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Footballers' Lives with Niall Currie: 'We miss Jerry Thompson in every way'


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In charge: Niall Currie is enjoying his spell as Carrick Rangers manager

In charge: Niall Currie is enjoying his spell as Carrick Rangers manager

Sad loss: The late Jerry Thompson

Sad loss: The late Jerry Thompson

Glove affair: Niall Currie celebrates success as Bangor keeper

Glove affair: Niall Currie celebrates success as Bangor keeper

Going up: Niall Currie with (from left) daughter Lauren, wife Julie and daughter Ellie after Ards’ promotion in 2013

Going up: Niall Currie with (from left) daughter Lauren, wife Julie and daughter Ellie after Ards’ promotion in 2013

In charge: Niall Currie is enjoying his spell as Carrick Rangers manager

Carrick manager Niall Currie on devastating loss of Jerry Thompson, his pain at Portadown axing, and why he regrets not agreeing to join Linfield in playing days.

Q. What are your first memories of playing football?

A. I started playing in school teams and I was captain of the team from first to third year at Killicomaine Junior High. When I went to Portadown Tech, Tony Bell, who scored the winner for Cliftonville in the 1979 Irish Cup final, was the football teacher.

Q. How did things progress from there?

A. I joined Tandragee Rovers and was playing in the Mid Ulster League as a 17-year-old. Alfie Wylie signed me for Loughgall and that was the first break, playing B Division football at 19.

Q. How successful a time did you have at Loughgall?

A. Alfie gave me an opportunity that a lot of other people wouldn't have. I was 'too small', 'too fat', 'too chunky' - all those things. Alfie gave me a lot of confidence because I'd doubts about myself and I told him I wasn't good enough. He said: "I'll be the judge of that. You're only a child and you're going to get better and better." I ended up playing over 200 games for Loughgall, including 100 in a row. It was very difficult to leave Alfie and go to Bangor.

Q. How did that move to Bangor come about?

A. We played Bangor in the League Cup and the Irish Cup in the same season and I got man of the match in both games. At the end of that season, Nigel Best wanted me to go down as back-up to Tim Dalton. I was leaving first-team football, but all I wanted was to prove people wrong. I wanted one game in the Premier League so I could show that to the people who said I couldn't do it. I knew at some stage Timmy would get a wee niggle and I would get my chance. I got in and I'd a really good season. I played 30 or 40 games and got the club's Player of the Year - probably the best season I had.

Q. You left Bangor, but then went back. What happened in between?

A. I missed the opportunity of a three-year deal with Linfield that I hugely regret now, but everything is a learning process. I had a three-year deal on the table from Trevor Anderson and I ended up going to Glenavon. I thought that I was going to be the No.1, but as soon as I signed there they then brought in the captain of Derry City, Dermott O'Neill.

Q. What happened then?

A. Even at 21 or 22, I felt disappointed. I look back on that opportunity with Linfield as the only regret I have, certainly as a player. It was the opportunity to go in on a level playing field with Wes Lamont. We'd everything done. I got a call from Nigel Best and Colin McCurdy. They had given me a great opportunity at Bangor and had moved to Glenavon. I met them and signed the form that night.

Q. How long did you stay?

A. I asked to go on loan after about two months. I saw in pre-season that I wasn't going to get a crack of the whip. I was getting 15 or 20 minutes in friendlies and I knew the writing was on the wall. When a goalkeeper of Dermott O'Neill's quality becomes available, as I was told, it's experience, leadership and it ticks a lot of boxes. I don't blame Nigel Best at all, when the opportunity comes to sign a goalkeeper like that he has to look after the club. I went on loan to Distillery for the rest of the season and then went back to Bangor.

Q. Was that a good move?

A. I'd great times at Bangor. As a player that was my place. I was treated like a king by everyone. I felt valued and I felt I was a big part of what they were trying to do. I got into my testimonial season - I was young to be getting a testimonial, that's how good they were to me. Lee Doherty signed Ryan Brown, but I started the season and we went the first seven games unbeaten. We'd a cup game midweek, I think against Ballyclare Comrades. Lee said he wanted to give Ryan a game and we would revert back on Saturday. Ryan did well and stayed in. At Christmas Joe McAree came in and took me in a swap deal for Kevin Bates. I went to Dungannon and won the league.

Q. What made you go into management at a young age?

A. I'd a broken fibula, tibia and torn ankle ligaments at Bangor. I came back, but it was a huge injury. I was in plaster for five months and the rehab took 10 months. The breaks healed, it was the ankle ligaments that caused me problems. I knew my career was coming to an end. I finished the season at Armagh City and I was just okay. I realised I wasn't going to be where I had been before. I told Colin Malone that season would do me. I was only 30. It was the right time. When I saw the job coming up at Annagh, right on my doorstep, it was just something that I was always interested in.

Q. You had success early on as a young manager with your local club and started to have a family all around the same time, how exciting was all that?

A. Life was brilliant. I remember walking the girls down to the match on a Saturday. I had Lauren, my oldest girl, coming to every match for 10 years. Everything was family orientated. All the success I had, Julie and the two girls were part of it and that was important to me.

Q. How difficult was it to leave Annagh for Loughgall?

A. Very difficult. We'd three great years there. When I took over they were reapplying to stay in the league, so we turned the club around. It was an unbelievable opportunity to go to Loughgall and it was a big step. It was the chairman of the club, Alan Davidson, who sold it to me. He trusted everything I did.

