Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 5°C Monday 17 May 2021

'It was a simple decision, really - this place is going to get bigger and bigger'

Former Cork City winger Liam Kearney moved to North Carolina earlier this year to begin his coaching career.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT WAS LATE last year when Liam Kearney made the decision to move on.

The week before, Cork City had been beaten by Dundalk in the FAI Cup final and, looking around, the winger could tell it was time.

He had been pushed to the fringes, struggling for game-time and was the wrong side of 30. He was weighing up his next move. He’d just completed his Uefa ‘B’ Licence and coaching greatly appealed to him. But he remained uncertain, anxious about the next move.

“I was doing a lot of coaching within Cork and I felt that if I was leaving where was I going to go?” he says.

“I didn’t really want to go anywhere else. And then I was told there was the option of going to America. It was through my buddy and ex-team-mate Danny Murphy. He’d been onto me about a UK company – Premier UK Soccer – and they’d been chatting to him. They were looking for experienced players who wanted to coach and I spoke to the boss, Andy Thompson, who said they’d love to have me over because of my experience and working with elite players. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to the US but I said if I could get an early start into the coaching world, then coming here would give me good experience going forward and hopefully give me a good start to my coaching career.”

The company specialise in providing expert training within the North Carolina area so in February, Kearney waved goodbye to Leeside and headed for Statesville, a small city with a population of about 25,000 nestled in the south-east of the country and about a 45-minute drive from the bright lights of Charlotte, the state’s commercial hub.

Kearney Source: ©INPHO/Neil Danton

He joined local side Impact Football Club and the transition began. Kearney was grateful. It was a big contrast to home.

“The big thing with America is that the coaching is full-time whereas back home, when I finished up as a player, I probably would’ve had to combine it with a different type of job that I wouldn’t have enjoyed as much”, Kearney admits.

To get the opportunity to be a full-time coach straight after finishing my playing career – I feel lucky in that respect. It was a simple decision, really, to take the opportunity and it’ll hopefully open doors whether it’s in America or back home. I’m getting a lot of hours in which I probably wouldn’t have done in Ireland on a full-time basis.”

The move didn’t prove too traumatic for Kearney. As much as Cork was his comfort blanket (he had three different spells with the side), he never shirked a challenge. New surroundings never put him off. Effectively, it was par for the course.

“As a player, I was in England for four years. And when I was in Cork, I moved to Shelbourne,  I was up in Derry for a year, I was in Australia for two years so the travelling never gets any easier. I still miss my family, of course I miss my friends but with football – either playing or coaching – you have to do what you have to do to improve yourself and push yourself on further. I came out here in February and I come home again in the middle of November because it’s a 9-month visa. After that I’ll come home for Christmas and assess the situation again.”

Liam Kearney Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

It says much about the United States’ rapidly growing interest in developing grassroots football that it’s increasingly attracting overseas coaches with a decent pedigree and background. Alongside Kearney in Statesville is Kenny Brannigan, who managed Scottish side Queen of the South to the 2010 Challenge Cup final.

Kearney oversees a number of teams within the club, from academy level up to Under-18. The standard varies but the company combine their elite sides from right across North Carolina and then compete in state and national competitions.

There are some inevitable contrasts.

“It’s a different way of life, a different mentality”, he says.

“Kids here are really well brought-up and very mannerly. They might lack the aggression that Irish or English kids would have so it’s a different environment and it took a while to get used to.

“They’re all ‘Yes, sir’, ‘No, sir’ – very respectful. Sometimes you want a kid to tell you to eff off – just to show you some aggression! Some teams are technically very good, some less so. But you’re being pushed to improve both.”

And what about the US? Is it somewhere he could see himself being in the long-term?

“You don’t know what’s around the corner”, he says.

I do want to coach at the highest level so right now I’m just focused on gaining experience and understanding not just the football side but the business side of things. Any academy director here is not only coaching but organising, evaluating – there are all these other processes happening. Coming from a playing background, I’ve gone from focusing on myself and keeping fit and going home in the afternoons to coaching, planning sessions, organising the next day, arranging where I need to be – there’s a lot more to it”.

If the right offer came in, would he consider a return to playing? Or is coaching the priority from here on?

Liam Kearney celebrates 25/8/2005 Source: INPHO

“I think that’s my playing days over”, Kearney admits.

“I’m still 33 and I’m a fit man but the club I had most success with was Cork and when I see how successful they are now and how they’re vying for the league every year…I probably have my best days behind me. But I’m quite happy with the way things went for me. Right now I’m enjoying my coaching and I’ll focus on that. There are a lot more younger coaches who are getting opportunities – like Stephen Bradley at Shamrock Rovers – so that’s my aspiration and I’m looking forward to how far I can go on the coaching ladder. Being here gives me a massive amount of hours and I’m figuring out what my style of coaching is going to be and what I want and how I want my teams to be playing.”

There’s a support network of sorts for Kearney.

Irish players are dotted around North America these days. Kevin Doyle is a good friend of Kearney’s and is in Colorado. Robbie Keane is in Los Angeles. But outside of the high-profile MLS, former Sligo Rovers player Richie Ryan plays with the NASL’s Miami franchise while Colin Falvey and Eamon Zayed are both based in Indianapolis. Dropping to the tier below, James Chambers is now plying his trade with Bethlehem Steel in Pennsylvania.

“I’d be in contact with Eamon – I would’ve played with him back in the day and he’s flying”, Kearney says.

“He’s banging the goals in, which is great to see. Iarflaith Davoren is with Tulsa Roughnecks – another lad I would’ve played with at Cork for a while. Liam Miller is down at the Wilmington Hammerheads. So there are more and more Irish boys coming over. It’s great to see the options here. This place is going to get bigger and bigger. You see it at the youth level, the amount of kids playing is incredible.”

Three thousand miles from home, are there occasional pangs in the pit of his stomach?

“The one thing I do miss is the League of Ireland. I’m always watching the results coming in and checking LiveScore to see how City are doing.”

You can take the boy out of Cork and all that.

The42 is on Snapchat! Tap the button below on your phone to add!

‘I closed the door, turned to the missus and said ‘What the f**k has just happened?”

‘If I could do it all over again, I’d be on the first plane to come over’

About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel