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Liam Tuohy 
The final whistle at last for a toon old boy....
 
How do you retire after 51 years?

Liam Tuohy has asked himself that question a lot these last few months. In the summer of 1951, two years before Hillary and Tensing scaled Everest, he joined Shamrock Rovers as an aspiring outside left and this summer, after 51 years of devotion to the game, he intends to step away. He plans to play more golf, give more time to his family and to just sit back and smell the roses. 

"I hope I'm not such a sad bastard that I won't be able to have a life," he says. But he's not sure. Football has dominated his every thought and waking moment for as long as he can remember. The doubt persists. The question continues to niggle. How do you retire after 51 years?

A Thursday morning at Home Farm Football Club. He peels away from watching training on the all-weather pitch and invites you to follow him to a small and somewhat dingy room that looks more like a store for balls and kit than the office of the 'Director of Football.' But then, it's true, he doesn't spend much time here. 

Every working day, from nine thirty in the morning until four in the afternoon and from six to nine in the evening, you will find him with his tracksuit on, supervising some session from the side of a pitch. On Saturday mornings, he will return for two hours to coach six and seven-year-olds. On Saturday afternoons he likes to take in a game on Mobhi Road. Sunday, his day of rest, is a chance to devote some time to his family so he will only watch one game. In April, he will be 69 years old.

He pulls out a chair, hands you a copy of his weekly schedule and awaits a first question. But already you're struggling. Where do you begin with a man like Tuohy? How do you explain this extraordinary passion for the game? 

"My God, this is manic," you observe, handing back the schedule.

"It's a labour of love," he smiles.

On Wednesday, escorted by his wife Sheila, he will take his usual seat in the Lower West Stand for the friendly international against Russia. Tuohy hasn't missed a game at Lansdowne Road since the end of his reign as manager, in 1972, but will follow the team's progress at the World Cup finals where he followed the last two from the comfort of his home.

"I wouldn't go to a pub or anything like that. I don't like having to jostle and the roaring and shouting. I like being able to hear what Eamon Dunphy, or whoever it might be, has to say at half-time and I like being able to see all of the tackles. And you can't do that in pubs, everyone is jumping up in front of you.

"I enjoy the hysteria and I thought it was brilliant in the Charlton years when everyone had a green jersey on but it wouldn't be me. When I'm at a game I'm analysing all the time: 'Are the full-backs coming to cover? Is your man pushing up?' I find it difficult to get excited.

"I was the same as a manager. We'd go down and score this brilliant goal but I'd be having a go at somebody and fellows would say 'What the f*** is wrong with you Rasher?' But that's the way I am. That's the way it gets you. And I think every football man is like that."

An ordinary everyday football man? No, not quite. Brian Kerr, the FAI's Technical Director, has known a few in his time but has always rated Tuohy in a different class. "The thing that always strikes me most about Liam," he says, "is his knowledge of the game. We might be watching some game together and he'll say something like: 'Watch your man. He always seems to get there ahead of the defender.'

"And you'll watch a bit more closely and realise 'Jaysus! He's right. He does always just about get there ahead of the defender.' Or he might say something like: 'Did you notice that fellow? He wins an awful lot of fouls, doesn't he?' He just sees things in a game that others don't see."

Liam Tuohy was born in East Wall, the second youngest in a family of six boys. His father, Gerry, died when he was young leaving the raising of the family to Sadie, his mother, from whom he inherited his legendary wit. "We lived in a two bedroom corporation house but it never struck me that we were poor. The summers were brilliant. I lived in Fairview Park playing football and swimming but the Ma had a tough time rearing us.

"She was a great Dublin woman. I remember one afternoon, after I'd been married a few years, dropping back to the house. 'What are ye doing here?' she asked. 'I've come back to you Ma,' I said. 'There's no good coming back to me when all the good is gone out of you,' she laughed."

Hurling was his first sporting love but he abandoned it when his school (St Joseph's) kept playing him in goal ("a madman's position in those days") and began playing soccer with the local team, St Mary's, East Wall. He liked soccer, loved "Drums" and hoped one day to emulate Kit Lawlor, his childhood sporting hero.

