28 December, 2011

Top Moments of 2011:

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            It's the time of year where you'll be hearing about the  "Top Five"  of everything from books to films to hairdos and etc. so the last thing you probably want to read about is the  "Top Five Moments of 2011;"  but I'm going to tell you anyway!
            Anyway;  with no further ado, here we are the  "Top Five Moments of 2011"  in descending order:

1st     Dewey Bozella wins the heart of the World and a pro boxing fight:
             Having been wrongly incarcerated for a murder he did not commit in 1983;  Dewey Bozella was released in 2009 after 26 years too many.  He proceeded to open boxing gyms around his native New York state and to coach kids in those gyms.  Asked for his attitude towards the prosecutors and police who invented  "evidence"  against him; Bozella said:  "I don't hold any grudge.  If I hold a grudge, then I can't do what I gotta do.  Never let where you've come from affect where you're going."  On release from prison; Dewey still had one wish; that to have one professional fight.  Bernard Hopkins heard about Bozella's story and offered Dewey a fight.  Sing, Sing Prison's Light Heavyweight champion proceeded to win the fight in true Hollywood fashion and a feature film is in the offing. 

McIlroy after Masters Meltdown (yes that's a capital 'M')
2nd  Rory McIlroy after his back nine final round U.S. Masters meltdown:
             Having endured the worst moment of his career;  Rory McIlroy spoke candidly and receptively to media for some 20 minutes.  Having led the field by five strokes with nine holes to play; he proceeded to collapse to a 43 on the back nine for a final round 80 to finish in 19th place some 11 strokes behind the eventual winner, Charl Schwartzel.  After the worst moment of his professional life; the 22 year-old spoke calmly and politely though admitting to  "crying my eyes out" only minutes later.  McIlroy's attitude was in stark contrast to that of 14-time Major winner, Tiger Woods, some 14 years McIlroy's senior, who acted like a petulant child after a disappointing finish to his own tournament.  So nice then to see McIlroy win his very next Major tournament;  the U.S. Open.

Goalkeeper kicks off without the ball
3rd  Dutch goalkeeper (Esteban Alverado) shows who not to mess with by attacking violent fan:
              It was the 35th minute of a Eredivise (Dutch League) game between Ajax and AZ Alkmaar this month at Ajax's Amsterdam ArenA.  With the ball up the other end of the field; a drunken Ajax "fan" proceeded to run onto the pitch and attempt a "kung-fu" kick on the 6'5" stopper who proceeded to land two violent kicks on the prone trespasser before being red carded by the referee.  The result?  Such was the dismay of the Alkmaar manager that he ordered his players off the pitch and refused to finished the game.  The goalkeeper will not receive a ban for his retaliation with the Ajax fan protesting the reason he attempted to attack Alverado was because he "hated" the Costa Rican native.

4th   Australia   6 -  15  Ireland:  Rugby World Cup 2011:
          This was the game where the  "Golden Generation"  of Irish players finally produced it on the biggest stage of all.  Although the likes of O'Driscoll, O'Connell and O'Gara had won so many Triple Crowns, Grand Slam and Heineken Cups;  they had never quite produced it on the biggest stage of all.  While subsequent events meant that the campaign was a disappointment; this was a truly heroic effort; epitomized by Stephen Ferris picking up Wallaby scrum-half Will Genia and quite literally carrying him 12 yards back towards his own try-line late in the first-half, really highlighted this super human effort.

5th  Shamrock Rovers become first Irish side to reach Group Stages of a major European football competition:
             After so many false dawns and near misses; an Irish club finally reached the Group Stages of a major European footballing competition.  Whilst the club proceeded to lose all six Group games; it's a major breakthrough for Irish football.  Of course this breakthrough needs to be built on with wise investment.  Fingers crossed this happens though of course there is by no means no guarantee of this.
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O'Neill is new Norn Iron boss:

