With a senior career spanning over 15 years, it all began at Aston Villa for Alan Kirby. In what was a 4 year stint at the club, he rose through the Birmingham club’s academy. Funnily enough, his early development in the midlands of England, would set the precedence for a successful period in the midlands of Ireland, at Longford Town, where he will be forever regarded as club legend. This week we made a few stops, when we went ClubSpotting with the Waterford native.
1. Describe your early years at Aston Villa. How important were those 4 years in your development as a footballer?
I loved my time at Villa, joined at 17 and left at 21. Loved the life with the lads, training and mixing with the stars and feeling like you were a somebody. I obviously learned a lot there about fitness, teamwork and all round professionalism but it wasn’t all good. I felt my instincts as a player was coached out of me. My strengths lay in skills and dribbling but the coaches were all about passing and moving and playing as a team which is fine in certain areas of the pitch but creativity wasn’t encouraged and it was very much an army sergeant type of atmosphere under Brian Little who took over the reins shortly after Ron Atkinson got the bullet (who I had signed under) and who had a completely different approach.
2. Who were your sporting idols growing up?
I supported Liverpool as a kid and the players at that time I liked included McManaman and Barnes and the likes but I also liked players from other teams like Gazza and anyone that was skilful such as Georgi Kinkladze and similar players. I loved Maradona the most, he was just unreal, I used to watch a VCR of him over and over.
3. What were your proudest moments during your club career?
Winning the FAI cups with the various teams were obviously the best moments. Doing it with Longford was special you knew what it meant living in the town, seeing it everyday and being reminded of it and bringing the cup around to the schools was a joy.
I also look back fondly at the various UEFA cup appearances though too, it was brilliant to travel abroad and get the opportunity to represent clubs in Europe, that’s what I miss the most since retiring.
I was also proud to play full-time at Pats with some fantastic players and finish second in the league for those two seasons was hard to do.
Lastly I’m glad to be able to say I got to play against Man United at the first ever soccer match to be held at the Aviva. That was special.
4. Who was the toughest opponent you faced?
I couldn’t pick one as I played against too many fantastic players that went on to have fine careers in the league and further afield. There were lots of good full backs in my day when you think of the Owen Hearys, Simon Webbs and Sean Pruntys of this world but in other positions when I played in the middle you had players like Hunt and McCourt to contend with. All really good players with a winners attitude.
5. Who was the best player you played with?
There were lads that had that bit extra where you would look at things they can do and just say to yourself “yep he’s definitely got something you don’t see too often”. They would be players like Joseph N’do, Keith Fahey and Mark Quigley who had that ability to try outrageous things and do it successfully but also their ability to influence games and produce match winning moments out of nothing.
6. You were a part of the the Irish team in 1997 that got all the way to the Semi Finals of the World Youth Cup against eventual winners Argentina who boasted the likes of Juan Riquelme and Esteban Cambiasso to name a few. How special was that tournament to you?
Amazing and probably the proudest moment of my career. At that early age you think you will have all these great career moments ahead of you but of course it doesn’t really work out like that for most players. I’d love to go back and savour every moment but at the time we were fairly fed up lounging around the hotels and each day being like the last between training, eating and resting, only match day was exciting. You know you are playing against great teams and excellent players but you don’t know who the players are at the time. You can’t give them any respect because if you put them on a pedestal you will be in for a long 90 mins chasing the ball in the Malaysian heat. We obviously did well to get a bronze medal but we had our fair share of luck along the way and a bit of special magic from Damien Duff from time to time.
7. Which club do you look back at most fondly throughout your career?
Definitely my time at Longford in terms of the camaraderie and the player/fan relationships. It just felt special like one big family and it’s no coincidence that success followed. To this day it’s still said to me about the good old days and it would be great to see the current team do well now back in the Premier Division.
Each club though means a lot to me for different reasons. I was delighted to play for my home club Waterford United and glad to have been part of a new venture in Sporting Fingal and win a cup with them before the club folded