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The rain storm battering my windscreen as I drive up to Bray reflects my mood. Irish domestic professional football clubs, tottering on the brink for so long, have just voted to continue with a league structure that is clearly not viable. I estimate that there are currently only three manager’s jobs worth having; you’d have to be insane to want to take on any of the other clubs, assuming they still exist when the next Airtricity League season begins in March. I am on the way to meet a man who wants to do just that.
Brendan Place is clearly not mad. Nor is he naïve about the plight of the Irish game.
“Yes, it’s hugely frustrating, the inadequate budgets, the lack of proper training facilities, the politics, but it’s all part of the challenge and you have to remain positive”, he says. Don’t think I haven’t asked myself, ‘Do you really want this?’ and the answer is always, yes I do! You don’t lose the ambition you had as a player. I’m still learning my trade as a manager but I relish every bit of it. I’m determined to succeed.”
No one could doubt that. Brendan proved his resilience in overcoming disaster when his blossoming career at Gillingham was ended by a freak injury.
“Oh, that was a tragedy,” reminisces the Gills manager of the day, Damien Richardson. “Brendan made such a great start. I remember him playing a superb game against Lincoln City. ‘You’ve signed a star there,’ said my chairman. But his run lasted only eight games before that neck injury ruled him out.”
It ruled him out for six long years and robbed him of his best days as a player. His head had collided with that of an opponent, a common enough event if you play central defender. But what resulted was more than the average concussion; it was eventually diagnosed as an injury to the base of Brendan’s brain stem. So, in all the circumstances he might consider himself lucky rather than unlucky. Brendan Place, of course, has made positive use of an experience that might have made lesser men walk away.
“It’s added to my motivation to succeed as a manager and coach,” he says. “I have unfinished business in the game and I’m eager for an opportunity to engage with it.”
Brendan Place did eventually play again. Encouraged to head a suspended balloon by an imaginative physio, his long term recovery was confirmed and he resumed playing in Ireland, first with Home Farm Everton, then at Bohemians where, brought in for his coaching skills, he soon found himself in first team action. That led him to becoming player-manager to non-League Malahide United whom he took to promotion He was back playing in the Premier division for Monaghan United at the age of 37 and in the end it was the demands on his time of his fledgling business that caused him to retire.
“But even now you won’t find me sitting in the dugout!” says Place. He’s a tracksuit manager out on the training ground with his players and the variety of his experience as a coach is a reflection of his openness to new challenges. Brendan was an assistant coach at the first FAI Youth Academy and worked with the successful Under 17 and Under 19 international squads in Japan and Cyprus. He’s also worked with the cream of Ireland’s female players at the LFA School of Excellence. The current work in hand is the completion of his UEFA Pro Licence.
Brendan Place went back to his roots at the famous Home Farm club as manager/coach to the youth development squad. In 2008 he took over the reigns at Athlone Town, to wrestle with the complex problems on and off the pitch confronting a great club in difficult circumstances. He soon established a reputation for attention to detail, the excellence of his training routines and a comprehensive scouting system. He left last year with a glowing testimonial from his chairman in his pocket. Now he’s looking for the next challenge. If I were foolish enough to own a football club Brendan Place would be on my list.
The sun is shining as I drive back to Wexford feeling a lot more positive about the future of our domestic game. Is it coincidence? Or has a little of the Place charisma rubbed off on the weather as well?