Tim Kiely: 'In the off-season we didn't get paid, but I was too proud to sign on the dole.'

Sun, Jun 20 2021
Timmy Kiely

Timmy Kiely Credit: Cork City FC

Of course not every young Irish footballer who goes to a cross-channel club ‘makes it’, remains injury free or returns home to enjoy a long and successful domestic career. However, those who follow their childhood dream still have a story to tell and here's Tim Kiely's …

Youth football with local side St Michael's preceded three years (2005-2008) at Glasgow Celtic, a period which coincided with regular SPL titles and UEFA Champions League knock-out stage appearances: “It was Martin O'Neill who signed me, but then left in the summer and Gordon Strachan came in. I didn't even play in the first 15 months. I kept coming back and breaking down. Eventually, I got sent off to get an MRI scan. It came back negative, so they then sent me to a psychologist because for some, the pressures of trying to become a professional footballer can become too much. Thank God, they found nothing wrong and thought I was a good lad. I then went over to a top surgeon in California. I received keyhole surgery and that was as far as I got in my first 15 months over in Glasgow.”

“I think young players are over trained and don't know any better because all they want to do is kick a football ... I know I'm a prime example of that. I was never injured before I went over and had a hip, two ankle and a knee injury after being there. I only played a little over 30 games in the youths and reserves during my three years. The senior Celtic players were a tough group, who expected good things from you, but when you did well, were the first to give you a pat on the back. I spent so much time in the gym, but after about 18 months I knew that I wasn't going to make it. You look around at the level players are at and where you are”

“When I came back from Celtic as an 18-year old, I thought my life was over as a footballer. My sister told me to cop on, that I hadn't even done my Leaving Cert and had my whole life ahead of me. I kind of fell out of love with football, but ended up playing with Kilkenny City and have to say that it was the most I ever enjoyed my football. We were losing every game, but there was no pressure.”

“Cork City came in for me after Damien Richardson came and looked at me playing. He left soon afterwards and Alan Mathews came in. They had a very strong squad … Really top players. It was hard for a 19-year old trying to break into that team … It took a while.”

“Cork City then went bust. We lost 4-0 away to FC Haka in the Europa Cup. We were waiting in the airport to go home and told the flight was delayed by five hours. About half an hour later we were informed that Arkaga had pulled out and none of us were getting paid the next day, so we had a long wait to think about what was going on.”

“It's difficult for League of Ireland players, thinking about what's going on off the pitch because they're not paid enough and it's very unstable. It's a job and a lot of lads have mortgages. It's a part of life that you appreciate the highs when they come, but it's an erratic lifestyle.”

The Tipperary native went on to play a solitary season for Limerick in 2010, under Pat Scully, before reappearing on Leeside: “When I returned, Cork City were in the First Division and playing part-time football. In the off-season we didn't get paid, but I was too proud to sign on the dole … I never wanted to go through it. Looking back now, I totally should have. I had a part-time job and tried to keep myself fit for the following season. There's a perception of a high profile, but they're definitely not.”

“I was in my early twenties when I retired. I had a few offers in Ireland, but also one from Malmö, in Sweden, who have now gone dramatically big at the moment. Then, they were still a relatively small club, looking around Europe for young talent … Hopefully, I was in that category, but everything was either a one-year or six-month deal.”

“One of the best players I ever trained with was Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic. Tommy Burns, who has since passed away, used to say to me: ‘Look at your socks. They're full of mud. Now look at Nakamura's … Pure white. That's because his first touch is so good and when he shoots, he only uses his bootlaces.’ Then, at Cork City you had Joe Gamble and Colin Healy, both internationals, but even though he was nearing the end of his time, Gareth Farrelly, wow, what a player. His legs were probably gone, but his first touch and passing were as good as I've seen.”

“I'm back playing again now, for Dermot, my local team. I'm really enjoying it, but it used to be my sole passion. I used to wake up and automatically think about football. In my mind, the backyard was Wembley, but then it turned into a job and some of the injuries I had. I also realised that I was never going to make it as a player and that's tough as well. I stopped enjoying it and in life, when you do, you need to move on. I bring that passion to what I do now because I came to terms with it. It was an eye opener, but I don't look back with regrets.”

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