Above, Foynes man Conor Nestor, pictured as his unveiling as new head coach of Cambodian Premier Division side Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng which was carried on prime-time TV
Limerick man Conor Nestor has just landed the head coach's job with Cambodian Premier Division soccer side Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng. It's been a whirlwind ride for the 34-year-old as he tells Colm Kinsella
Who did you play your football with?
CONOR NESTOR: “I played all my football with Foynes AFC, now Shannonside. We had some excellent players and won a lot at schoolboy level.
“I represented the Desmond League at U-15 level under Maurice Carrig and a number of us went to Irish trials with Denis Behan being the only one who got to professional level.
“I played in two Collingwood Cups and a Harding Cup for NUI, Maynooth.”
How did you get involved in coaching?
CN: “After the underage international trial I felt like lads in our area needed a bit more of a football education. I realised my playing career was never going to amount to much, so I barged into an AGM at Foynes AFC and as a 17-year-old and told everyone I would take over the U14 team!
“I was lucky not to be thrown out! The committee endured me, I am thankful for that. The players I got to coach were perfect for me, they were hungry and they wanted to learn and get better.
“I was taking my coaching badges so they could see that I was learning too. How they reacted to me inspired me to pursue a career as a coach.
You worked with the likes of current Limerick FC manager Tommy Barrett and Derek McCarthy at the club?
CN: “My experience working with Tommy Barrett and Derek McCarthy was fantastic. The players won the U19 League that year and lost the in the semi-final of the knockout rounds. Tommy is a brilliant man-manager of players so I learned a great deal from him.
“He also managed staff well, allowing each of us to do what we were good at. That sounds so simple, but most people don’t have that quality, their ego gets in the way.
“I was over the moon when I heard he got the job as Limerick FC manager recently, if the club back him he will become their best signing.”
What years did you work as FAI Development Officer for Limerick County?
CN: “My time with the FAI ran from 2008 to 2016. My eight and a half years there helped me develop as a coach and a person. They supported me in getting my UEFA A license.
“Some of the coach educators with the FAI like Niall Harrison and Colin O’Brien are world class. I have been on coaching courses from the USA and Brazil and viewed coaches in many countries. We have some of the best ones, we just need to put the finance into the game.”
Have you coached overseas before your move to Cambodia?
CN: “IN 2007 I worked as a coach in New Jersey in the US. When I left the FAI I did so to go travelling around different footballing cultures. That took me back to the U.S. were I visited NYC FC, Colorado Rapids and Louisville City FC.
“I also spent some time with Tim Lees an ex-Liverpool academy coach under Brendan Rodgers. I eventually ended up in Melbourne were I was travelling as a tourist, but I did some volunteer work with Keith Garvey, another Limerick coach, who runs an academy there.
“So I’ve been very lucky to work with good people in many different places.”
How did you hear about the opportunity to manage Svey Rieng FC?
CN: “I came to Cambodia while I was waiting for Australian sponsorship to come through. While I was here I met this Scottish man called Chris Grant. I did some work for him in a football academy and in the evenings I coached a semi-pro team.
“After a while we had a big result or two against professional teams and Chris came to me and said Svay Rieng may have an interest in me.
“It was a bit of a rollercoaster, one minute you’re planning a life in Melbourne, next minute your the head coach for the second best team in Cambodia!”
The press-conference where you were unveiled as head coach was carried on prime-time TV news and broadcast to 750,000 people?
CN: ”It has been a whirlwind alright. Svay Rieng is a provincial town near the Vietnam boarder, two hours south of Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. We all live and train in Phnom Penh and travel down on match days.
“The people there are warm and welcoming and they work extremely hard. In that regard it reminds me of home. We are now a couple of weeks into our pre-season training. There are 12 teams in the Premier Division in Cambodia. Its fully professional with four overseas players and one foreign player from another Asian country in most teams. The Cambodian national team play in front of 50,000 people. The season starts on March 3. We play away to Nagaworld, one of our big rivals. Our home attendances would range form 3,000-5000, depending on the quality of the opponent. We don’t have any Irish players in the squad at present, but I am working on that! We have a South Africa who played for AJAX CT as a boy. He is a special talent. In April the temperature will be 40 degrees plus, so I am currently adapting the way I like the game to be played so we can still be successful during the heatwaves.
“We train most days at 8am to avoid the heat, but we will play games at 3pm some weekends and that’s not going to be fun. If we win the league we qualify for the AFC Cup, which is the Asian equivalent to the Europa League. Only the top 12 nations in Asia send teams to the AFC Champions League. However, qualifying for the AFC Cup and winning games would be financially very rewarding for our club. I have a one-year contract with clauses that if successful will mean signing for another year.”
How does the standard of football in Cambodia compare to the League of Ireland?
CN: “The technical quality of the players is probably higher than the League of Ireland. They love the ball here and are gifted with it. However, physically and tactically we would be behind the League of Ireland, so if we played a Cork or Dundalk we would struggle for those reasons.
What are your ambitions for the team this season?
CN: “My ambitions are not important as I won’t kick a ball but the players want to win everything domestically, they want to play in the AFC Cup and they want the chance to play abroad. Playing in Thailand would mean a contract with life changing amounts of money for my players. My ambition is to help them achieve theirs.”