Belfast Telegraph

Footballers' Lives: 'Death of NI legend McDonald hit me hard,' says Andy Waterworth

Kicking off our exclusive new series on life on and off the pitch in Irish League football, Linfield star striker ANDY WATERWORTH talks us through his own story

Footballers' Lives with Graham Luney

Kicking off our exclusive new series on life on and off the pitch in Irish League football, Linfield star striker ANDY WATERWORTH talks us through his own story.

Q: What is your earliest football memory?

A: Playing in the Crossgar Youth League. I can remember scoring three goals including one into my own net when I hadn't realised the teams had switched sides at half-time and I dribbled the ball forward and scored. The Down Recorder ran a piece with a report saying: 'Jimmy Greaves thinks football is a funny old game, so does Andy Waterworth'. I still have the article!

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Andy Waterworth making the local paper aged 12. Photo: Kelvin Boyes/Presseye.

Q:  Who was your favourite footballer when you were growing up?

A: Eric Cantona or Frank Lampard. I loved everything about Eric from his style of having his collar up to his confidence and wearing the No.7. I've been a Chelsea fan since my days at St Joseph's Primary School in Crossgar, where most kids supported Manchester United and I have also followed Lampard's career closely. He has overcome adversity and facing criticism from West Ham fans to reach the pinnacle of his sport, playing for his country. Thierry Henry was another class act, helping to change the dynamic of how strikers played the game.

Q: Have you always had that desire to play football or have you ever thought about walking away?

A: I've been disillusioned a few times but I think back to my time at Distillery under Paul Kirk and I was struggling in the Premier League. I can remember saying to my dad Don, 'I'm not good enough to be here' but then I started a game against Glentoran and scored two goals, lifting my confidence. But I had thought about stepping down and playing for Kilmore Rec again. I was 18 and had doubts about myself as a player. I would have quit as I wasn't enjoying my football but that game against Glentoran turned things for me, I was man of the match and the club, along with myself, realised what I could do.

Q: Outside of football, what is the worst experience of your life?

A: When I was 24 a friend of mine, the same age, died suddenly. He was Darren Casement and he lived close to me. We grew up together and played in the same youth teams and at school. It was a tough time and I really felt sad for his family.

Q: And the sudden death of your manager at Glentoran, Alan McDonald, at 48 in 2012?

A: That hit me hard. Very much so, like everyone else. I was close to him, he worked with me in the Northern Ireland Under-21 side and brought me to the Glens. He was thought of as a no-nonsense centre-half but he was a lovely man. I felt very guilty that I couldn't give him and the team more. Glentoran won the title but I didn't really perform until my last season there. The day Alan died, I was playing in a seven-a-side game in Dromore with others including Sean Ward and Elliott Morris and, when the news came through, everyone was stunned. There were about 200 people there and it just went silent through the shock.

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Waterworth felt he could have done more when playing under Alan McDonald at Glentoran.

Q: Have you ever suffered a serious illness or accident or has anyone close to you?

A: Touch wood no, though when playing I've had a broken leg - while making my debut for Linfield. I've also broken my collarbone, nose and a finger. The crazy thing about the broken leg was I played on with it and scored in the Faroe Islands.

Q: How supportive have family and friends been in your career?

A: Very supportive. I'm from Crossgar and still live there. I'm from a big family that has a passion for football. From school days onwards it was like a close community and we joined Kilmore Rec's youth teams. I scored seven goals against 1st Bangor once before Ards signed me. The McCarthy family, on my mum Mary's side, were heavily involved. My mum had six brothers who played for Kilmore and my granda Noel McCarthy captained Glentoran in the 1940s and '50s. I've an older brother aged 38, Jonathan, and a sister, Anna, who is 37.

Q: And your wife, Lisa O'Kane?

A: She's very supportive but I suppose she has no choice! She's well used to the sacrifices that you have to make. We don't have the time to go away on too many holidays but we work around it. Since we first met she has got to know what a footballer's life is like, now she understands the culture of it all and she goes to matches too. Lisa was a nurse and is now a trainee midwife at Antrim Hospital and she is even now training with the Kilmore Rec ladies' team so she may even end up playing too!

Q: There was a football theme at your wedding in May, wasn't there? You brought the Irish Cup and League trophies along.

A: Yes, that was great and I always wanted to do that. At my brother's (Jonathan) wedding he brought along the Gibson Cup and I thought I'd like to do that at my wedding. The whole day was really relaxed and we just got our photo album this week. It was at an old barn at Larchfield Estate, Hillsborough with the table names on a Bruce Springsteen theme. But, like most people say, the day passes very quickly.

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Andy Waterworth with wife Lisa on their wedding day with the title and Irish Cup. Photo: Mark Marlow/Pacemaker

Q: How did you and Lisa meet?

A: I'm 31 now and Lisa is 28, we met at St Colmcille's school in Crossgar. Six or seven years later, I asked for her number on social media.

Q:  So, you're a slow mover then?

A: Yes, that's me all over. I always thought she was pretty at school but we didn't speak much back then.

Q: How are you enjoying married life?

A: Everything is grand. There's been little change as we had been living together before the wedding. We are just working hard and make time to see each other when we can.

Q: Would you like to have children?

A: The last 10 years have been hectic for both of us but it would be nice to have a bigger family and, if God blesses us with that, it would be great.

Q Why have you always stayed in Crossgar?

