By Fiona O’Brien
Liam Coyne is Lancashire through and through, referring to his paternal home of Galway as his ‘second county’. The county’s football manager is awaiting the game of his life as his team takes on Kerry this Saturday, just seven months after taking on the job. And his own inter-county record as a player isn’t too bad either.
He won U14, U16, U21 and the minor international titles, as well as four All Britains, Lancashire senior and junior championships and All Britain club championship titles with his side. But he is not living in the past and looking forward to the task ahead.
Says Liam: “Everyone is absolutely buzzing. I just want to wake up and it be Saturday morning already. To play Kerry is like playing the Real Madrid of soccer, it’s like a dream come true.”
The 29-year-old has represented Lancashire at nearly every level since he took up the sport, after watching his father Colm excel while representing the county too. I grew up watching my Dad play for St Brendans, and someone pointed out that the day we won the British Provincial Championship (defeating London in the final on July 10) was 39 years to the day that he had won the All Britain title as a player.
“Dad represented Galway and I always loved listening to his stories. The lads he played against were part of the three-in-a-row team of the 1960s. They were my heroes, the equivalent to George Best or Bobby Charlton for United supporters.”
Liam is helped on the management side by his father and Tommy Harkin. “It’s absolutely brilliant to have the support of those two, they’ve been there and done it all before. We’re all singing off the same hymn sheet and it’s easy to get or give advice and make decisions together.”
And the harmony from the management team has filtered on through to the players as well. “I’ve always been involved with Lancashire, and although I still kid myself I can play my knees are knackered. But even if it meant bringing out the team kits I always want to be some way involved.
“I’ve been watching how the team was run the past few years and we were bubbling along the surface, but I knew we had a squad that had a lot more potential then just competing for the All Britain title.
“When you look how John Mitchels and St Peter’s have dominated the British club championship over the past few years, there is definitely the player capable of success there.
“So in December I put my name forward, got backing and gradually put the ball in motion. I went around all the clubs in January because I wanted their backing, to show there would be no rifts or favouritism.
“I would have loved to have been able to handpick my team but obviously some players can’t commit because of family and work schedule. So I just wanted guys that are committed to play for their county if not necessarily the best.
“But we do have great players. I knew we had the squad to come this far, and it didn’t take too much to instil that belief in the lads because as they saw the quality at training it became clear, they can recognise the talent that they have.
“And what bigger incentive can there be than playing against Kerry? I did it myself as a player and I remember the full forward they had had won four All Ireland titles. That was huge for me, like a young lad now togging out to face the likes of Zinedine Zidane or someone like that.”
Lancashire face Kerry after the British final, where they came from five points behind at half-time to win 1-10 to 2-6 against a highly fancied London side. I might have lost the head a bit at half-time, but there’s no point in going on at the lads about what they’ve done wrong.
They’re clever enough to know that. If a player makes a mistake I like them to rectify it, even if it means tracking back, or making the next block or getting the next score.
“There’s no point in beating the lads up but I’m a huge United fan and remember watching a documentary on Alex Ferguson before.
“It spoke about how he told his players at half-time of the 1999 Champions League final that they had 45 minutes to turn it around.
“That if they didn’t they wouldn’t be touching the trophy but the other team would be right in front of them and it would be the worst feeling in the world. So that’s what I said and that after all their time and efforts and hard work that it would take at least 12 months to even have earned the opportunity to be in the same place again. “I think the lads might have given London a bit too much respect.
“We seen before that their manager had been speaking about their All Ireland prospects and we wanted to prove them wrong, that they had overlooked us in Britain first before thinking about going on to Ireland.
“And we are taking it one game at a time. We will celebrate once we are out of the cup. But there’s no bigger incentive then going on to play at Croke Park. I know my time there eclipses all of the titles I ever won.
“We beat New York in the minor international championship and they let us parade with our trophies around Croke Park before an All Ireland semi-final. It was brilliant. I picked a bit of the grass off the pitch and put it behind my medal and it is still there. Being from Lancashire you don’t get many opportunities like that and we’re very close. There’s lads from all clubs and they may be belting ten bells out of each other every weekend but they are united as a team.
“We are all in a big WhatsApp group together and most of the time there’s no need to gee them up, they are doing it all themselves.”
Liam is hoping that the whole of Lancashire gets behind the team on Saturday. “We’re really trying to promote it. There’s a huge Kerry community here, and we are getting the underage involved too. Croke Park will be watching so we want to be able to put on a good show and look after everyone.
“Lancashire is my county and it has been the biggest honour to play for them, but it is an even bigger privilege now to be manager too.