Belfast Telegraph

Irish Cup final: We aren't there to enjoy the day... we are there to lift the trophy'

 

Steven Beacom

The managers of Cliftonville and Coleraine football clubs reveal just what drives them on as their sides prepare to battle it out in tomorrow's Irish Cup final at Windsor Park.

‘It would be lovely to win and share it with family’

Barry Gray will lead Cliftonville into the biggest match of his football life tomorrow when they face Coleraine in the Irish Cup final at Windsor Park. The straight talking 38-year-old will do so knowing that without the support of his wife Caoimhe he wouldn't have taken the manager's job last summer.

Gray, a successful businessman from Newry, admits that his previous post with Warrenpoint Town had become "all-consuming" and that he needed to "step away for a breather" after taking the club from junior football to the top flight in the Irish League over an 11 year period.

When he was offered the chance to become Cliftonville's boss 12 months ago, his first thought was about the impact that it would have on his wife and their two young children Noah (6) and Ella (4).

"For any family with two young kids, it is a busy lifestyle and to be fair to my wife, Caoimhe has had to deal with a lot of it on her own because of me dealing with football," says Barry.

"When the Cliftonville job came up we had discussions and the main driving force for me making a decision about going for it was Caoimhe."

Smiling, he adds: "That probably contradicts everything she had said for 10 years prior 'to get out of that football, you're never here'. I think it was only when I was out of football management that she realised how much it meant to me.

"I was itching to get back but it was Caoimhe who pretty much made the decision, because if it had caused conflict between me and her and me and the kids I doubt if I'd have been as interested."

Caoimhe will be at Windsor Park tomorrow while Barry will parade out with his team before kick-off, with Noah and Ella by his side.

"They will come out as mascots. It will be a special moment, but for managers it is a little bit different because you are still focusing on the game," he says.

"I don't take the kids to many normal games. I don't want to force my desire for football on to them. They can make their own decisions when they are old enough. It would be lovely if we won the cup and I could share that with my wife and children. That would mean everything to me."

Another person who will no doubt be in the Cliftonville manager's thoughts tomorrow will be his late mum Maggie, an inspiration to Barry and his brothers Ronan and Hugh when they were growing up.

"The rock in our house was always my mother. God rest her, she passed away 18 months ago," says Gray, pausing for a second.

"We were a single parent family and she was the be-all and end-all for us. Everything that we ever had and everything that we have now and our attitudes in life are down to our mother and modelled on what she instilled in us."

Those attitudes include a strong work ethic. Barry Gray may be 90 minutes away from his first major trophy as a football manager, but he has already achieved much outside the game. He has two diverse businesses in architecture and childcare, which are both doing well. There have been rumours swirling around for some time that the big Liverpool fan is a millionaire. He laughs at the suggestion.

"People make comments based on the car that you drive or what rumours they hear about money you are spending.

"I have a simple philosophy on life. You can live whatever life you want as long as you work hard enough to do that," says Gray.

"I work tirelessly for what I have in my personal life and I work tirelessly for what I have in my football life. There is no snobbery about me.

"I employ around 30 people who rely on me for a wage at the end of the month. That brings a lot of pressure, so it is not all plain sailing the way some people think.

"We have only been involved in the childcare business for three years. It came up as an opportunity and was purely an entrepreneurial venture.

"We bought First Steps Daycare Nursery in Warrenpoint when my children were in the nursery.

"I think it was more to do with our kids being in it at that time. It was a leap into the unknown and it has taken a lot of work to get it to where it is, but it is going well and caters for a lot of kids every day.

"With regards to being an architect, I was always into technical drawing at school and I love it. It's similar to football in that you build something from the ground and then you see an end product."

Gray is not a man to mince his words. If you didn't know him, he could be taken the wrong way. Get to know him and you'll find a man you would like on your side.

"I can't change who I am. I think it has played a massive part in me being successful in football and business," he says.

"I'm honest and demand honesty. Bluffers don't hang around in my life and it leaves me with a solid core of people that I can trust and rely on and vice versa," he says.

A final word on the grand occasion that is the Irish Cup final which Cliftonville haven't won since 1979?

True to form, Gray declares: "I'm not one of these characters who says 'go and enjoy the day'.

"To be totally honest, me and the players aren't there to enjoy the day until about 5 o'clock when hopefully we'll be lifting the trophy!"