Q. How did you move things forward at Loughgall?

A. All the players were locally based and the team that played in the Premier League, they got them to the Premier League so they can't have been too bad. Marc Robinson was the only player under contract when I went in. The top local players - some of them nobody wanted - I brought them in and won the league.

Q. After all that success, how did things end?

A. It ended horribly. We had to release all the players in January because the club couldn't fund the wages. We tried to regroup and I got fed up. I was quite cross about the situation, but in hindsight, a bit older and wiser, it wasn't the club's fault. If I'd to do it again I would stay.

Q. What happened from there?

A. I was out of football for nine months - and that was on the back of quite a successful time. I got a call out of the blue from Brian Adams wanting to meet me. We shook hands on a deal that night. It was November, Ards were second bottom of the Championship and I think we finished fourth. In my second season we won the league, went into the Premier League and didn't succeed because we didn't invest enough. We went in with just a few new faces. We knew the second time around we had to do things differently. We released most of the Championship squad after getting promoted and were doing well until I left for Portadown.

Q. When Portadown approached Ards, what was going on inside your head and inside your heart?

A. Inside my head was, 'Stay at Ards, you're in a good place, you're getting your injured players back and you're sitting pretty much safe'. But my heart - that's the problem. It's your red and white hat and red and white scarf from a very young age. My head was saying it was madness and I was going into a really difficult situation, but my heart was saying, 'It's Portadown, it's your hometown club and you're going'. It was really difficult leaving great people at Ards, but it was Portadown. I was never going to turn it down. I think I'd have felt worse if I'd looked back and the opportunity had never come again.

Q. Did you seek any advice?

A. My dad said don't do it, Julie said it was up to me, but that I was taking on an absolute mess. I just kept coming back with the same answer: 'It's Portadown'. It was just the wrong time.

Q. Did you know what you were going into and what you were taking on?

A. I thought I did. It was extremely difficult. Seeing the season out was extremely hard because there were so many people who didn't want to be there.

Q. How did you feel that night, after the 0-0 draw with H&W Welders, when you got the sack at Portadown?

A. I'd a good idea it was coming. We'd lost 1-0 at Ballyclare the previous Saturday when all our strikers were injured. I got a very abrupt phone call on the Monday afternoon to go to a meeting that night and I think they were going to do it then, but I got a stay of execution because of the points I made in the meeting. I knew it was hovering and I knew nothing but a win against the Welders would have avoided it. I went home and felt empty. I was angry initially because I felt I had been let down by a few.

Q. How did the opportunity to get back in at Carrick Rangers come about?

A. I got a phone call from a friend who I had played with for a long time who works in Carrick and knows the board and he asked if I had any interest in the job. I spoke to them and laid everything on the table. I learnt a lot from my Portadown experience so I wanted to make sure I was going into something with everyone on the same page. Thankfully we were able to do that and they understood that a whole rebuild was needed.

Q. Can you tell us about the night when you were playing Glenavon and you got the awful news that Jerry Thompson had died?

A. We'd had our Christmas night out on the Saturday and we'd a great time. We trained on the Monday night, he was up and all was good. We were at the ground and were waiting for him to turn up. We rang him and the phone was going to voicemail. We held off because he was a very big player for us and he'd destroyed Glenavon a couple of weeks before that. Ultimately there was no answer and we had to change the team sheet. The game itself was weird. We played well and lost 1-0. There was an eerie silence in the second half from our supporters. We don't have a big support, but they are bouncy and they are loud, but they were very quiet and I even said to our bench about it. The news had obviously been filtering around. When the match finished it was our goalkeeping coach Lee Wilson who told me what happened. We got everyone in the changing room and it was something I'd never seen the like of before. There were 27 or 28 grown men crying their eyes out. I've been in constant contact with his parents - his dad has been coming to our games - and it's their pain that breaks my heart. He was a great lad and we miss him in every way. It's his parents and his family that we stay strong for. His jersey stays hung up in our dressing room home and away.

Q. How have you got through it as a manager?

A. No coaching course prepares you for a scenario like that, but I have a responsibility to make sure my players are in a good frame of mind. I pride myself on getting to know my players, getting to know what makes them tick and how we can get the best out of them, but I have learned that you've no idea what's going on in the background. As a club we're just trying to do what Jerry wanted us to do and replicate what he gave us, which was leaving every drop on the pitch. We'll never get over it and I'll never get over it personally. I've 'JT 21' tattooed on my arm and he'll be with me forever. It's just so sad.

Q. You're the one trying to support the players emotionally, have you got the support that you need?

A. I've had a struggle with it myself and I have to have the persona that I am the go-to guy and I want the players coming to me with any problems or difficulties. I've a wonderful partner of 20 years, she's a good listener, and my mum Lilly and dad Ernie are good for advice as well. I stick round my family and they let me unload and support me.

Q. What support have you had from your family through your career?

A. My dad was a very proud man when I took the Portadown job, but he was worried because he knew it was an uphill task. He's brought me everywhere, he bought me my goalie gloves, my boots and everything that I needed from I was six or seven. My mum has been coming to games for 15 years and hardly misses any. I pick them up at 12pm on a Saturday and take them to the game. Lilly goes into the committee room and watches and Ernie heads to the burger bar first and then on the way home I hear who was bad and good.

Snapshot

Date of birth: September 1, 1972

Place of birth: Portadown.

Previous clubs: Player: Tandragee Rovers, Loughgall, Bangor, Glenavon, Distillery (loan), Dungannon Swifts, Armagh City. Manager: Annagh United, Ards, Portadown.

Current position: Manager Carrick Rangers

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