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MOVING ON: Michael O'Neill (front) is IFA's main man
            Former Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O'Neill has been confirmed as the manager of Northern Ireland by IFA Chief Execuive Peter Nelson.  O'Neill had fantastic success with Rovers; winning two Airtricity League Titles and breaching new ground by guiding the side to become the first Irish side to reach the group stages of a major European competition.  However, relations became strained with Rovers' hierarchy - who couldn't give him the financial guarantees he wanted - and O'Neill quit immediately after the Hoops' final game of the 2011 season.
            O'Neill edged out a number of other high profile candidates; including Brian Kerr, Ian Dowie, Lawrie Sanchez and Dave Jones, to name but a few.  The Portadown native will start his role in February, when preparations for the 2014 World Cup qualifiers will commence.  Whilst the aim will be to finish in the top two; O'Neill faces an uphill struggle as the side he inherits finished fifth (out of six) in Euro 2012 qualification.  They are also placed in a tough group, containing two Euro 2012 (and World Cup 2010) finalists in Portugal and Russia.  Whilst no-one in the IFA will state this; finishing in third place would be a great achievement, considering that Northern Ireland are fifth seeds and also face long haul trips to Azerbaijan and such cauldrons as the Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv (Israel's national stadium).

 "Michael was the stand out choice from an excellent field. The selection panel was very impressed with his plans for football in Northern Ireland" - IFA President Jim Shaw

            At a press conference announcing the appointment, O'Neill said:  "I am honoured to be chosen to manage my country. I am a proud Northern Irishman and it was always an ambition to manage my country.  To be entrusted with the role early in my career is quite humbling and I am confident that we can make progress.
           My primary objective is to restore a sense of pride and belief in what it means to represent Northern Ireland so that our players will want to only represent their country."  
Michael O'Neill enjoyed immense success in club football
           The last paragraph is an obvious reference to the North's contemporaries south of the border (the FAI) who have poached many Northern Irish born players for the Republic of Ireland set-up; including even several players over the last few years who played at underage level for the North.
           Michael O'Neill has signed a three year contract with the IFA.  His first game in charge will be a friendly at Belfast's Windsor Park on 29th February against Norway.  This will be followed by a June friendly in the Netherlands before the 2014 World Cup qualification campaign starts away to Russia in early September 2012 with a further three qualifiers completing the calender year.
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26 December, 2011

High praise for Wolves' Irish boss from English football's greatest manager: (and no; that's not Alex Ferguson):

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SKY SPORTS: Pivotal to the success of elite clubs like Manchester United
        The majority /only football opinion is that Alex Ferguson is the greatest English football manager, of his generation and arguably of all time.  I would disagree with that argument.  Yes, his achievements with Manchester United have been phenomenal.  However, he has had more that his fair share of good fortune along the way. 
            In 1989 he was one Cup game away from losing his job (which United famously won 1-0 against Norwich).  Then in the early 1990s;  Manchester United happened to be right at the top of the English game just when the big money was coming into the game.  Whilst keeping United at the summit of English and European football for some 20 years has indeed been a great achievement, it was an achievement made a lot easier given the "fan" base the club has and the monster revenue streams the club has/had.  
           It is also important to note that Manchester United  won the first ever Premier League having not won a top division Title in the previous 26 years.  That is significant when one considers the exposure the Premier League has had and will have through Sky Sports and the fact United won the FIRST Premier League Title was a massive slice of fortune, especially considering they had not won  "The Title"  in over a quarter of a century.

Le Professor: People listen when Wenger talks football
This observer would like for the judgement of who is  "English Football's Greatest Manager"  to be reserved for a time when all Premier League managers have the same budget.  If this were to happen, McCarthy and Wenger would be very near the summit of the list.

            This is why for me, Arsene Wenger is  "English Football's Greatest Manager"  of this generation.  The way he revolutionized Arsenal's style of play from the successful but intensely boring  "1-0 to the Arsenal, 1-0 to the Arsenal"  to the fast, attacking, free flowing football that has been the 21st century Arsenal way, is something which is almost entirely down to Wenger's input.  The way he did this by bringing through young talents (rather than spending multi-million pound fortunes on talent) and grooming them through to the first team, is also something which deserves much respect.
            The fact that he achieved this under strict salary restrictions (coupled with the financial limits enforced due to the construction of the Emirates Stadium) has been all the more remarkable.  Yes, the Gunners have gone five seasons without a trophy, but his record of three Premier League Titles (1998, 2002, '04); 4 F.A. Cups and just being pipped to the Champions League Title (2006) - among a number of other Champions League crowns; is one which has only been bettered by Manchester United.  The fact that he has achieved this without the monster budgets of the  "Red Devils"  (or the likes of Chelski);  makes his achievements all the more fantastic.  
MUTUAL RESPECT:  Mick McCarthy and Arene Wenger
             Tomorrow Arsenal host Wolves and Wenger's program notes are ones which Wolves (and former Republic of Ireland manager) Mick McCarthy - and more to the point - his chairman Steve Morgan along with the fans of the Molineux club, should read.  When Wenger  speaks football, football people listen.  Wenger has warned Arsenal to expect a football test when miracle worker Mick McCarthy brings his fighting Wolves side to the Emirates Stadium.  
             "Mick McCarthy is working miracles at Wolves," - Wenger said in his program notes.  "He is always up for a fight, never gives up, keeps his mental strength and never shows any strain.  It is great what he does for his club.  I believe they play excellent football as well."
             Wenger also spoke of his admiration of McCarthy's determination:  "A manager needs to be strong, cold-blooded, resilient and Mick McCarthy has all of those qualities."  With praise like that, Mick McCarthy should save it in his memory bank and use for what looks like a tough second half of the season ahead for his Irish sprinkled side.  This observer would like for the judgement of who is  "English Football's Greatest Manager"  to be reserved for a time when all Premier League managers have the same budget.  Whilst this will likely never happen, I believe that if it were the case, McCarthy and Wenger would be very near the summit.
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25 December, 2011

