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Dublin: 3 °C Saturday 24 March, 2018

'I dedicated a lot of my life to the club for the last four years so I was shocked, but things change in football'

With a reputation as one of the finest full-backs in Irish football, St Patrick’s Athletic’s Simon Madden talks frankly about his career.

Tallaght native Madden (file photo).
Tallaght native Madden (file photo).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

ONE MAN’S TRASH is another man’s treasure.

Despite being one of their best and most consistent players over a four-year period, Simon Madden was informed that he had no future at Shamrock Rovers.

The club that he had grown up just down the road from. The club he gave absolutely everything for, week in week out. The club he spent evenings coaching underage teams at.

Stephen Bradley decided a man widely-regarded as one of the best full-backs in the league was surplus to requirements, and the Hoops boss called Madden while on holiday with his pregnant wife in the US last November.

“To be fair to Stephen, he said he wanted me to come back and to talk face-to-face as I deserved that respect,” the 29-year-old told The42 yesterday. “I agreed with him but I was away for another ten days so I told him to tell me on the phone as it’s the same thing. I just wanted to know as I didn’t want it hanging over me for the whole holiday and I was keen to clear my head. At least when you know you can make plans and start talking to other managers.”

Rovers fans took to social media to express their disbelief at his departure, while the player himself admits being slightly stunned by the whole thing.

It was a shock to be fair because for the four years I played really well and I was really consistent,” he says. “The fans will tell you that you get some players who aren’t giving 100% but I give 100% every time I played, trained and did the coaching.

“I dedicated a lot of my life to the club for the last four years so I was shocked, but things change all the time in football and you have to be thick-skinned. He [Bradley] wanted to go a different way and it’s his decision. I couldn’t do anything about it but I know I did my very best for that club. I wish them all the best but it is a strange game — one day you’re at a club, and then it can just change like that.”

Madden Pat's After signing for Pat's in December. Source: Darragh Connolly (Connolly Photographs/St Pat's)

There were plenty of teams interested in the defender’s signature, but Liam Buckley must have been rubbing his hands together when he discovered Madden had opted to make the short trip down the Naas Road to Inchicore, in what was a major coup for St Patrick’s Athletic.

“I was talking to a few managers and I had met Liam a couple of times down through the years,” he explains. “I always liked the way his teams played — at Pat’s and Sporting Fingal. He’s probably one of the bravest managers in the league in that he wants to play football no matter what, whether it’s the first game of the season or the last.

He looks to get it down and pass it, not many managers are like that in the league. You’ve seen the success they’ve had under him with league titles, the FAI Cup and league cups as well as doing well in Europe. The way I like to play football is to get the ball down and get it forward. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity and I could continue my coaching too.”

Having been involved with the Shamrock Rovers U14s, Madden is now looking after the Saints in the U19s National League and he remains eager to learn as it’s an area he certainly wants to move into when the playing days eventually end.

“That’s where I hopefully see my career going when I stop playing,” he says. “I’ve done my Uefa B licence and I’m planning to get the A licence done next year while I’m still playing so I can go straight into coaching when I finish up.

“Most players don’t know what they want to do when they retire, but I say to just go out and try it — with a local team or an underage side — and if you like it stick with it. With the U19s, U17s, U15s and U13s National Leagues, it will give more opportunities for players to stay involved in the sport, which is important because they have a lot of knowledge to pass on.”

Simon Madden 29/4/2004 Madden representing Ireland at U16 level in 2004. He has won international caps right up to U21s.

Madden’s own schoolboy days began locally in Tallaght, with Tymon Bawn and Kilnamanagh, before he made the step up to Shelbourne. While there, he was picked to represent the Dublin District Schoolboy League (DDSL) in the Kennedy Cup — a tournament scouts from English clubs regularly monitor.

Receiving interest from several parties, he chose Leeds United after numerous visits and joined their strong Irish contingent — along with another future League of Ireland player Robert Bayly — at the age of 16.

An almighty fall from grace had seen the Yorkshire club sell off many of their most prized assets and by 2004, just three years after reaching the Champions League semi-final, they were relegated to the Championship.

When I was going over on trial at around 15, they were still in the Premiership and I was thinking ‘This is going to be great’ with all the Irish players there as well,” Madden says.

“But as soon as we signed and went over for pre-season they had just been relegated. They were going through a transition with the change of ownership and all the financial problems. I saw it that they were getting rid of a load of good players so it might be a chance to break into the first team. It was an interesting time.”

Managers came and went with worrying regularity around that period but Madden got on with business on the field with their reserves. After a couple of friendly appearances in the first team, he got the opportunity to line out in front of 18,809 fans at Elland Road for a Johnstone Paint Trophy clash with Bury in November 2007.