A: Lisa has asked me that and I'm not sure. There's just a lovely community here and it feels like home. I come from a big family and we are very close.

Q: What was it like moving from Glentoran to Linfield? Did you take a lot of stick?

A: I could understand all of that because I was moving to a big rival across the city. Glentoran were experiencing financial problems and, when it looked like there was no contract offer for me, I looked elsewhere and when Linfield expressed an interest I thought it was the best decision for me. David Jeffrey (then Linfield manager) was a massive pull as well and I've really enjoyed my time at Linfield.

Q: What has been the highlight of your career and biggest disappointment?

A: Highlight would obviously be scoring the two hat-tricks in a week to win the league and Irish Cup for Linfield this year. You just couldn't write that script any better. But losing the Irish Cup final to Glenavon when I was captain in 2016 was tough to take. Coming home to Northern Ireland from Hamilton and full-time football was difficult too. I signed for Glentoran but reality hit me, I was back at work and not in the full-time game. It was emotionally tough but I heard someone say 'If something goes wrong, step back, relax, take a deep breath and the tough times will pass'.

Q: Are there changes you feel could make the Irish League a better product?

A: Yes, summer football, brought in over the next three to five years, will give our sides a better chance of even reaching the group stages of European competition. We would be more competitive in Europe, fitter and stronger. I like the idea of Friday night football over the summer months while players can find a way of doing more full-time training and still get a good education. We maybe don't have the infrastructure or money to go completely full-time but we can still make positive changes.

Q: Do you feel the league attracts unfair criticism?

A: Definitely, often from people who haven't been to a match in their life. You only have to look at the players who have progressed from our game such as Stuart Dallas, Niall McGinn, Gareth McAuley and Liam Boyce to see how our league can be a springboard to better things. I think players learn good values in our league and they will become stronger for the experience. I've heard the criticism all my life but it drives me on, I thrive off it. I know how good the standard is here, some people are just too quick to make simple, ignorant and sweeping statements.

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Andrew Waterworth in action for Linfield against Coleraine earlier this year. Photo: Jonathan Porter/Presseye

Q: What has been your favourite holiday and where would you like to visit?

A: We went to Croatia on honeymoon and it was a lovely place. I always wanted to go there and it was relaxing after all the wedding organisation. The hotel was five star and that helps and I also like Torremolinos, Spain. I've played in Italy but never holidayed there. It would be a nice place to go, or the south of France.

Q: Tell us about your favourite books and films.

A: Braveheart or Top Gun, I like Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks as well so maybe Jerry Maguire. I do enjoy reading newspapers, books on different formats and also listening to podcasts, particularly football related ones. I'm obsessed with the game and friends will often tell me to stop talking about it! I enjoyed the book 'Blackbox Thinking, The Surprising Truth About Success' by Matthew Syed. I'm into sports psychology and how the mind works. I love analysis of sport including the Monday Night Football commentary on Sky.

Q: What sporting event, other than football, would you like to attend?

A: I love tennis, so one of the Wimbledon finals. I also like going to the GAA finals too, especially when Down are involved. You get a great buzz there and the players deserve a lot of praise, doing it for the love of the game and not the money. I used to play Gaelic when I was about 15 for Loughinisland but decided to focus on football.

Q: Toughest opponent and best you've played alongside?

A: Toughest would be Portadown's Keith O'Hara, he was always quite clever. Obviously Celtic's Tom Rogic was quality too, an outstanding player. I'll name three best players - James McCarthy at Hamilton, Gary Hamilton at Glentoran and my Linfield team-mate Stephen Lowry.

Q:  Stephen must owe you some money to say that?

A: (laughs) No, he's a quality midfielder, as a striker it's nice to have someone who can pick you out.

Q: Which current sports stars do you admire and why?

A: I follow Rafa Nadal's career closely and I like the way he conducts himself. I know Rafa pays a lot of attention to the mental side of the game and I like that approach. In football I really like Cristiano Ronaldo, what a player. I must say Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill too after what he has achieved.

Q: What hobbies/interests do you have outside football?

A: A bit of gardening. Nothing major, just pottering around the garden and grass cutting. I have nets there too but no children to make the most of them.

Q: Can you tell us about your job as Irish FA Outreach and Volunteer Officer?

A: It's great. I always wanted to work in football if I wasn't playing. I went to the University of Ulster at Jordanstown and did a sports coaching and sports science degree. I have my Uefa 'A' licence and hope to start a Masters degree in sports coaching from September.

Q:  So you hope to be a success in management when you retire?

A: Yes, I love that aspect of the game. Nigel Best at the Irish FA told me he felt I had become a better player after doing the courses and he's probably right as my understanding of the game improved and I played my best football for Linfield. You do learn more about the game. I want to play for as long as I can but, when I become a waste of space and no use to anyone, I will know the time is right to quit. I have two years left on my Linfield contract and I hope to taste more success but you can't look too far ahead in football. It can be an unforgiving sport but I know that the time to retire comes to every player.

Q: What are your hopes for the future, on and off the pitch?

A: More success with Linfield. The boys are confident but not complacent. We have a good, balanced team with strength in depth. Football will still be a big part of my life when I retire, I really hope so. I've got the desire to be successful and I enjoy what I do. I want football to still be in my life for a long time.

  • Next week: ANOTHER STAR FALLS UNDER OUR SPOTLIGHT

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