Roy Keane feels empathy; for himself anyway:

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FOREVER THE VICTIM:  Roy Maurice Keane
Back in 2005 Manchester United dismissed Keane when they took the entirely sensible view of sacking an ageing player for constantly publicly telling the next generation of United players how useless they were all the time.

           Roy Keane's interview with David Walsh of the  "London Times"  last week may have captured the headlines for its attack on Alex Ferguson, but most observers would have been  "entertained"  by his story of trying to buy a ticket/season ticket at Wigan.  Keane is right about certain things and last week he was right about Alex Ferguson and right about the curse of small talk.
            Keane was driven by all the right instincts in refusing to play football's game of gladhandling and banter when he went to watch a game at Wigan. Instead of sitting in the main stand, he tried to buy a ticket on his own at the far side of the ground. There was a trademark Keane moment too as he quoted Wigan's exact debt -£37 million-as he encountered problems at the ticket office. Shortly after this he was led away by security. He was right again.  Wigan's ticketing system is preposterous, and he undoubtedly came up with many solutions on the long drive home alone.

KEANO: Controversial, Confrontational, Cunt
Keane's management career has been a study in alienation.  When he stands on the sideline for ITV, he usually speaks in banalities, unable to offer insight.  

           Last week's offering was another riveting piece on the subject of himself.  This observer for one has long become tired of the constant KEANO drama and chose not to watch the 90 minute iTalksport dedicated to the subject on Setanta Sports last Sunday.  Still Keane wrestles in the most over-wrought way with his exit from Manchester United.  "Football is cruel, life is cruel,"  -  is his lachrymose summary of those days.  
            He was dismissed from United, who took the entirely sensible view that there was no purpose in having an ageing player going around telling the next generation how useless they were all the time.  He is like O'Banion in Dazed and Confused after the kids douse him with paint. He has spent his life shoving people around and now here are all these people laughing at him. Oh, how life is cruel.
            Keane hasn't gone back to Old Trafford to watch a game because of this brutal ending.  Keane demonstrated in his interview last weekend his fearlessness in taking on those that have wounded him (in this case; Alex Ferguson).  He is a deeply sensitive man, once his feelings are the ones being trampled on.  Then he gains perspective.

NO LOVE LOST:  "Father & Son"  Roy Keane and Alex Ferguson
There is an ordinariness to Keane's opinions coupled with an absolute lack of understanding for another's point of view and an intense pity for the suffering of himself.       

              His refusal to engage with anything mediocre in football is something which is likely to work in one of two polar opposite ways;  either blinding failure or blinding success.  The former has been the situation in Keane's case.  There is an ordinariness to Keane's opinions, an absolute lack of understanding for another's point of view and an intense pity for the suffering of himself.
            His management career has been a study in alienation.  When he stands as a pundit on the sideline for ITV, he usually speaks in banalities, unable to offer insight. Then the failings of Manchester United, a subject that is essentially about himself, came up and he lashed out.
            We all think mainly of ourselves and we all can talk endlessly about our own problems. Keane has dressed up his self-obsession as a crusade. Last week he was crusading against Ferguson, small talk and the Wigan ticket office but, as always, he was talking about himself.
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22 December, 2011

