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'Every kid wants to go to the UK but Ireland needs to get away from that mentality'

Richie Ryan and Colin Falvey left the ‘fish bowl’ and are now playing in Canada with the Ottawa Fury.

Image: Eoin O'Callaghan

The Ottawa Fury face the New York Cosmos in the NASL championship final later today with the Canadian side captained by Tipperary native Richie Ryan and with the defence anchored by Corkman Colin Falvey.

The42 met them both earlier this summer and this article from July is re-published here ahead of tonight’s clash.      

IT’S A SWELTERING July morning in Ottawa – Canada’s capital city. The walk brings me away from the imposing Parliament buildings and I take Bank Street all the way to the hipster neighbourhood of The Glebe with it’s cute cafes and record shops.

And then I arrive at Lansdowne Stadium, home to the majority of the city’s sports franchises. The local CFL (Canadian version of NFL) side, the Redblacks play here. As do the 67s – a junior ice hockey team..

And this is also where the Ottawa Fury are based. Founded in 2011, they started in the North American Soccer League (the tier below MLS) just last year. Unsurprisingly, they found it tough in their maiden season and finished eighth in the ten-team division.

And even in this far-flung place, there’s Irish interest. It’s why I’m here.

The Fury’s captain is Richie Ryan – the Tipperary-born former Sligo Rovers, Shamrock Rovers and Dundee United player. He’s been here from the start.

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And the club’s newest centre-back is Colin Falvey – the Corkman joining earlier this year after a four-year stint with another NASL side Charleston Battery. In 2014, Falvey headed to the glitz and glamour of the Indian Super League – just another stop in a unique and colourful career that’s taken him from Cobh to Canada via Kilkenny, New Zealand and a host of other places.

As we sit down to chat, I have no idea our conversation will prove so fascinating and cover such a variety of topics.

Eoin O’Callaghan: Colin, you’ve got this international traveler mystique about you. You were in Charleston, India, New Zealand before that. Have you always had that mentality of the world being a big place so go and explore it?  

Colin Falvey: You go where the deals are on. Whatever you have on the table, you choose the best one and try to make the best decision. There’s a pretty big difference between here and India! It’s just a completely different way of life and that’s the hardest thing – adapting to that. The game doesn’t change – it’s the same wherever you play, except for differing styles maybe. It’s more the off-field things that you have to get comfortable with.

EOC: What about you, Richie? How did you come to the decision to move to Canada? 

Richie Ryan: I was leaving Dundee United and I fancied coming to North America, just for a change. I followed an agency on Twitter and got speaking to them and they said ‘We’ve got a move for you, if you’re interested, but it won’t be until next February’ which was six or seven months away. So that’s when I signed for Shamrock Rovers. I still wasn’t sure if the move here was going to happen or not so I signed a year deal with Rovers with the possibility that I’d head over here. I was lucky enough that they were willing to help me out if this opportunity came up and thankfully it did.

EOC: Did it get a bit tiring being around the game back home? 

CF: (to Ryan) You said it before, didn’t you? That it can become a bit of a slog?

RR: It’s a bit of a merry-go-round. I was with Sligo and had some good success there. And the league is what it is over there. You have the top four or five teams that are very good and could easily play in this league over here – the standard is very similar. But the game is growing over here. I’ve played in Ireland and Scotland and I don’t feel as if I fitted into Scottish football in the way I want to play the game so it wasn’t really a destination I was keen on staying in.

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EOC: The whole thing of moving here… As a schoolboy, you want to go to the UK and that’s the goal. Coming to terms with it not being what you wanted, was that strange? To want something different?

RR: I’m lucky that I have a partner who’s open-minded with what I do and she’s willing to travel wherever I go – that made it a lot easier. Growing up in Ireland, every kid wants to go to the UK which – after seeing different things over the last few years that I’ve been playing – I think Ireland needs to get away from that mentality.

The UK is just a big fish bowl. Young kids go there and they’re just another number. And especially for technical players, there’s so much more out there. You can play in Holland, Germany where you’re going to develop your strong points. Young technical players in the UK will probably get overlooked in favour of more powerful players who won’t be as good technically but who can do a bleep test for longer, y’know?”

CF: But I wouldn’t tell any kid not to go to the UK. Everyone has got their own path and everyone’s got to go different directions to get to where they want to go.

Falvey Tackle

RR: It’s tough for any kid. I’ve seen Jack Byrne and he’s an exceptional talent. Seeing him sign a three-year contract at a big club like Man City shows that he might get a chance because I know a lot of people at the club were ranting and raving about him and about how good he is. So hopefully someone like that will make a breakthrough and more technical Irish players might get a chance at other clubs in the UK as well.

CF:

Anytime I’ve been back and watched games, even with the national team, you start to wonder – what’s the philosophy with the FAI? What are we promoting? For me, it hasn’t changed. There’s something wrong with that. Everybody else is adapting. Look at Belgium. The whole system from under-8s play out from the back. And they’ve been in the gutter for the last ten years and now, all of a sudden, they’re producing player after player because they stuck to their guns and were promoting good football.”

RR:

I think it’s harder for Ireland because our league isn’t full-time. To get young players to stay in Ireland, it’s never going to happen because you have the lure of going to England or Scotland. In Belgium, they’ve got big clubs that can keep hold of young kids until they’re eighteen, nineteen, twenty.”

CF: The general coaching for me…I think they’re still stuck behind a lot of countries. When I first moved, it was a different type of training. I was lucky that when I moved away first, I went to New Zealand with Terry Phelan and he’s just an out and out footballer. The way he coaches, everything is playing out from the back. Every training session is short, sharp, technical. He was a smaller player so maybe that’s why. But when I first went away, it wasn’t what I was used to which was getting turned and squeeze up the park.

