Warren Feeney: Don't mess with the new Linfield boss
New Linfield manager Warren Feeney is bright, bubbly and friendly. From the moment I got to know him when he broke into the Northern Ireland senior squad 12 years ago, I've liked the guy. Impossible not to.
Even as a kid back then among experienced, no nonsense internationals he was the joker in the pack, full of craic and fun to be around.
Don't get the wrong impression of Feeney though.
He's not all japes and jibes... there is a serious side to him. Expect to see more of it in the coming months and years, now that he's the boss of Northern Ireland's biggest football club.
Any Linfield players thinking the Belfast native would be a soft touch had a rude awakening on Monday night when they met the 33-year-old for the first time.
Feeney was not afraid to dish out a few home truths to the squad, instantly setting a tone.
After hearing David Jeffrey's booming voice in the home changing room for years, the players were left in no doubt that a new kid was on the block and he was taking charge – it will be his way or the highway.
Nothing like shaking things up on your first day! It was the right message to send out. And a ruthless one from someone who expects to be called 'gaffer' by his team, not Feeno, his frequently used nickname.
He's here to win games and trophies and even though this is his first taste of management, he has enough faith in his ability to believe that he can achieve success.
At his unveiling in front of the media at Windsor yesterday, he impressed as passion oozed out of him when talking about Linfield, who he has supported since he could walk. He also spoke confidently about bringing fresh ideas and new recruits to wrestle the league title away from Cliftonville, who have won it for the last two seasons.
Wearing a club tie and sharp suit, it looked as though this True Blue was born for the job.
His dad Warren Senior played for the club as did Warren Junior at youth level, enjoying a Cup final victory for Linfield Rangers in the 1996-97 season.
Such was his prowess as a striker, a life and career beckoned in England, Scotland and Wales for the Ashfield High pupil, firstly at Leeds United, where he met an Aussie teenager called Harry Kewell. They became best buddies and still are to this day, always keeping in touch no matter where their travels have taken them.
Each acted as best man at the other's wedding, with Feeney doing the honours in Las Vegas when former Liverpool ace Kewell got hitched to then Emmerdale actress Sheree Murphy.
While Harry earned a professional contract at Elland Road, his pal was released. Typical Warren though, he refused to be downhearted and moved to Bournemouth, quickly becoming a favourite with the fans, thanks to his energetic style and goals.
After joining them in 2001 Feeney left in 2004, starting a magical mystery tour around the UK. He played for Stockport, Luton, Cardiff, Swansea, Dundee United, Sheffield Wednesday, Oldham and Plymouth and was a popular figure with team-mates, be it youngsters trying to make their way in the game or star performers like Robbie Fowler.
Feeney's most cherished football memories though come from playing for Northern Ireland, just as his father and grandfather Jim had done before him. He won 46 caps and was involved in some famous Windsor victories, including when he scored one of his five international goals in a 2-1 victory over Denmark.
Last July with his playing career winding down he was appointed player-assistant manager at non-league Salisbury Town.
Today he is in his dream role as Linfield boss, bringing in former Blackburn Rovers hard man Andy Todd, son of Derby County and England great Colin, as his number two.
Feeney, devoted to family, friends and football, and his English born wife Katy, a teacher, who he met 'over a crowded dancefloor', will set up home in Bangor with their four young children Lucy, Darcy, George and Holly.
The great Jeffrey, after 17 years as manager and 31 trophies, will forever be considered footballing royalty here, but there is a new King of Windsor now and he's not to be messed with.
Linfield's first manager in almost two decades, Warren Feeney, determined, straight talking and possessing a clever football brain, may prove to be an inspired choice.