George goes to Brunei but his form begs the question: For how long?:

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"King George" doing what he does best - now in Brunei
            Former Cork City FC star George O'Callaghan has moved to Brunei to play for Brunei Duli Pengiran Muda Mahkota Football Club (DPMM FC).  At 32 years-old;  there can be little doubt that the Whitechurch native's best days are behind him, but he has made a fresh start after troubled times.
            The much traveled Cork man has had many addiction related problems including alcoholism and gambling addictions.  He has played for a total of 10 professional club and had three spells at his local club;  Cork City FC.  He played probably his best football for his native city; winning the (Eircom) League Title and the PFAI Player of the Year crown back in 2005.  
FINEST HOUR:  2005 Eircom League Title
           However, since then he fell out with Cork City manager Damian Richardson (on the eve of a crunch Champions League tie) before crossing the Irish Sea back and forth several times.  Many managerial run-ins later and O'Callaghan has pitched up with the only professional club in Brunei.  DPMM FC are owned by the King of Brunei.
           Speaking of his move; O'Callaghan said:  "This is something I have always wanted to do.  It's very different here to Ireland; we train twice a day; at 7a.m. and 4p.m. - when the weather is not as cold.  I'd advise Cork City not retire my Number 10 shirt just yet because I might be back again some day!"
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16 December, 2011

The ultimate Mr. "Nothing is Impossible" has reached the end of the Munster road:

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Hayes (2nd left) celebrates Munster's 2006 Heineken Cup win
            Munster Rugby have a number of sayings.  Whilst  "Stand up and Fight"  and  "The Fields of Athenry"  will resonate for people all over the island (and not just the province);  the most relevant Munster Rugby mantra must be:  "To the Brave and Faithful, Nothing is Impossible."             No Munster Rugby player has surely ever lived up to this moniker than John  "The Bull" Hayes.  Having only taking up the game at 19 years of age, his size (6'4" and 20stone) enabled him to overcome his very late start to enjoy one of the most amazing careers of any Irish rugby player.
            Hayes was famed for his professionalism and commitment to the cause and quite amazingly, became  the first ever Ireland player to win 100 caps.  Whilst Brian O'Driscoll and Ronan O'Gara have since surpassed his record international haul, he holds Munster's all-time Heineken Cup appearance record with a total of 101 appearances.  His 102nd appearance this Sunday will be his last.  
            Hayes won just about everything that the game of rugby has to offer (except for the World Cup) and his rise (like Ronan O'Gara's;  who rightly gave Hayes his 100th Munster cap) coincided with the rise of Munster and Heineken Cup rugby.             After the bitter disappointment of Heineken Cup Final defeat in 2000 and 2002;  John Hayes finally won European club rugby's greatest prize in 2006 and became part of one of only three sides (the other two being Toulouse and Leicester Tigers) to win a second Heineken Cup in 2008.  He became the first man to make 100 Heineken Cup appearances against Northampton Saints in November 2011.
Hayes with 100th Munster cap

               Hayes was selected for the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and played in the final Test against world champions South Africa.  Hayes reached the zenith of international rugby in 2009 as part of the Irish front row which won the Six Nations Grand Slam at Cardiff's Millenium Stadium and became Ireland's most capped player (at the time) during that game.  Hayes is also the first Irish rugby player to win 100 caps for the national team.
Doing the hard yards as always
For a prop to achieve 100 international caps at both international and Heineken Cup level, in such a physically demanding position, is a truly remarkable feat.   "The Bull"  will appropriately enough be remembered for his bullocking runs through midfield and always giving 100% and sometimes even more.  
His first rugby match was in a Munster Junior League match for Bruff R.F.C. against Newcastle West which ended in a 0-0 draw.  He quickly earned the nickname  "Calf"  before becoming the  "Bullock"  upon his call up to the Munster senior set-up and finally being labelled  "The Bull"  upon earning his stripes for Ireland.
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If psychology means anything in top level sport then GET ON CARL FROCH to beat Andre Ward this weekend:

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FIGHT of the YEAR: WBC Champ Froch v 2004 Olympic King Ward
            If psychology means anything in top level sport (and I strongly believe that it does); then there can only be one winner of this Saturday night's super fight between Carl Froch and Andre Ward at Caesars Palace in Atlantic City.  
            By far the best two fighters have made it to the final of this Super  Six Super Middleweight tournament. Both Ward and Froch have conducted many and extensive (possibly overly extensive) interviews and press conferences over the last number of weeks in the lead up to the fight (a card which starts at midnight Saturday night [Sunday morning] U.K. and Ireland time from the Atlantic Convention Centre).  