Soccer - Johnstone's Paint Trophy - Southern Section - Quarterfinals - Leeds United v Bury - Elland Road Madden (left) on the line as Bury score the winning goal against Leeds. Source: John Walton

“I couldn’t actually believe it,” he recalls. “I hadn’t really been training with the first team at that time and I thought my time had passed. There were about 20,000 at Elland Road and it was unbelievable to have the chance to play there in front of a big crowd. We were beaten 2-1 but I nearly scored in the last minute to bring it to extra-time. I thought it was going in but the keeper saved from about three yards out. I enjoyed it and I had a great game but unfortunately after that I didn’t get many chances.”

With his contract up at Leeds, the full-back had an unsuccessful trial at Cheltenham Town before returning to Ireland. It was undoubtedly a setback, but Madden wasn’t about to give up that easily.

“I was a bit disappointed,” he admits. “Coming back, you don’t know how you’re going to settle. All I knew was football at that stage. I had never worked a normal job, I hadn’t done an apprenticeship or even any interviews. I went straight over to England when I was 16 so I had one thought, which was that I had to get back playing football.”

Invited up to his local club, he trained with Shamrock Rovers and it looked a no-brainer to sign until the end of the season under then-manager Pat Scully. But Scully would soon be gone and Jim Crawford took over on an interim basis until they instated Michael O’Neill in December 2008.

Simon Madden In action during his first stint at Rovers. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Michael was brilliant,” Madden says of the current Northern Ireland boss. “Nobody had really heard of him and it was kind of a strange one when he was named but you see the job he did when he came in. The training went to a different level, he brought Trevor Croly in as a coach as well, who was excellent. He puts on great sessions and they’re both football people.”

After a promising start, he struggled to hold down a regular place in the team. Rovers had brought Pat Sullivan in from cash-strapped Cork City and Madden found opportunities limited.

I knew towards the end of that season that I’d have to move,” he tells. “To be fair to Michael, he explained it to me and he was really good to deal with.”

On the market again, a call from former Rovers team-mate Tadhg Purcell opened up a doorway back to England. Darlington were in a relegation dog fight to remain in the Football League and Dubliner Purcell had been recruited along with midfielder Gary Dempsey from St Patrick’s Athletic. To add to the Irish connections, none other than Steve Staunton was managing the League Two side.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Two - Darlington v Notts County - The Balfour Webnet Darlington Arena Up against Notts County's Ben Davies while playing at Darlington. Source: Joe Giddens

“I said I’d give it a go as I might not get another chance,” was his thinking. “I went over for six months and Staunton had upset a lot of the local players by bringing over Irish lads. Then he left and the new manager, Simon Davey, took over so the local lads came back into the reckoning while we struggled a bit. It was a strange six months but it was also a good experience to learn from.”

A legendary player for the Boys in Green, Stan’s ill-fated spell in international management has inevitably tarnished his reputation among some Irish fans. But Madden speaks highly of the ex-Liverpool and Aston Villa stalwart.

He’s probably one of the nicest managers you’ll ever work with, he was a lovely fella.

“He’d talk to us each day and make sure everything was sorted out. He was in a difficult job as they were languishing towards the bottom, the chairman had big plans but they were struggling for fans, the team was having a hard time and it would have been tough to get them out of that plight.

“But I really enjoyed my time with Stan. He was a great man and he probably deserved a longer chance there to bring them back up. There was that if they did go down he was going to stay and try to get them promoted, but as you know in football things can change very quickly.”

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Two - Notts County v Darlington - Meadow Lane Stan was sacked before the end of the season. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

A return to the LOI was on the cards and Ian Foster signed him for Dundalk that summer. It proved a positive move as Madden broke into the team and remained there as one of the first-choice full-backs. As he explains, featuring consistently in a talented Lilywhites outfit really aided his development.

“It’s massively important that players at that age, I think I was 22, are playing regularly. You see many moving around but from 19 up you need to play first-team football wherever it is — just to get the experience of playing. You learn more about yourself and how you deal with things.

“The team we had at Dundalk was great when I signed back for the full year. There was Jason Byrne and Mark Quigley up top, Greg Bolger, Keith Ward, Daniel Kearns, myself, Colin Hawkins, Ross Gaynor and Peter Cherrie was in goal. We could put out a top first 11 but the squad was a bit thin. Whenever we got that 11 on the pitch we did really well, but we struggled with injuries.”

Simon Madden Captaining Dundalk in 2011. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

After progressing well at Oriel Park, he was contacted by Stephen Kenny about making the switch to Derry City. Talks were held but over the Christmas period, Kenny agreed to become Shamrock Rovers manager. While Madden felt that may scupper the deal, he also believed it could possibly lead to a return to the Hoops.

“I had a good season at Dundalk and played really well but Derry is where it really kicked off for me,” he says. “Stephen rang me when my contract with Dundalk was up and he asked me if I fancied going up. I went for talks but, in the meantime, he got the Rovers job so I thought the move might be out the window.