On leaving school he got a job as wheel builder at Royal Enfield bikes and over the next couple of years did pretty much everything, from delivering groceries to assembling prams, until he signed for Shamrock Rovers and the great Paddy Coad at the age of 18.

After a season with the under 21s, and another with the second team, he made his first team debut as he joined the ranks of 'Coad's Colts' in 1953. It was the golden age of soccer in Ireland. A full house at Milltown was 26,000 and every week, at grounds up and down the country, they played before capacity crowds. Liam Tuohy was a star.

Noel O'Reilly, the Ireland under 18 coach, who worked with Tuohy during his term as Irish Youth Team manager, remembers how big he was.

"Everybody knew Liam Tuohy. I remember we were going to some tournament and my Da dropped me up to the airport. So we arrive and Liam is there and my Da walks straight over to him: 'Howye Liam,' he says, 'I'm Noel's father. It's a pleasure to shake your hand. I've always admired you.' I thought: 'Jaysus Da, don't be embarrassing me,' but it was his first time to meet him and he wouldn't be put off. And then of course, typical, he went and put his foot in it: 'I always followed Drums,' he says, 'I hated Rovers.' But it was great."

"Yeah," Tuohy concurs, "it was great. You went into the job next morning and everyone wanted to talk to you the Rovers supporters and the anti-Rovers men and everywhere we went around the country it was the same. There was a bit of glamour about Rovers. We'd travel to games in these 'Austin Princesses.' And people used to say the green and white shirt made you look bigger. They'd see you afterwards and say: 'Jaysus you're only a titch.' But it was a great era."

In 1959, after nine years at Rovers, Tuohy had played once for Ireland, secured a "pensionable" job at Guinness, met and married Sheila and fathered three kids when Newcastle made him an offer he had twice previously refused: The chance to play full-time in England. He was a household name in Ireland but still had to work to pay the bills. At the age of 27, Newcastle were offering one final shot at the big time.

"I was surprised I actually said 'Yeah' because when I was 21, West Brom had professed an interest and Aston Villa had professed an interest but I was happy at Rovers and didn't feel the need. I don't know. I just got the bug. I remember having to go home to tell Sheila. It was difficult for her at first with the kids but I found the Newcastle people to be more like the Irish than any other part of England and we have friends there to this day."

After three years of modest success at Newcastle (42 games, 9 goals, 2 international caps) Tuohy began to hanker for the life he had left behind. On his return to Dublin in 1963 he won a double with Shamrock Rovers and was offered the job as player-manager when SeŠn Thomas resigned. Over the next five years, Rovers proved unbeatable in the Cup. The man they called 'Rasher' had found his true calling: Management.

IN the summer of 1971, when he succeeded Mick Meagan as manager, Ireland hadn't won a game at home in almost six years. His first game in charge, a 6-0 defeat away to Austria, typified the ineptitude that had dogged the team for years. The fixture had been arranged for a Sunday, a day after a full league programme in England. Forced to field a team of League of Ireland players, Tuohy resolved it wouldn't happen again.

Over the following months he travelled to England and began discussions with the various team managers to secure the release of his stars for future internationals. In January of '72, a 3-0 defeat of the visiting German Olympic team was followed by a morale-boosting (2 wins, 2 defeats) trip that summer to a tournament in Brazil.

The World Cup qualifiers were approaching and Ireland had been drawn in a group with the Soviet Union and France. Denied the services of three key players John Giles and Paddy Mulligan through injury and Don Givens who wasn't released by QPR they were unlucky to lose 2-1 to the Soviets at Lansdowne Road in October. But a month later the disappointment was forgotten when Giles returned and led the team to a brilliant 2-1 win over France.

Ray Treacy scored Ireland's winner that afternoon. In The Boys In Green by SeŠn Ryan, he is lavish in his praise for Tuohy the manager. "Liam could drop you, he could give you the biggest bollicking you ever got in your life, and the medium he used, which is what he's brilliant at, was humour. He was caustic, cynical, but in a humorous way and he had the ability to get through to you.