Ward celebrates 2004 Olympic Super Middleweight gold win
"IF I win, Froch will have no excuses and vice versa," - hardly supreme confidence from San Francisco's finest

               The most interesting media article was where both combatants spoke before the World's media this week.  I can quote Ward as saying:  "If I win this fight, Carl Froch will have no excuses.  If Carl Froch wins, I'll have no excuses...."  Psychologists will surely agree that Ward's use of the "If" word hardly exudes confidence.  
Froch with WBC Super Middleweight Title belt
                Froch meanwhile has spoken with supreme confidence of  "Winning this Title is my destiny as a fighter.  I'm in the shape of my life.  It's good to know that you've done all the necessary work in the build up to a fight.  All the roadwork, gym work, cardio, weight training and countless hours in the gym have led to this.  Look into my eyes and you will see that I'm ready."
           If Carl Froch doesn't win this fight, I'll dump every sports psychology book I've ever read (which is admittedly only three).  SKY BET have Froch at 10/3 with a Froch KO/TKO an incredible 7/1 considering the Englishman's power and supreme confidence compared to his opponent.  I have three words for my readers:  GET ON FROCH.  
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12 December, 2011

"Please don't kill me," - the last words of Armagh GAA star James Hughes:

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James Hughes being removed from murder scene
           James Hughes was hit by two blasts from a double-barrelled shotgun as he was dropping a female friend home after a night out.  The shooter was apparently an ex-boyfriend of the woman who had accompanied Hughes (aged 35) that night. 
            He was lying in wait as the couple arrived in a taxi outside Patricia Byrne's (21) home in the quiet Cluain Ard, Lis na Mara housing estate, in Dundalk, Co Louth, shortly before 4a.m. 
            Mr. Hughes was in the front passenger with Ms. Byrne sitting between him and the taxi driver.  A lone gunman approached the Fiat car and fired one shot into it.  The taxi driver fled the scene before the car crashed into a nearby house.
GAA star Hughes: shot dead last night
           The assailant chased after the car before blasting a further two shots into Mr. Hughes' chest and neck.  The perpetrator then made his escape in a van.
           Mr. Hughes died at the scene.  Ms. Byrne received neck and facial wounds, while the taxi driver, a Mr. Callnan was struck in the face, neck and upper body. They were treated at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and are expected to be released within a few days.
           Last night, a 32 year-old man from Inniskeen, Co. Monaghan was arrested and being questioned by gardaĆ­ in connection with the murder.  GardaĆ­ took possession of a legally held shotgun, which they believed was the murder weapon, and it was taken away for ballistic examination.  Later a van, believed to have been used for the getaway was also found.
The taxi on the street where gun attack happened
            Mr. Hughes, who has three children aged 7, 11 and 14 years from a previous relationship, was captain of the Crossmaglen Rangers GAA club in south Armagh and won three All-Ireland club titles with them.  His family are from Crossmaglen but he had been living in nearby Keady. 
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10 December, 2011

My first hearing of "Fairytale of New York" this year; Christmas has arrived:

"Fairytale of New York" lead female vocals: Kirsty MacColl
                Voted by "Q" magazine as "The Greatest Christmas single never to Reach U.K. Number One" (peaking at #2 in 1987); 'Fairytale' has gone on to become a global phenomenon.           

            The song takes the form of a drunken Irish immigrant man's Christmas Eve reverie about holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank. It features the story of an Irish couple who had emigrated to New York. It goes on to detail how their hopes and romance were quashed in the city that has been for so many generations of Irish people a "Gateway to a New (better) World."

            Hollywood star Matt Dillon (star of box office smashes "There's Something About Mary" and "To Die For" among many others) who features as an NYPD cop on the video said in 2010: "As a New Yorker, playing a part on the video to 'Fairytale of New York' was unquestionably the highlight of my career."

             Contrary to the words of the song, the NYPD does NOT have a choir.


              Next Christmas (2012) will be the 25th anniversary of the release of 'Fairytale.' One hopes the anniversary will be marked by the single reaching Number One in the UK and U.S. charts.
Matt Dillon and Shane McGowan: New York Christmas 1987
Appropriately enough; lead male vocals Shane McGowan was born on Christmas Day (1957). As the lead female vocal on the song; Kirsty McCall will forever be associated with MacGowan and, spookily, she herself died on Christmas Eve (2000).