 

'It's a running joke in the area, you don't need to be a hurler to win silverware'

By Graham Luney

Oran Kearney had to deal with the heartbreak of a glittering playing career cruelly cut short by injury, but as a manager he's rediscovered his passion for winning and those competitive juices are flowing again.

After just missing out on the Danske Bank Premiership title to Crusaders by only two points, his Coleraine side - defeated only once in the league this season - are now back in the Irish Cup Final, hungry to exorcise the ghost of last year's 3-0 loss to Linfield in the showpiece.

The 39-year-old, born on July 29, 1978, lives in Ballymoney and is a PE teacher at Cross and Passion College in Ballycastle.

A teacher there since September 2002, the school is more famous for its hurling and camogie accomplishments than football success and Oran has helped to mastermind several title triumphs.

Working alongside former Derry gaelic star Joe Cassidy, the talented duo have maintained the school's proud hurling tradition by masterminding Ulster and all-Ireland titles.

"It's a running joke in the Ballycastle area with my background in football and Joe's in gaelic football that you don't need to be a hurler to produce the silverware," reflects Oran.

His school sporting success is not surprising, given his football career which included a golden four-year spell at Linfield, including the remarkable clean sweep season when the Blues lifted all the domestic trophies in 2005-2006. This Saturday he hopes to add to his two Irish Cup winner's medals.

But the perfect match for Oran came after his move from Moyola Park to Ballymena United, as that's when he met then Sky Blues boss Kenny Shiels' daughter, Lauren.

He married Lauren in front of family and friends in Cyprus in the summer of 2007 and the couple have twins Luca and Ava who are now seven years old.

Luca is never far from his father's side on match day or when his dad is collecting one of his many Manager of the Month awards. And the wee man could be a star in the making himself, as he plays for Ballymoney's under-8 team.

Lauren, who now works for a marketing software company in Portstewart called Zymplify, once joked: "Coming from a footballing family I've had no choice but to like the game. My mum always said 'Never marry a footballer'!"

Derry City boss Kenny continues to be a huge influence on Oran and he encouraged him to do his coaching badges while he was still playing.

It was good advice, as the former midfielder had to retire at the age of 29 after a couple of cruciate ligament injuries and hip operations.

Oran recalled: "I'm grateful for his encouragement. I call him all the time for advice, because any situation I'm facing he'll almost certainly have already dealt with."

And after the thrilling climax to the Danske Bank Premiership title, Kenny knows how Oran feels, as he was Coleraine manager when they were pipped to the championship by Crusaders in 1997. While Oran and Kenny continue to impress as managers, the Coleraine boss's siblings also caught the sporting bug. His older brother Gareth played for Ballymena United, while his younger brother Liam was at Limavady United and now manages Ballymoney United.

Both Oran's sisters, Aine and Olivia, played for Ballymena Hockey Club and enjoyed Ulster and all-Ireland success.

His parents, from Portglenone, Liam and Bridget - a former camogie star - will also be supporting their boy at Windsor Park tomorrow.

In May, 2009 Oran had to announce his retirement from football after struggling with injuries, but the Aston Villa supporter was already setting his sights on management.

After a spell in charge of Limavady United, he was appointed Bannsiders' boss in February 2011, succeeding David Platt. In 2015, Oran brought Glenavon and Linfield player William Murphy to his backroom staff. The former Linfield comrades are trusted friends and born winners.

Although Coleraine are riding the crest of a wave at the moment, Oran endured a rocky ride in the north west and over the years he has come under fire from disillusioned fans.

But the board stood by him, confident his work with the younger players would produce results. And they are now being handsomely rewarded, with Coleraine now challenging for major honours and enjoying strong support from the local community while the club's academy, in partnership with the Harry Gregg Foundation, is prospering.

In August last year, he agreed a new three-year contract extension at The Showgrounds and it was a further indication the club was determined to build on a memorable season that delivered an Irish Cup final appearance and European football.

Coleraine striker Jamie McGonigle says: "Oran's a great man manager as well as team manager. He knows who needs a good shouting at and who needs an arm around the shoulder. He's been brilliant with me."

The final word should go to the man himself and on his Twitter profile Oran explains what makes him tick.

"Husband, father, teacher & gaffer... People will hate you, rate you, shake you and break you... But how strong you stand is what makes you."

 

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