“His assistant at the time, Declan Devine, replaced him and called a few days later to see if I was still up for it. I said ‘Yeah, definitely’, but I thought when Stephen got the Rovers position that I could have done a job for him. They signed your man Kerrea Gilbert at the time, but I had the feeling that I should have been making that move. He probably thought I wasn’t ready but I believed I was. In saying that, I probably wouldn’t have won the FAI Cup had I signed for Rovers.”

Simon Madden He made a name for himself at Derry. Source: Lorcan Doherty

Madden became arguably the finest full-back in the country with the Candystripes and, as he has touched on, lifted the FAI Cup in 2012 thanks to a dramatic 3-2 win over St Patrick’s Athletic after extra-time.

“I went up to Derry and it was two of the best years I’ve ever had in terms of playing football. I really enjoyed it, it’s a great club and even where we lived was brilliant.

The final was amazing. We beat Shels in the replay to get to there, then there was travelling down the day before, staying in the hotel, having your family, friends and your girlfriend there watching you… it was unbelievable.

“The game itself was mad. I remember scoring late in the second half of extra-time after I went on a mad run but it was deemed offside. I don’t know how I was offside, I must have run too fast! But it was one of the best feelings ever winning that trophy and then going back up to Derry to celebrate.”

Kevin Deery lifts the trophy The Derry players lift the FAI Cup at the Aviva Stadium. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Midway through the following season, there were rumours that Rovers could be keen on bringing Madden back to the capital. He says they actually made an offer that summer but Derry didn’t want to sell and he felt an obligation to finish the campaign and push for the European spots out of respect as they had been so good to him.

I knew that if I went up to Derry, played really well, put it in every game and gave it 100%, then I would hopefully get a chance to move back to Dublin,” he admits. “My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, was in college so it was hard. I had a house in Derry but I was making the trips up and down to see her.”

He did re-sign with Rovers ahead of the 2014 season, where Trevor Croly had taken over. An top class coach, the transition into management proved more difficult in a notoriously pressurised environment at Tallaght Stadium.

“I’m not sure what went wrong for Trevor really,” says Madden. “He’s a great coach but it’s a big change to go from coach to manager. You’d probably have to ask Trev what he found difficult about it. We had a great squad the first year but we probably had too many players, so trying to fit them all into the team was tough.

“Keeping players happy when they’re not playing is the hardest thing. Maybe that was a problem. We had the likes of Eamon Zayed, Ciaran Kilduff, Karl Sheppard and you can’t play them all in the same team so it is difficult.”

On his successor, Pat Fenlon, he adds: “Pat was great. He had a different style from Trevor and he had great success in the league so I think that’s what the club were thinking — that he had done it all before and they wanted a repeat of that — but as he and Trevor found out, it’s hard to get success at Rovers.”

As the country’s most successful club, there is an expectation among Rovers fans that they should always be in the mix for silverware, and Madden believes it can make a player or break him.

“Everybody ups their levels when they come to town to play against them,” he says. “Some players don’t settle as it’s difficult playing up in Tallaght Stadium in front of fans that are expecting you to play very good week in week out and win trophies. Some struggle to find form, you’ve seen a lot that haven’t hit the heights they have at other clubs.”

Simon Madden 16/9/2017 Against Dundalk at Tallaght Stadium last season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Rather than shy away from the additional pressures, Madden performed solidly throughout his 194 appearances over the two stints. Even under current boss Bradley, he was a first-team regular and insists the pair had no issues.

“I got on really well with Stephen. I played with him during my first spell at Rovers, I was right back and he would be right wing. We had a good relationship and I probably did most of his running for those few games I did play with him that year as well!

“I enjoyed working with him when he came in as coach under Pat and then when he took over, I liked how he played football and talked about it. He was coaching while I was involved with the underage set-up as well so I’d see Stephen a lot of the evenings and we got on really well. But he made a decision this season that he was going a different way and you have to respect people’s decisions even though he’s seen something differently.

Ever since I went to Rovers for the second spell I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ve nothing bad to say about the club.”

Three games into the new season, Pat’s have lost two and won one but they were robbed of the chance to get back to winning ways against Sligo Rovers tonight as the full list of fixtures have been postponed this weekend due to the heavy snowfall nationwide. In terms of ambitions for the year, Madden claims the Saints should be aiming to finish just below the top three.

“With the players, the squad and the coaching staff we have, we want to get European football,” he says. “That fourth place could be up for grabs. Cork and Dundalk have the big budgets and they are likely to come first and second, then you look at Rovers possibly in third, but fourth could be the one that most other teams you ask will want to get — the likes of Bohs, who did well last season, and Derry. But that’s what we’ll be looking for to get and an FAI Cup would be a big boost as well.”

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