What happened to all the Irish managers in English football?

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Updated: July 25, 2016
sean o'driscoll

What do Joe Dunne, Sean O’Driscoll, Graham Kavanagh, Jim Gannon, Gary Waddock, and Jim Magilton all have in common?

The obvious answer is that they are all football managers who hail from this island, north or south, the less obvious answer is that they are all football managers from this island who are no longer in charge of clubs in England’s top four divisions and Irish betting sites would suggest there won be any in the near future.

Admittedly, most are still involved in the game in one capacity or another.

Gannon and Waddock continue to ply their trade at non-league level, Dunne is working as Shaun Derry’s number two at Cambridge and Magilton is currently the Elite Performance Director for the IFA.

But the bottom line is that Irish managers in the top four English divisions are becoming something of a dying breed.

It wasn’t so long ago that Owen Coyle, Mick McCarthy and Martin O’Neill were all in charge of Premier League clubs.

Today, there are no Irish managers in the top flight.

There are three in the second tier, Coyle and McCarthy, plus Brighton’s Chris Hughton, two in League One, namely Chesterfield’s Danny Wilson and Grant McCann of Peterborough, while Warren Feeney (Newport) and John Sheridan (Notts County) are flying the flag on the next rung down.

Like Ireland, Scotland also currently boast seven managers among the 92 spread across the four divisions,  including one in the top flight in the form of David Moyes.

But given how much Scottish coaches used to dominate English football, this represents a far more severe decline than that currently being endured by the Irish contingent.

Wales, in contrast, seem to be bucking the trend of Celtic managerial woe, with six managers in total, including Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis in the Premier League, plus Paul Trollope (Cardiff City) and Kenny Jackett (Wolves) in the Championship.

So how concerned should we be that, leaving the Northern contingent aside for a moment, there are only four Irish managers currently in charge of English clubs?

Well, the low figure can be at least partially attributed to the influx of other foreign managers into the English game.

There are, it should be stressed, only three English managers currently working in the Premier League, along with four Italians, two Frenchmen, two Spaniards, two Welshmen, one Scot, a German, a Portuguese, an Argentinean, one Dutchman and one Serb (with the Hull City job still to be filled).

And there are also a number of Irishmen steadily working their way up towards senior positions, including the likes of Mark Kennedy who recently quit as Ipswich’s Under-21 coach to take up a position at the Manchester City academy.

The likes of Dunne, Waddock, Gannon and Kavanagh, meanwhile,  may well find themselves back in a club hot-seat at some point during the forthcoming campaign given that the average shelf life of a manager in England these days is, staggeringly, just nine months.

The same can be said of Brian McDermott, the man with Irish parentage, who parted company with Reading for a second time at the end of last season and O’Driscoll, whose wealth of football knowledge and experience will surely be utilised again somewhere in the very near future.

This current dearth of Irish managers may also be partially attributed to the cyclical nature of football, with the trend for foreign coaches perhaps likely to continue for a few more years before the emphasis returns to hiring those from closer to home.

Much like it has done with regard to the recruitment of foreign coaches for national teams.

In the same way as it has with players, the surge of managers from overseas has also meant higher calibre coaches dropping down into the lower divisions, as the presence of Rafa Benitez and Roberto Di Matteo in next season’s Championship so clearly illustrates.

The knock-on effect has been further pressure on the positions in the lower divisions that have traditionally provided many Irish managers with a first step on the career ladder.

Wycombe Wanderers, it should be pointed out, were still in the Conference (today’s National League) when Martin O’Neill took charge back in 1990.

Jobs of that nature are increasingly hard to come by and Irish managers, along with their English counterparts, are undoubtedly feeling the pinch caused by the changing landscape of the game across the water.

But while we can take some solace from the fact that our managers are not the only ones struggling to gain a foothold, it does remain troubling to see so few Irishmen plying their trade in the higher echelons.

And for the sake of the profile of Irish football, our aspiring young coaches and the future of our national teams further down the line, it is to be hoped that this decline is arrested sooner rather than later.

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