'Limerick's got a diamond called Shane Tracy'

Colm Kinsella

Reporter:

Colm Kinsella

'Limerick's got a diamond called Shane Tracy'

Limerick FCs Shane Tracy in action against Charlton Athletic in a pre-season friendly this summer

LIMERICK FC's longest serving player Shane Tracy will have his Testimonial game at the Markets Field on Saturday night when a 'Shane Tracy XI' take on a 'Limerick FC XI' in an attractive fixture, 6.30pm.

Tracy, who has spent 10 seasons at Limerick FC, looked back on his career this week including his time at Arsenal FC.

Was soccer always your first love growing up?

Shane Tracy: "I actually played rugby from around 12 to 15 with Richmond. I really, really enjoyed it. I played out-half. I had a left foot and could kick the ball from the half-way line. That is why they probably threw me in there at the start.

"Ger Madden was brilliant with the kids. I have great memories down there. When the soccer clubs from England starting coming in with a few offers soccer took over.

"I went to secondary school Limerick CBS. We won a Munster title when I was there. Mick Molyneaux was there at the time and he was unbelievable for the soccer in the school.

“You could see how desperate he was to win an All-Ireland. I didn't get to win one unfortunately and I went to England at 15.”

You played schoolboy football with Wembley Rovers?

ST: "Wembley Rovers was like a family run club. My father Derry was involved, the likes of Jimmy Collins, Dom Considine, Gerry Joyce and Ger Hogan, I was with them from age six right through until I was 15. I had a year at Fairview all right, but it was a one-year break to play my own age group. I spent 10 seasons at Wembley.

"It was a bit strange really. I played Kennedy Cup with the likes of Jonathan Grant, John Mullane, Dale McNamara, Declan Cusack, who is over in the UK playing professional rugby now. He was our 'keeper. We had a good side. There were some very talented players in that age group.”

How did the move to Arsenal come about?

ST: “I was playing two or three years ahead of my age group. One game defined everything. It was a National Cup quarter-final. It was an U-17 game and I was 15 years old. I scored a hat-trick against Cherry Orchard.

"I was playing two or three years ahead of my age group. All of a sudden your name is being mentioned and a few phone calls get made. It was literally one or two decent games and your name is out there.

"A week or two after the Cherry Orchard game, I got a phone call. They were keeping tabs on me since the Kennedy Cup. The feeling was that I was too small, but they would keep an eye on me.

"I was playing a game with Limerick CBS that day and when I came home I was told Arsenal wanted me over on trial in the next few weeks. It was done pretty quickly.

"I was in fourth year in school, not as intense as Leaving Cert. I went over for the week's trial. It was unbelievable over there to say the least. I was completely taken aback by it. I was an Arsenal fan all my life. That is why it was even better for myself going over there. It was like a dream to go over and play there.”

Liam Brady was head of the Arsenal Academy at that time?

ST: "I went over with the assumption that I was only going over for the trial. I honestly didn't have any notions that I would be signed.

“It was around March 2005. My sister Yvonne, who was at Arsenal at the time, had been home in Ireland and I went back with her.

“ I remember going in to talk to Liam Brady, who was head of the Academy at the time after the trial was over. I just wanted to thank him for the trial.

“Then he offered me the two-year YTS (Youth Training Scheme) contract at the time. It was like a scholarship. I didn't know much about contracts and pro contracts at the time, so I was just delighted.”

What was it like turning up at the Arsenal training centre for the first time?

ST: "The Arsenal youth training ground is with the first team set-up at London Colney. The facilities there were unbelievable.

“You trained in the morning, had lunch and then went to the gym where all the Arsenal first team were. I couldn't believe it.

“ I was going to the Arsenal youth team players saying, 'there's Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, unbelievable players in that time and era.

“I had been watching them every week on TV and a week later you are over seeing them in the flesh.

"The Youths squad went to Holland then France to on a pre-season trip down to Cannes. It was some experience. We played against the likes of Inter Milan and Juventus, top clubs and other Academies. It was some experience.”

What other well known players were in the Arsenal youths set-up then?

ST: "When I was on trial Nicklas Bendtner, the Danish international striker who was at Arsenal for something like nine years in all was on trial too. He was excellent at the time.

“He stood out and he signed that time too. You had Anthony Stokes there too, everyone wanted to sign him then. Johan Djourou who spent a long time at Arsenal was there, Kieran Gibbs came through a short time later.

"I was playing U-16 at the start. The following team I went into the youth team and reserves. I played every game in the youths team that year. Steve Bould was the manager of the youth team and I also played about 7-8 reserve games.

"I live in digs in a house with Sean Kelly, from Tralee, who played with Limerick as well. The landlady was very good to us.”

What led you to decide to leave Arsenal?

ST: "The following season, Sean came back to Ireland and I was in the house on my own at the start. There was a massive investment put into the Youth Academy at Arsenal.