If Rovers' O'Neill wants to progress, he should stay put:

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UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Rovers' O'Neill has much to consider
            Silence is very often the most informative element of a relationship and it is the verbal stillness between manager Michael O'Neill and the Shamrock Rovers board which hints at a deep rift between the two.  Having just enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in the history of the club, one would imagine that continuity would be the essential prerequisite but that does not necessarily appear to be the case.
            Michael has of course been linked with other jobs but I feel that for him, the sensible course of action is to stay at Rovers.  He has achieved great things but he still has much to learn.  He should stay because the opportunities and high levels of expectations at a club like Shamrock Rovers ensure that the manager is consistently tested and that type of environment provides the best education.
O'Neill celebrates progress to Europa League Group stage
              What options does O'Neill have?  The Northern Ireland job is attractive but international football requires vast experience if one is to be successful.  As well as that, the current lack of genuine talent up north makes this a very hazardous job for a comparatively inexperienced manager.  The danger is if success is not achieved - and the odds are that it won't be - then the success O'Neill has brought to Shamrock Rovers will be forgotten.
              At 42, O'Neill should stay in club football.  The day-to-day involvement accumulates enormous experience.  A job in England or Scotland would accommodate such a natural progression, but opportunities are limited, particularly in English football.
PROUD: Michael O'Neill won 33 caps
              The situation in England is in many ways bizarre.  Too many managers get sacked to protect directors.  When a team is struggling, most directors appease supporters by making the manager the scapegoat.  This cowardice is then compounded when they appoint a replacement who has done the rounds rather than injecting fresh blood into the set-up.  This means that talented Irish managers like O'Neill really struggle to break into the scene and so Scotland would appear to offer the best possibilities as Pat Fenlon's recent move to Hibernian and Paul Cook's interview at St. Johnstone suggest.
               As it is, there are only at most four or five clubs in Scotland that appear better equipped than Rovers to present a manager with genuine prospects for advancing his talents.      Michael O'Neill has much to ponder on.  He may believe that achieving even a reasonable of success for Northern Ireland would do wonders for his reputation.  Alternatively, he may feel that with a little give and take, he and Rovers could resolve their differences.  Either way, his next decision will be the most important of his managerial career.
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09 December, 2011

"I tried to kill myself - now I'll help others cope with pain,"

McKenzie: looking forward to getting life on track
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"In the dressing room, I could be loud and aggressive, one of the boys, showing no sign of what's really going on."    

               Leon McKenzie knows that some people will read the story of his journey back to life and say:  "£15,000 a week and you were depressed?  Get over it."  Professional footballers are fair game and he knows it, a price the public and the media expect him to pay for acting out our childhood fantasies.
            No-one really knows however what goes on when footballers close their front doors, isolated from the rest of the world and wrestling with their insecurities.
            Fear.  Injuries.  Form.  Confusion.  Friendship.  Cash.  Fame.  Wife.  Family.  Trust.  Faith.
            McKenzie will tell you it swallowed him whole, leading to a bottle of Jack Daniels and 40-odd sleeping tablets in a hotel room in Bexleyheath, south-east London.  McKenzie told the  "Irish Daily Mail"  his story this week.  At times he is close to tears.  There is no holding back, not now  that he has come this far.
            Leon grew up in south London and by 19 had fought his way into the Crystal Palace first team.  By the age of 19 he also become a dad and the confusion had begun.  The youth-team coach at Palace told him he had ruined his career while first team manager Steve Coppell simply asked McKenzie if he was happy.
McKenzie as a "happy" Palace apprentice
            "I was confused - someone at the club was telling me I'd made a mess of things and someone else was making sure I was happy.  I was happy."
            He moved on to Peterborough in 2000 and settled in well scoring 46 goals in 90 appearances as a prolific centre forward.  Life was sweet and then he got a call from his mother that ripped his life apart.
            "My sister (Tracey) had called me a couple of days before.  She said she wasn't happy, she had an identity crisis.  She had skin like me, said she couldn't fit in with her white friends, she said she couldn't fit in with her black friends and it messed her up.
             I told her not to worry, I would be down to see her soon.  Then my mum rang, in tears.  Gone.  At 23."
             The week after Tracey's death, he played for Peterborough and carried on as if nothing had happened.  That is what was expected of him.  He moved to Norwich and was in the side that won promotion to the Premier League and formed an impressive partnership with Dean Ashton the following season.
            "In the dressing room, I can be loud and aggressive, one of the boys, showing no sign of what's really going on.  Halfway through that Premier League season at Norwich, I was getting divorced.  I couldn't see my children and they are my life.  I used to go home and call my mum in tears.  I was spensing too much time alone.  Divorce was another trigger.  I spent a lot of money on it.  It might have been my fault, but it didn't feel fair.

