Antonio Conte during his side's win over Morecambe. PA
Diarmuid O'Carroll

'The lads were joking, 'Pick a fight with Conte, it would be great for your profile'

Diarmuid O’Carroll, who took charge of Morecambe at Spurs in the FA Cup on Sunday, was a guest on this week’s Football Family.

DIARMUID O’CARROLL’S promotion tweaked his weekend and then our abnormal circumstances transformed it.

Tottenham then cast it into the limelight. 

O’Carroll, a Kerry native and former Irish underage international, was promoted from First Team Coach to Assistant Manager at League One side Morecambe last Wednesday, just over a day before manager Stephen Robinson became ill.

Tests confirmed he had Covid – subsequent tests mercifully cleared everyone else – and so by Friday afternoon O’Carroll knew he would be in charge for an FA Cup third round tie at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. 

  • Diarmuid joined us on this week’s episode of The Football Family podcast, a new episode of which is available every Tuesday to members of The42. To sign up for €5 a month of €42 a year, head to 

“The biggest fear and the only pressure I felt was living up to the manager”, said Diarmuid. “He is as detailed and professional as you’ll find. He is detailed, fanatical about everything he does. He’s a workaholic, he’s my friend, mentor, colleague; he brought me in and helped me out massively in my career. So the pressure was to live up to him, and to run the team as he saw fit and in line with his principles.”

O’Carroll didn’t indulge in some managerial trappings: he didn’t get a suit for the occasion. 

“I made the joke in the pre-match meeting: ‘Listen lads, the dry cleaners were closed, I couldn’t get it sorted.’ They wanted me to do it purely for a laugh.”

And with little regard for the safety and well-being of their stand-in manager, they also wanted him to pick a touchline fight with Antonio Conte. 

“‘Pick a fight with Conte, it would be great for your profile! Just go over and ruffle his hair!’ I’m not too sure about that. I was happy enough keeping the head down, I had enough profile. I had enough to be worrying about.”

(Sevilla’s Ever Banega once earned the full intensity of Conte’s scorn in a Europa League game for mocking his hair transplant, so O’Carroll’s discretion was the better part of valour.) 

These were jokes on the players’ part but O’Carroll’s responses served a broader point. 

“I didn’t want the players to look at me and say, ‘Oh, he got excited when he was the manager and started shouting and roaring, thinking he was the big lad, trying to be different.’ I’m not like that as a character.

I said that at the pre-match meeting at the hotel, and I went through the clips as I usually do, in terms of set plays.

“It was a normal game from that respect. We don’t shout and roar and in particular for this game, we didn’t indeed to get them up for it. They were facing world class players: they were already on edge, a little nervy, excited. Me being calm and chilled and normal is the best thing I could have done.” 

He didn’t remain calm and chilled throughout the entirety of the first-half: Morecambe’s improbable lead goal sent him leaping for joy down the touchline.


They held the lead at half-time, at which point O’Carroll got to speak on the phone to the manager. They tried to keep in contact throughout the game, but it was nigh impossible. The Head of Recruitment was on the bench with a phone to contact Robinson, but getting coverage in a busy stadium was difficult: at one point in the second half O’Carroll and the staff suggested a potential substitute to Robinson, and they had it made before the message had been sent and received a reply. Another issue for Robinson was the fact the game wasn’t on TV, meaning he was at home watching a lagging stream. Hence he was getting suggestions and reactions from his coaches to events he hadn’t yet seen. 

Half-time meant the players had some time to ruminate on the fact they now had something to lose. 

“I went in and spoke for three or four minutes, after giving them a couple of minutes among themselves. Then we left them again, and reiterated a couple of points just before they left. We told them to believe. At the start of the game it was a case of, ‘Go and do yourself proud, and don’t come here and be scared. Show people you can play.’ At half-time and 1-0 up it’s, ‘Don’t be a nearly story. Go and try and make the dream a reality.’ 

As the clocked ticked to 74 minutes the dream remained a reality, with Morecambe inching agonisingly closer to the upset of the weekend, and a victory against a side sitting 65 places above them in the pyramid. 

But then Conte sounded for the cavalry and on came Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, and Oliver Skipp. 

“I turned at that point, caught eyes with a couple of people on the bench, and just started laughing. I just laughed. I went over and said, ‘That’s a good laugh, isn’t it?’ To be fair, that’s what you want. You want that challenge and you want that test. You don’t want to come somewhere like Tottenham and they play the reserve team.” 

Harry Winks equalised shortly after their introduction, before Kane and Moura won the game for Spurs in the final five minutes. O’Carroll and Morecambe were left to rue errors. 

“Although we lose the game, it’s largely individual errors and little things that cost us. Moura and Kane came on but they weren’t getting on the half-turn and breaking down our system with huge quality, it was mistakes.

“But the last thing anyone needs is to be battered for that. They know they have made a mistake, and the problem is if you make a mistake at that level, it’s a goal.

“Would it be more satisfying if they breached us with real Premier League quality and you hold your hands up? Potentially. Maybe you could live with that better.” 

To listen to the full interview with Diarmuid, including his explanation of Morecambe’s tactical approach to competing with Spurs and what it is like to pit one’s wits against Conte, subscribe at 

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel