Andrew Cunneen talks to Limerick FC goalkeeper Freddie Hall about a career that includes World Cup qualifiers and spells in the MLS and the lower divisions in England
There aren’t too many comparisons you could make between Bermuda and Limerick, but Limerick FC goalkeeper Freddy Hall feels equally at home in both.
Coming in to replace Conor O'Donalle midway through last season, Hall has become a fan favourite in a very short space of time. Now 31, Hall is still relatively young for a goalkeeper but has plenty of experience across the globe.
Hall started his soccer career while in high school in America before moving on to the University of South Florida to play for their NCAA side, the South Florida Bulls. After brief spells between Bermuda and England, Hall landed in Toronto to play for The Reds of Toronto FC – a time from which he has many happy memories.
He said: “They were in the MLS. When I got there, they were struggling. They were rebuilding in a sense. They've a really good team in the sense that they a great setup and a lot of young players. You can see now how they’ve gradually built it up over time. It was a good time – I really enjoyed myself. It’s a good lifestyle. Toronto is a beautiful city. It’s comparable to New York. I was well taken care of.”
After Canada, he landed in England. There was less gloss, but football is a universal language and that certainly aided Hall in settling into the less glamorous surrounds of Burton, Chester and Telford.
“With Toronto, we flew everywhere. We hadn’t a choice. When I came back playing after Toronto, I went to Burton Albion. They were a club that definitely had a great structure in place. The Chairman wanted to do it in steps. You can see the benefits of it now because they’re on the verge of yet another promotion. I wouldn’t say it was a drastic change, but the venue and travel were different. After that, I was at Chester and finished (2014-15) with Telford,” said Hall.
The most common statement from those not interested in League of Ireland football is that the English leagues are of a higher quality. This is naturally true when you compare the Premier League to the Premier Division, but Hall sees a lot of quality in the top tier of Irish football – and in one team in particular.
Hall explained: “I think a good amount of the Premier Division sides would be well able to play in League 1 or League 2. Look at Dundalk – they’re more than capable of challenging in League 1. The run we went on last year shows we’re capable of playing great football.”
While club football has seen him travel all over, Hall also has ten international caps for his native Bermuda – a privilege he doesn’t take for granted.
He said: “It’s a good experience. It’s an honour always to play for your national team. They’re really pushing to become a dominant power in the Caribbean.
“Before I signed for Limerick, I was playing in World Cup qualifiers. We had a two-legged tie against Guatemala. That was pretty big. It was a nice experience playing there. Then playing against Trinidad – who are a powerhouse. Playing against Haiti was a big eye-opener too.”
Limerick may not have the Caribbean climate or the Toronto amenities, but Hall has settled here. He puts a lot of that down to his team mates, with special acknowledgement given to the coaching staff.
“I didn’t really know what to expect in Limerick. Coming over, my agent told me that if I liked it, we’d work on things. I’ve really enjoyed it. I like the city and I’m very settled. That’s what made it easier for me to stay on for another two years at least. Working with the gaffer (Martin Russell) and Eddie (Hickey - goalkeeping coach) makes a lot of things easier too. It’s a nice city.”
Despite having played in World Cup qualifiers and in the MLS, Hall cites Limerick’s run in 2015 as the biggest rollercoaster ride he’s been on in football and still finds it hard to talk about.
“It took a while to get over. We were so close yet so far away. It was unbelievable – everyone had written us off. From the moment I got to the team in July, you couldn’t tell confidence or the morale of the team was low. That’s down to the gaffer. He was never down on the team. He was always instilling confidence. It really showed in the first win. Once we were able to pick up points, that got us going. It’s heartbreaking to even think about it now, but it’s how it goes sometimes.”
The First Division is a different kettle of fish. Hall accepts this and knows that despite the hardships, the ultimate goal is to not be there again.
He said: “I think (this season) is harder than it looks. We score goals and play attractive football at times but we’re playing on pitches that are extremely difficult to play on and we’re really struggling in that sense. We have one goal – that’s promotion. We know where Limerick should be. Just as the fans are heartbroken, we’re heartbroken as well.
Hall has taken the club to heart. Appreciative of the support he gets and aware of the terrific characters the club have had in goals over the last few decades, Hall is determined to show that he belongs in the conversation.