Celebrating promotion to Premier League
             I had some hangers-on around me.  I was generous and earning good money at Norwich.  I lent money because I thought it would make them happy.  But of course, I never saw the money back."
             He moved to Coventry in 2006 and got a pay rise after a tough final season at Norwich which was ravaged by injuries.  His injuries flaired up again; adding a ruptured Achilles to a broken ankle and thigh strain.  The manager, fans and media were starting to give him hassle again.  
             "People think you are paid thousands so you just get on with it. I love scoring goals, but it was being taken away from me. When you leave the training ground, who knows that I lost my sister, went through a divorce or worry that I will never play again?
              When you play, the crowd expect you to score the winner - that's why they worship you.  That's one reason it can make people depressed - you can't always give them what they want."                    He was desperate to prove himself and moved to Charlton in 2009 but spent most of his time on the treatment table.  Then he hit rock bottom.              
               I felt I had done all the things I wanted to do in my life. Got married to my second wife, my kids, professional football, Premier League, scoring 100 goals... I got a bottle of Jack  Daniel's, a load of sleeping pills and anti-inflammatories and must have knocked back 40 tablets."             
"I was in a hotel in Bexleyheath for four or five months, I wasn't even training because I was injured all the time. My family were back in Northampton, my wife, my kids, my life... I wasn't well, but I didn't know it. I would sit there, crying for a couple of hours, not calling anyone, not  having anyone to speak to. I thought it would pass, but it got worse. When you're injured it's a lonely world.
McKenzie (centre) hit rock bottom whilst at Charlton
               I woke up in hospital in Dartford and my family were in tears. The doctors told me I was lucky, a couple more pills and that would be me done. I was lost, cut off from the outside world. I was numb, I didn't know what to do any more, but I knew I wasn't happy and I don't know why. I just knew my career was coming to an end and I couldn't handle everything else that was going on in my life. The hospital let me go that day, they told me I was lucky to be alive. I felt terrible."  He drove straight to training at Charlton and did not tell a soul.
               Two years on and McKenzie is determined to pass on the benefit of his experience, challenging himself and channelling his emotions in the direction of young players.  McKenzie, now at Kettering, had professional counselling, accepting help after he realised the full extent of his actions.
               He has started to work with the PFA, offering guidance and one-on-one talks with players about the problems facing footballers. 
               "I hit rock bottom. I was scared to own up to feeling depressed because it's a male, macho environment and you're not supposed to show any weakness.
                 Now I know that the bravest thing to do is to call for help - that is a strength.  There is no-one for players to speak to, passing on the benefit of their experience.  In sport, we don't trust anyone.  I can count my friends on one hand now.  Some of the top guys in the Premier League will be suffering depression, but if they knew they had someone to talk to, they could find help."
New career is in the offing for man who nearly lost it all
               In a  few weeks time, Leon will retire from football, calling his friends and family to watch him play (for Kettering) one last time when his (unpaid) contract runs out at the turn of the year.  He has found a new passion having found a talent for singing and he is looking forward to releasing a new music video and EP as well as live gigs and a life away from the treatment table.

               Player welfare has unquestionably been neglected in football's  "macho"  world.  Change is afoot however with the Elite Players Performance Programme offering a support network.  The top academies will have programmes tailor-made to the players and the Premier League offers modules to prepare them mentally for their career.
               Some clubs have mentoring projects, with former Manchester City star Jeff Whitley, a victim of depression himself, working with players at Wolves.  Many of the game's raw recruits are confused and misguided, lacking the skills to cope with their environment.
               The PFA have sent out guides on depression to 4,000 current members and 50,000 past players.  It is a starting point, but more needs to be done.

With thanks to the  "Daily Mail", Leon McKenzie and Neil Ashton.
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