a great time and it set me up extremely well for what was to come so I’m very grateful to the club and Shane for giving me that opportunity.”
Ronan Coughlan – “I came back in the 2018 season and signed for Bray. How did I feel about being back? Yeah it was good – I was delighted and I knew if I was playing enough games, playing consistently, the rest would take care of itself. I just had to look after my own performances on the pitch. I didn't feel like I had to prove myself to anyone, it was more for myself after the injury I had to come back and just be able to play, just enjoy it that's the main part. I definitely see it as a stepping stone back to the UK - you see so many players come back who went over in identical situations. They go over, come back, go back over play for a few years and then go back over again.”
The summer of 2018 saw Ronan Coughlan move south to join John Caulfield’s Cork City, the league champions at the time. He played in both legs of their European tie against Norwegian kingpins Rosenberg but saw his league appearances limited. He moved to Sligo Rovers for the 2019 season and has become a key attacking threat for Liam Buckley’s side.
Tadhg Ryan signed for Cork City in 2019, after leaving Galway, and had edged out longstanding number one Mark McNulty by the end of the season - impressing for the Leesiders at the back end of the campaign before joining Waterford for the 2020 season.
You both found your way to Cork City shortly after coming back – Ronan in the middle of the 2018 season and Tadhg the following year. How did that move go and what about your current situation?
Ronan Coughlan – “I signed for Cork halfway through the season. I left Bray, they had their own problems, and Cork were fighting for the league. It was very good. I learnt an awful lot – played in Europe against Rosenberg and that was an amazing experience. Physically and mentally as a player I also grew a lot. It can be ruthless when you get to that age where you need to play - I learned that as I was leaving Cork. I knew I was ready to play but some managers have their opinions and that’s that.
“I wasn't going to sit around and try and change any others opinions. I was primed and ready to go so that's when I signed for Sligo. Liam Buckley wanted to sign me and it was a straightforward decision from there. I knew I was going to play and I'm still there now.
“Obviously with this pandemic at the moment it's a bit up in the air and then I can get back soon. The first season at Sligo was good for me. I did well, I scored goals and had some great games and I love playing at Sligo. I’m always thinking long term. I want to go back over the England and play at the highest level. I want to play in the Premier League, that's what my goal is. I’m working hard and I am where I feel I need to be now and it’ll happen.
Tadhg Ryan – “At the end of the season with Galway I had the opportunity to join Cork City – I was over the moon. At the time Cork were flying, they’re one of the biggest clubs in the country with the fan base, the history of the club and especially the recent success that they had under John Caulfield – the past two years winning the league and Cup double and being right up there every year. To have John Caulfield give me that opportunity to join Cork City was just a very great privilege and I was just excited really to get going, to be joining a club of that stature in the Premier Division. Eddie Hickey came in as the goalkeeper coach at the same time which was amazing. He had started coaching me when I was a 12-year-old and done so much for me. So to be back working alongside him again was just amazing you know, not only for the goalkeeper coach that he is, for the person that he is - he’s absolutely top class. I was working alongside Mark McNulty as well and you know the longevity that he has shown - the consistency, the quality, the success that he has had with Cork. To be working with that and to be competing with that, I was learning off them and the way we were working I thought it was brilliant.
“That time, especially at the beginning, it taught me the gift of patience. I was continuing to train my hardest everyday and put in the work and eventually the opportunity came up and I finished off the season playing every game which was great.
“I relished that experience, playing at Turner's Cross every week and different stadiums around the country in the Premier Division as well so that was that was really a positive experience for me. We were all we were very open and honest with each other which is vital as well. That was very enjoyable that working relationship and I really looked forward to going in everyday to train and working with that.
“Throughout the season the fans were just absolutely fantastic towards me and you know the support that they showed and the reception that I got from the fans was amazing. I’m very grateful for that and I look back on my time very fondly at the club.
“Then in the off-season I found out that my time was coming to an end so it wasn’t meant to be for me and that was difficult but then to have a manager like Alan Reynolds contact you it was just brilliant . To play for a man like that, I was just delighted. I’ve learned a lot from him so far and the goalkeeping coach Dirk Heinen who’s had a wonderful career in Germany so to be working under those lads was good - a fresh experience and one that I was enjoying until it all shut down. We’re working away and we’re all looking forward to the day that football comes back.”
Eddie Hickey (coach of Tadhg Ryan at both Limerick and Cork City) – “Tadhg went to Huddersfield for a few years and still to this day has the highest standing leap within the club (Huddersfield). When he came back from Huddersfield, he went to Galway and had a fantastic season two seasons ago. They got relegated but it wasn’t down to him because he had such a great season. John Caulfield got on to me to take him down to Cork and I thought it was a no-brainer.
“I thought he should have been getting in more towards the end of last season game here and there and I spoke to the two Johns (Caulfield and Cotter) about getting a move into the number one spot but they were protecting him for better things in the future. It was great working with him last season at Cork. I think there's definitely another move in him and if not then he can nail down a number one spot at one of the biggest clubs in the country. For me his move to England paid off in terms of this size - he came back much bigger in stature, much broader because he was a full-time pro there, that definitely stood to him.
“He definitely has a huge career ahead of him – if he nailed down a number one, he could end up being like a Gary Rogers or Marky (McNulty). Once he gets in and nails down a position people will see the real Tadhg Ryan. For me he's one of the best goalkeepers that I've ever worked with, probably will ever work with and it's all down to his attitude to train, to get better all the time. I was watching a video today; it was sent to me from his brother and the work he’s done at home in self isolation but that doesn't surprise me.”
Sam, you came back to the League of Ireland a year later when you signed for Sligo Rovers and you’ve stayed in the West in 2020 with the move to Galway. What was the main differences between the League of Ireland and Academy football? What are you hoping for in the future?
Sam Warde – “It was definitely a change; the demands are different in terms of what’s asked of you and I had to realise that quickly. It’s win at all costs and that’s all that matters. It’s a lot more challenging physically too which I had to get used to but it was a great experience to get 20+ games in my first year back and something I can build on
“It’s a very good team at Galway, and obviously just as the season was getting going this virus came so that’s been frustrating. I’m just looking forward to getting back playing and enjoying my football and take one game at a time and see where that takes us. We’ve a very good squad so it should be an exciting season. There’s always a desire to play at the highest standard possible but I’m just focused on this season first and making as much of an impact as I can.”
Given the fact that he was instrumental in the moves to Huddersfield Town at the start of this series of pieces, it seems appropriate to leave the final words to former Limerick under-19 coach Declan Farmer by asking about his hopes for their future careers.
“Going back to the mentality and personalities of knowing Ronan, Tadhg and Sam, I would safely say if Ronan keeps playing well and scoring goals some club will come in for him coming to go back over the water.
“Tadhg has the attitude and the mentality to go back, he just needs first team football - they do have the ability.
“Sam has been over and he’s tried a different club at Colchester, he's tried it at Sligo I've seen him play there and he did very well. I’m surprised that Sligo let him go but Sam has to get some more game time under his belt going forward and like that Sam has the opportunity as well.
“It is down to them and their mentality. If they have the hunger and desire to go back over, and I do safely say that some of them do have that hunger and desire to go back over.”