FalveyControl

RR:

Speaking of different philosophies, I worked under some managers that have none. You think that to manage at these levels, you need to have some sort of outlook on how the game should be played. It wasn’t structured. There was no ‘this is the way I want my team to play and this is what we’re going to stick to’. It was just ‘Ah, well. We’ll see how the game goes. They’re going to play like that, we’ll just lump it in the corner and get after it’.

CF: When I was growing up, nobody had Plan B. But when you come up against better players and you go overseas and see it, people just play around you and pick you off. I think a lot of people back home would get found out and that’s not just the players but the coaching staff as well. Coaches who have been in the League of Ireland for a long time…I think if they went outside their comfort zones, it would be very interesting to see how they’d handle it.

RR: In defence of the two managers I played for in Ireland – I loved playing for them.

CF: Well, they were two good footballing sides.

RR: They had two very similar styles of playing but two very different management styles. I was lucky enough in that they both wanted their teams to pass the ball and keep possession.

EOC: Have you seen much of Ireland under O’Neill? There seems to be a problem when it comes to changing things. When we concede or aren’t playing very well, there’s no switch that can be flicked.   

RR: I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Martin O’Neill, but you might as well have Trapattoni there. I don’t think there’s been any great difference in performances or the way we play.

CF: I watched the Scotland game and was thinking ‘They’re a lot more technical than us’ and that’s sad to see because they’re a similar nation. In my opinion, there’s no excuse for them being a lot more comfortable on the ball. It’s okay if you’re playing someone like Argentina and appreciate the opposition are going to be better than you because they’ve got better players. But against Scotland…there’s something wrong there. It doesn’t add up.

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RR: People talk about Wes Hoolahan. He’s technically gifted. He’s been on the periphery of the Irish side for his entire career and now he’s 33 and they want to give him a chance?

CF: Someone actually said that he’s too good a footballer for us.

RR: Don’t get us wrong. All these boys playing for Ireland have far better careers than either of us but at the same time, we want to see our country do well. For Wes Hoolahan to be a good player for Ireland, he needs good players around him that are on the same page as him. Because there’s no point in him playing a through ball for someone who’s not going to make a run.

EOC: You mentioned Irish coaches earlier. We’ve seen a couple go to Scotland and try to succeed over there but it’s never really happened for them. Is that pressure or ability?

RR: I think there’s more pressure on managers in Scotland because they build it up a lot more & the games are on Sky or BT or wherever. There’s a lot more people watching the league on TV – not many in the stadiums, to be honest. There’s only been a couple of managers that it hasn’t worked out for.

Pat Fenlon took over at Hibs but they were already in the shit. People will say ‘Pat Fenlon fucked Hibs’. Hibs were already fucked. Terry Butcher took over after and he proper fucked them. He took them down to the First Division even though he was going to be the saviour after what he’d done at Inverness and it didn’t happen.”

“For me, the Scottish league and the Irish league – there’s not a huge difference. If you put the top four or five teams in Ireland up against Ross County, St Mirren, Kilmarnock – they’d easily hold their own. If you put Dundalk up against any of those teams right now, they’d beat them – with the style of football and the players they have. And I think you have a lot of players choosing to stay at Dundalk or Shamrock Rovers now rather than going and playing for the likes of Ross County because the money in Scotland has dried up because of what happened with Rangers. Scottish football is probably built a little bit on the Old Firm.”

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EOC: What’s Canada been like for the two of you since arriving?  

RR: The club is new but we have the best of everything – we can’t really complain. I’m not a huge fan of astro-turf but what do you expect in Canada when the winters are so bad? It’s a lovely place to live – great city, not a typical capital city but that’s probably a good thing, to be honest.

CF: A big thing for players now is security. The contracts in League of Ireland now are never really over a year and that was the big thing for me in leaving. And it’s something different. Go and challenge yourself. Step outside of your comfort zone.

RR: It’s nice to go and experience the game somewhere else. When we retire from football we’re going to have to work so you might as well enjoy seeing the world when you can.

Source: OttawaFury FC/YouTube

CF: We’re not going to be millionaires out of it. At least when we stop playing you can say ‘Been there, done that’. At least you’ve got something back out of the game. Basically, we’re using the ball as a passport.

EOC: And what about ice hockey? Have you been to a game here?   

RR: It’s not for me. I went to a 67s game here but haven’t been to a Sens game. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s just a bunch of big boys smacking the life out of a puck.

EOC: Things are coming along nicely here, aren’t they? In your own league there’s Raul at New York Cosmos and Marcos Senna. A bit of razzmatazz. In MLS there’s Orlando and a host of expansion teams.    

RR: It’s getting bigger all the time. It’s just been confirmed that Miami are coming in next year, Puerto Rico too.

EOC: That’ll be nice – a few days in Puerto Rico next season?

RR: A couple of years maybe?

CF: It’s a difficult one – away to Puerto Rico or away to Athlone!

EOC: I’m sure it’ll go down well on Facebook next year. ‘Richie Ryan checks in at Puerto Rico Marriott’.  

RR: It’s funny. Last year, I was messaging Matthew Blinkhorn who I was at Sligo with. We had gone down to Florida for two weeks for some pre-season. And I texted him to say ‘Just heading to Fort Lauderdale for two week for training’ and he texted back saying ‘Fuck off’!

CF: There was a team from Antigua in the NASL – Antigua Barracuda. And I remember texting one of my friends ‘Just off to Antigua for the weekend’. And he was like ‘I thought you boys were in-season?’ And I replied to say ‘Yeah, we’ve got two games here – we play Saturday and Wednesday – we’re there for a week.’

With thanks to all at the Ottawa Fury for their assistance. All photos courtesy of them unless otherwise stated. 

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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