Two young football teams from the United States made the long trip across the Atlantic to make their Foyle Cup debuts this week, guided by two well known former senior footballers from Derry.
Ex-Institute and Derry City goalkeeper, Martin Walker, is High School Director of Coaching at Connecticut club, Everton America, while former Finn Harps and ‘Stute striker, Austin Friel, is head coach at New York’s Lansdowne Bhoys - a club where current Derry City midfielder, Gareth McGlynn, enjoyed some success recently.
I’m glad I made the move and always love to get back home. But, in order for me to be a coach full time, it would need to be in America for now.Marty Walker
For former St Columb’s College pupil, Walker, now a qualified sports psychologist, bringing young footballers from the US has been a hugely rewarding experience, despite Everton America’s misfortune in the group stages of the Under-16 tournament.
An encouraging 2-2 draw against Foyle Harps at Leafair Park on Tuesday was followed by a 5-0 thumping by Scottish Premier Division outfit, Hearts, as the Americans were brought back down to earth with a bang at Ardmore.
However the American boys finished their group with a superb 2-0 victory over Wexford Boys at The Swilly tonight (Thursday), finishing third on goal difference.
Walker acknowledges the gulf in class between the USA teams and the professional academies at the Foyle Cup but he’s confident his players will learn from the experience.
The Derry man, who had a brief spell with Derry City in 2002-03 before his playing days came to an end, has since carved out a promising coaching career in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts,
He’s enjoyed spells with the United States Coast Guard Academy in 2012, where he won the ECAC Championship, and a year later at Quinnipiac University where he won the MAAC Championship.
In 2014, he was at Fordham University in the Bronx as he helped guide the team to the Atlantic 10 Championship - his third Championship as an up-and-coming coach.
His return to Derry isn’t just to provide a test for his young Everton America team but he’s using his trip as something of a recruitment drive in the hope he can identify young footballers and coaches who wish to build a career in America.
There is a growing presence of young Derry coaches and footballers on the west coast of America and Walker highly recommends the experience.
“I currently coach College soccer at Yale,” explained the Derry man. “I was speaking to current Derry City player, Conal Fagan, who is going over to our College. He wants to be a player at Yale and I’m trying to help him get there.
“There’s Aine McKeever who graduated from Quinnipiac where I used to coach and I coached a girl, Laura Nicholas, who used to play for Derry City at Quinnipiac, who is going into her senior year.
“There’s plenty of Irish and loads of Derry people there. The more Derry people I get over, whether it’s as a player at University or to come over and work with us and coach teams, the better.”
Since moving to America, a lot of doors have opened for the Derry man and he’s not only found his dream job at Yale but also met his wife, Lisa.
“I coach College soccer at Yale and I’m the High School Director with Everton,” he explained. “I look after anyone who’s 14 to 18 years old at Everton. We have nine teams and I oversee that programme.
“I hire coaches to come out and work in towns in Connecticut and New York and Massachusetts. We’re always looking for quality coaches out there to make a career out of it.”
His background in senior football in Derry has proved an invaluable experience and he’s now loving life as a full-time coach.
“I was fortunate enough to play with ‘Stute for a while and I played with Derry for a season. I was on the bench behind Alan Gough but it was a good experience working with quality players.
“I decided my academic career would push me in a way that I could improve my coaching credentials. I’d been to America and played College football and coached there.
“I came back and was living here for a while and always had the pull to go back. The lifestyle’s good and I’m allowed to be a coach full-time.
“I went back and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. I’m married now, in a good situation with a lovely wife, Lisa, who’s from Connecticut.
“We actually came over here to get married in Donegal two years ago. I brought her to Ireland for the first time four years ago and she fell in love with the place.
“I’m glad I made the move and always love to get back home. But, in order for me to be a coach full time, it would need to be in America for now.”
Everton America’s first Foyle Cup experience might not be what the boys expected as they looked out of their depth against Hearts on Wednesday night.
However, Walker believes it will prove a key moment in their development.
And it hasn’t put him off returning next year.
“To be fair, this team is mostly 2001 so they’re playing up a year and we can take that as a positive. Hopefully, I get a few more teams over next year and a couple of girls’ teams that are able to compete.”
It’s a great experience for them. Seeing a team like Hearts play motivates me to be a better coach and get my players to that level.”