"He was the first to set a pattern of play. And again, he made his point through humour. 'Ray, my missus can run quicker than you' which was probably a fact 'and therefore just get the ball and keep it simple.' He would also talk to you about your strengths. He said to me: 'Ray you are the best header of a ball that I have seen' and I walked out feeling ten feet tall and feeling I could beat anybody. That's where Liam was great."

Great he may have been but it wasn't to last. After just ten games in charge, Tuohy resigned. "I was trying to keep too many balls in the air at one time. I was being paid £500 a year for the international job and they stopped tax on that. I was managing Shamrock Rovers and that was also part-time. And I was an area sales manager at HB Ice Cream. I was also married with five children actually Sheila had our sixth when I was at a game in Poland which didn't make me husband of the year.

"I loved the international job but there was no long-term future in it. And it was taking me away from all of my other jobs. I remember one match, myself and Frank Johnston, who used to write for The People, went to see the Soviet Union play France in Paris. It was a Saturday night and we couldn't get back until Sunday. I picked up my car at Dublin Airport, drove to Athlone where Rovers were playing and only got there for the second half!" 

After closing the door on international management, Tuohy never expected he would reach for it again. But it's a powerful seductress, this beautiful old game, and in 1981 still burdened with the same responsibilities he accepted the (unpaid) position of Youth Team Manager and the madness started again. 

The team was in disarray at the time and hadn't qualified for a major championship in years. He appointed Kerr and O'Reilly as his two assistants, applied some skilful man-management to the bruised morale and over the next five years the team played in three European Championships finals and a World Cup.

"He could be brilliant at times," Kerr says. "I remember we were playing in the semi-final of the World Cup against Russia and Gary Kelly Alan's older brother was pulling out some unbelievable saves. We went in at half-time leading 1-0 but under serious pressure. I said to him: 'What are we going to do?' He says: 'I'm going to hand out a few sets of rosary beads and let everyone say a few prayers." 

"My philosophy when you're working with kids," Tuohy explains, "is to make it enjoyable for them. When you pick a young fellow for an international at 17 he's worried sick but if they saw us telling jokes it would be more relaxed."

"When people talk about Liam," O'Reilly says, "they always talk about his humour and how relaxed he was but at the back of it all, there was a terrible serious side to him that few ever saw. I could always tell when he was annoyed. There was this muscle in his jaw that used to twitch when it was closed." 

"I loved that time," Tuohy says. "There was a great chemistry between myself and Noel and Brian. It was one of the most enjoyable jobs I had."

But it ended in the most extraordinary circumstances. 

In February of 1986, at half-time in a youth team game with England at Elland Road, Tuohy was just about to deliver his dressing room speech when he was brushed aside by Jack Charlton, the new Ireland manager. "Eoin Hand (the previous manager) used to come to all our matches and would always come in to wish the team luck and that's all I asked Jack to do: to come in and wish them luck. I didn't ask him to come in at half-time that was my job! I was being shafted. I walked. But the game goes on."

The implications of that fall-out with Charlton affected his life for years. Doors in the corridors of power that had always been left ajar were suddenly closed. The louder the hype ballooned for the new regime, the more the faithful servant was ignored. Overnight he became The Man Who Wasn't There. 

And yet, remarkably, when asked to reflect on the episode now, he does so without a hint of bitterness. "I'm just sorry that it happened," he says. "Some people feel the FAI were culpable but I don't. There are some very good people in the FAI but sometimes good people are put into positions that they're not always able to deal with." 

We have reached the end of the interview and Charlie Treacy, another coach at Home Farm, has shoved his head through the door. He has heard Touhy is being interviewed and wants to make a point.

"He's known around here as 'The Great One'," Treacy says. "Make sure you write that down."

Tuohy is embarrassed. "Don't mind that shite," he complains.

"No, it's true," Treacy insists. "He's The Great One. And he's going at the end of the season and we're wondering how we're going to replace him."

With great difficulty Charlie, of that there is no doubt.

Paul Kimmage


Page last updated 24 June, 2009