“A lot of players came in from the European leagues. There was a squad of 20-25 in the youth team. We had done poor enough in the Youth Cup the year before.

"I had seen what happened with a few of the lads over there who had fallen out of favour. I felt similar might happen to myself with these players coming in. Confidence was low and a bit of home sickness also came into play. I had just got it into my head.

"Looking back now, assessing the situation, I just wanted to come home and didn't want to be stuck there for a year and not training. Looking back as an older person, I wouldn't have minded staying on for that year and obviously trying to progress elsewhere.

“I had thought at the time I wouldn't have gone any further at Arsenal. I came to the realisation of that. I had two years done. It was a disappointment. That's why I say it is very hard on kids going over.”

Had you anything lined up when you came home to Limerick?

ST: "There was a buzz for the first week or so when I came back, but I will never forget sitting down in my sitting room after a few weeks, all the lads had gone to college, some of them were gone to work, they were touching 18 and I am sitting down in the sitting room thinking, 'Jesus, everything is exactly the same as when I left two years ago.”

The realisation hits you, what am I going to do. I went back playing with Wembley Rovers. I was still only a minor. I really enjoyed the football side of things.

"I started up a welding trade as well and that is when the shock really came into play. I was an apprentice. At the time I left, I had no Leaving Cert, so it was a case of what would I do college wise and stuff. It hit me that a big change had happened.

"I felt it wasn't for me (job as a welder), but I kept on going because I didn't really have anything else.

“I was lucky in January time Galway gave me a call to go up there on a week's trial. Lucky enough I signed a two-year deal off that. We were full-time and it was a 52-week contract. I was back into the football set-up.”

You made your Galway Utd debut in a televised game away to Cork?

ST: "I made my debut for Galway in 2008 in the League of Ireland away to Cork at Turners Cross, live on RTE2, They had Joe Gamble in his prime, George O'Callaghan, Liam Kearney, John O'Flynn.

"In pre-season the following year, 2009, Tony Cousins felt I would be better to go out on loan and get more gametime. I had played 16 games that first season. Limerick wanted to take me down and it worked out perfectly.

“I trained once a week in Galway on a Monday and train on a Wednesday and Thursday with Limerick and play the games. It was for six months. Mike Kerley was the manager at Limerick. Trevor Lovell was coach. They were two very good coaches.

“I really enjoyed it. I had a bad knee injury in April and I don't think I played again until the following May, 13 to 14 months.

"The year I went on loan Galway fell into financial difficulties. Coming to the end of that season, I was out of contract and had no real offers.

"I got the chance to go to college in Carlow to do a BA in Sports and Exercise. The FAI started it a few years ago.

Player development, coaching were parts of it, you had a business degree out of it, your UEFA B on completion of it as well as strength and conditioning modules. I went into coaching afterwards with Herbertstown.”

Your 10 years with Limerick have been a rollercoaster ride?

ST: "It has been a very enjoyable 10 seasons here. You will have your ups and downs. There are a couple of seasons when you mightn't have played as much or your form took a bit of a dip but it happens in every players career over 10 years. It has been great, the people you meet.

"There has probably been three changes of dressing room since I have been here. It was been really enjoyable. The return to the Markets Field has been the catalyst for getting the community together, the city involved with Limerick.”

How did Saturday's Testimonial game come about?

ST: “The idea of a Testimonial game came up as part of my last contract negotiations. It was after we got relegated. The club told me I would be due one. I didn't realise this would be my 10th season.

"I had to apply to the FAI for the testimonial. Some background work needs to be doe. Limerick gave me their backing.

"The game would not be going ahead without the backing of the people who have come on board, the likes of Eddie Hickey, Mick Aherne, Keith Wallace, Steve Taylor, the Limerick FC Supporters Club, Kevin Kiely and the lads from the Blue Army, Mick Murphy.

"Mick Shields who used to be here did a lot of work in terms of organising the team, kit and stuff. George Lee and Sporting Limerick have been very good to me with the use of the Markets Field.

"I am very grateful for the help. The Castletroy Park Hotel, where I work as the Leisure Club manager, has got behind me too and have given me a lot of support.

"We (Limerick FC) have a massive game away to Bray Wanderers on Friday. The team I am assembling will be a decent selection. It will give players some game time.

"Paddy Purcell, Barry Ryan, Tommy Barrett, Joe Gamble, Derek O'Brien, Aaron Greene, Derek McCarthy and one or two others are going to play in my team. It will be a good squad list. It will also be competitive.

"My sister Yvonne will also make an appearance for the last 15 minutes of the game on Saturday. Paul Allen, who won the Supporters Draw, will also be playing for the last 15 minutes.

“People can buy tickets on the night. It is €10 for an adult ticket and it is free for kids under 12. 6.30pm kick-off.

“Part of the proceeds from the game will go towards the Irish Guidedogs Charity.”