Interview with "Timmy Holian"

1. Having joined Athenry FC at u12, who was the biggest influence on you as a player?
- I joined as a 9 year old. A few of us from 4th class were recruited to make up a team for the U12’s. The club underage managers in my time were Des Glynn & Michael Kilkelly. They got us playing the game though I already had the bug, it’s worse than coronavirus.
Players: The senior members on the pitch when I moved on to adult football were Peter Gilhooley and Tommy Fahy, who have directed affairs very well off the pitch ever since.
Manager/Coach: Paddy Forde was appointed at a time when an already small squad was losing key players to emigration. Despite that, he took the club into the Premier League in his first season and that team did what no Athenry team had ever previously done, we survived in the Premier League, going unbeaten for half a season in our first year up. We lost our unbeaten record that year to a Hibs team which later got to an Irish cup semi-final, losing 1-0 to Cherry Orchard.
Journeys to away games seemed a lot further in the early years, maybe because of the detours on the way back.

2. You went on to be one of the first players at the Club to do coach education, what is your coaching qualifications?
- A few of us started at the same time. Then Secretary Michael Dunleavy heard about an FAI Preliminary Level Course being run in Galway. All the other courses I did were in Dublin. I got through that Level, Level 1 and Level 2/UEFA B. Maurice Price, the best coach I have ever come across, was an assessor on one of those. I took the UEFA A course after that, most of those taking it were full or semi-professionals. I was manager of the 1st team at the time and the course/assessment started the day after we retained the Connacht Cup, our last match of the season, having already retained the Premier League. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to Dublin that Monday, so that one didn’t go too well. A month in Australia and later self-employment got in the way after that.

3. How and when did you get into management with the first team?
- My first match as player/manager/coach was January 1999. We were in our 11th year in the third tier. We had been losing players to other local clubs for the previous few years and looked like dropping down to the bottom division. I was asked to take over, I dont think there was any other contender foolish enough to take it. More turmoil immediately followed during which we lost half our squad, so I spent that Christmas trying to persuade 11 to play my first match away to Tuam Celtic, a relegation 6 pointer and a game I will never forget, which luckily we won. If we lost that one, I think we would have been relegated, I would have had a very short stint as manager and given the length of our stay in the third tier, who knows what the future of the club would have been. A third player exodus would probably have followed. I was very much on my own for the first few months but in later years had assistance from Peter Gilhooley, Tommy Fahy, Colin Byrne, Gabriel Glavin, Paul Mitchell and the various club Committees.

4. In 2001, you were part of the team that went on to win the double (first division and cup), what was your role and what are the best memories from the squad?
- My role as Manager/Coach was unchanged for ten years, though I was called into action on the pitch from time to time until 2002/03. We had finished my first half-season well, ending up third from the top 1998/99. Although we won three trophies in my first two seasons, my main memory from that time was achieving promotion in a play-off from the third tier 1999/00. After 12 seasons in the third tier, it was the day the shackles came off and we never looked back. We won that 5-0 and I will never forget the feeling of relief and satisfaction that evening. We were on a roll at that stage and won the 2nd tier league in my second full season 2000/01 with games to spare. We were back in the Premier league for the first time since Paddy Forde’s time, none of us could have imagined it would have taken 15 years to get back there.
Memories of that and subsequent years off the pitch were of enjoyable afternoons in Iggy’s. On the pitch, I think we all knew we would go on to win that league after a 1-0 away win over Loughrea, when our big centre-forward rose highest in the box to head into the top corner, only to end up buried on the ground with the entire squad on top of him.

5. In 2006, Athenry reached the FAI Junior Cup Final for the one and only time in history. Can you give us an insight into how this was achieved? What was the mentality of the squad? What was the recipe?
- We were the first Galway team to get there since Bohs in the 1940’s and it was the makings of the club. There is no once-off recipe. Teams that end up in that final are almost always proven teams. I had preached that once we got to the Premier League, we should have no fear of any team from any League. We had beaten Usher Celtic, AUL champions and Leinster Junior Cup holders, 4-1 in 2002, our first year up. A year later we should have beaten a Fairview Rangers team which won 6 Irish cups in 8 years. We had played a lot of the country’s top teams when we got to 2005/06. It took a great performance and a massive effort away to Castlebar to get to the final. Unfortunately, we met a team in the final which were the opposite of us. They were in their third Irish final, a very experienced team used to winning A titles in Waterford and Munster. We were a club trying to win a national title at a time when we had never won a local A league at any level, we had lost a Premier League play-off to Mervue a year earlier. We had a very young team still short of its peak, most were in their early 20’s or less. Losing a key defender in Castlebar and another during the final didn’t help. After that final we had no fear, we won a treble a year later and a double the following year, in my time.

6. Can you name three of your fondest memories with Athenry FC?
- 1. None of us will forget the club’s first Premier league win. Mervue, Salthill and ourselves could all have won the league on the final day. That Salthill team had won the League of Ireland U21 Cup that season and were rightly confident of winning the league at home in Drom, in front of a big crowd. We went in at half time 3-0 up. It was a rare game when every single player was at the top of their game, we were a team ready to win. There were only two changes in the starting 11 from the previous year’s Irish Cup semi-final v Castlebar, one enforced, with 9 of the starting 11 having come through from under-age. We followed it up with the Byrne cup and Connacht Cup, all three games being played in 10 days.
- 2. I think the key game in retaining the league the following season was our third last game away to Mervue, another game I remember very clearly, when again every player was at the top of their game. They were preparing for their first season in the League of Ireland A league, but like the previous year away to Salthill, we outplayed them on the day and went 3-0 up. I think they got a late one back.
- 3. Memories as a player - I considered myself average and was never over focussed on awards or trophies, but being voted first team player of the year twice by fellow players was nice and a big surprise, especially considering I used to spend the year kicking them in training. That and the satisfaction early in my career of competing over three seasons in the Premier League, there was such a massive gulf at the time between that and the lower divisions, it was like a different sport.

7. Having coached for many years and gained the respect of many great players. Is there any advice you would give to younger coaches or players that are thinking of getting into coaching?
- Trust your instinct. Luckily I had learned a few lessons before taking over as manager, I was part of 4-man selection committee one year and it’s nothing to do with the individuals, but they dont work. Players need to know who they are answering to.
Dont do it if you like to be popular all the time, I reckon I was popular none of the time.

8, This may be difficult, can you name a starting 11 from all the players you have managed at Athenry FC.
- I deliberately haven’t named players above. It’s such a narrow line, I could have been gone after a few games. I am equally indebted to the players who played my very first game away to Tuam Celtic, those who got us out of the third tier, those who won the trophies or who played a great game away to Irish cup holders Carrick in my last shot at the Irish cup, when we did everything but win. I was lucky to have great players, great leaders and characters. It wouldn’t be fair to choose.

Thank you,
@athenry_afc / #athenry_afc