Simple twist of fate put Brian Gartland on road to success
Dundalk stalwart recalls the decision that paid rich dividends – both on and off the pitch
Brian Gartland: “It was just taking that chance, taking that little chance of having any bit of success was what made my mind up to come here.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Having described himself at that time as being “single and between clubs,” it turned out that ‘the town’ has sorted Brian Gartland out on both fronts.
Five years, four league titles, some big nights in Europe and a marriage to local woman Bronagh O’Brien on, he has got a bit more out of the move than he might have bargained for.
“It was just taking that chance, taking that little chance of having any bit of success was what made my mind up to come here,” he says, with a smile and a slight shake of the head.
But, he recalls, it was still a surprise to fall for “a girl from around the corner” .
However that initial move to Dundalk was actually a close run thing.
Gartland, who hopes to celebrate his 32nd birthday on Sunday by lifting his eighth major trophy with the club, was on trial with Shelbourne in the summer of 2013 after packing in Portadown.
He was keen to play closer to home but then Shels manager, Johnny McDonnell, was, he says, a little too slow to make an offer.
“I had been training with them for two or three weeks and if Johnny Mc had offered me anything in the two weeks before I probably would have just signed,” he recalls.
“I would have been happy to get playing down south because I was sick of travelling. But I played the friendly, a very good game and he offered me something then.”
It was just €200 a week and Gartland decided to hold out for more.
“The next morning he rang me and said he could get me a bit extra, a hundred euro or something, but when I was off the phone from him I had a voicemail from Mick Cooke [then Drogheda boss] saying: ‘Look, don’t do anything, I’m trying to build something here,’.
“And then I had a voicemail from Stephen Kenny when I was off the phone from him [Cooke] and that was the one that was completely out of the blue.
With Andy Boyle suspended at the time and a couple of others injured, Kenny needed a centre-half but signing for Dundalk would mean cutting down rather than cutting out the travelling and Gartland took a bit of persuading.
“I was on the phone to him three, four, five times that day and I said: ‘Listen, because it’s only three or months ’til the end of the season I’ll give it a chance’.”
He was, he says, persuaded, by Kenny’s insistence that the move would be good for him as well as the club.
Gartland actually scored away to Cork City in his second appearance for the club, an early sign that he wasn’t going to be the only winner out of the move and, having been encouraged by Kenny to add more goals to his game, got 11 the following season as the team clinched the first of four titles to date under the manager.
“He always sets you sort of goals,” says the former Bray Wanderers and Monaghan United player. “Even if you don’t know it.
“When I was younger I wouldn’t have noticed it but he’d plant a little seed in you and it would be there niggling away at you. He’d be the same with individuals and teams. He’s shrewd. He knows his stuff; you’ll always be looking to improve and if you don’t look to improve . . .”
The results at Oriel Park since Kenny’s arrival have been fairly plain to see and alongside the likes of Boyle, Niclas Vemmelund, Paddy Barrett and now Daniel Cleary or Sean Hoard, Gartland has provided a key part of a defensive foundation that allowed Kenny to build an attacking team in which the most creative players are allowed, indeed encouraged, to shine.
“It’s great that the club has tied them down to long-term contracts,” he says of the current pair, “because, not that I’m that old, but they are the future of this league at centre half.”