By David Hennessy
After giving a good account of themselves against Premiership opposition in the FA Cup, Michael Timlin and Southend United are now focused on the battle for promotion from league two and the 28-year-old midfielder sees the team’s indomitable spirit as the factor that should help them avoid the play-off heartbreak like they suffered in 2012.
“It (team spirit) comes with winning games but I think it’s mostly down to what (manager) Phil Brown has brought into the club this season. He wants it to be a family atmosphere because your training ground is your second home, you spend just as much time there as at home so he wants it to be like a second family. I think all the boys have taken that on board and it’s one of those things you can’t fake or buy. Team spirit comes with how things are around you, how you’re doing as a team and also what kind of characters you have in the squad.
“When things are going against you, they’re the times squads can start falling apart because people start pointing the finger and not helping each other out but there’s no signs of that with our squad. Even the boys that aren’t playing, obviously they’re unfortunate not to be playing, know it’s part of a journey rather than the here and now. If we all do it together as a squad, we’re all getting promoted as a squad.”
Michael began his career with Fulham where he was frustrated with injuries. He had loan spells with Doncaster and Scunthorpe before Swindon took him, on loan at first but making the deal permanent in 2008. After being loaned to Southend United in 2010 and 2011, he transferred to The Seasiders in 2012.
Currently in fifth place, a play-off spot, Southend United are only five points off top spot and it is an automatic promotion they are aiming for. After beating championship side Millwall in the FA Cup third round, they took on the Premiership’s Hull City. Although it finished 2-0 to The Tigers, it was goalless until half-time and with a bit of luck, Southend could have won the game as Timlin rattled the crossbar when the game was still even: “We’ve taken massive confidence from that game even though we lost. A lot of people that watched the game have said we put in a really good performance and there wasn’t a massive difference of the two teams. Obviously, that is very encouraging for us. At the end of the day, the cup run was only going to go so far and to pit our wits against decent opposition and luckily enough we had Millwall and Hull to do that. It’s always been about the league this year.”
Capped at several under-age levels for Republic of Ireland, Michael captained the Republic of Ireland Under 21s to victory in the 2006 Madeira Cup. The Hull game saw him come against some of his under 21 team mates in Paul McShane and Alex Bruce: “It was fantastic to meet up with them again, the likes of Macca, Paul McShane and Alex Bruce: Two boys I played with for a number of years for Ireland’s under 17s, 18s, 19s all the way u p to 21s. It’s just fantastic to see the likes of them playing the premiership now, they’re pitting their wits against the best players in the premiership. I’m delighted that a lot of my ex team mates are doing that.”
Glenn Whelan and Stephen Ward were also team mates from Michael’s time playing for the Under-21s.
Playing beside Michael in the Southend midfield is 22-year-old Conor Clifford. A product of the Chelsea youth system, Conor has already been called up to the Republic of Ireland senior squad. Of his team mate, Michael says: “He’s going to have the attributes to get himself in to the Ireland squad, he just needs the opportunity. If you’re outside the premiership and the championship, it’s hard to force yourself in there because there’s still so many good players. Conor’s doing fantastic this year. If he just keeps doing what he’s doing, listening to the coaching staff at Southend, there’s no reason why he can’t kick on.”
And it is obvious that Michael would love a senior cap to add to his youth caps: “You’ve always got to be aiming for something and I know it’s a cliché but if you focus on playing football for your club and doing well with that, then you never know what can happen. All my family still hope and wish I’ll get the chance. My granny is still fit and well back in Mayo, she’s probably my biggest fan so hopefully one day…
“But having said that, I’ve had the opportunity to play for my mum and dad’s country, I always say it’s where I’m from even though I was born in England, and I’ve got great memories of playing for the under 17s right the way to under 21s, playing under the likes of Brian Kerr and Don Givens so it’s definitely something I’d love to be able to do again. Like I said, you’ve got to be playing at your highest level and also in a higher league if I’m going to be brutally honest.”