Versatile player could switch sides

 

As he settled back into the manager's chair at Richmond Park yesterday Pat Dolan was fielding the usual round of calls from the press on the day before match day, answering the usual round of questions.

Asked whether he intended to add to his squad before the end of the month, when the transfer deadline comes around, the St Patrick's Athletic manager said that he'd be keeping an eye out for a player who would fit in and improve the squad.

Even the most avid of rumour mongers would find this a little vague, but still, if the criteria for signing up includes being ready and willing, then the visiting manager could do worse than to keep an eye on young Kieran Foley during tonight's Harp Lager FAI Cup tie against Galway United at Terryland Park.

Dolan will have seen the Galwayman at least once in recent weeks but Foley, a central defender who recently burst onto the scene by scoring a hat-trick at Bohemians where he made his debut as a striker, is much better known to the visiting side's central defender, Colin Hawkins.

The pair have been best friends since they were eight, played football together for their school and local club and have kept in touch in recent years as their careers started to take them down divergent paths.

"We hung around together all the time until he went off to Coventry," Foley explains, "but even then I used to go over regularly to see him and now that he's back here I see a lot more of him again."

The pair used to run the centre of midfield for Newcastle and St Joseph's College, but both later moved to the centre-half position, where they made names for themselves.

While Hawkins moved to Coventry and then back to St Patrick's, Foley went to university in Galway, leading the college's side to a Budweiser League title, a Collingwood Cup, and picking up a few Universities caps long the way.

There followed a brief spell at Salthill Devon, but over the summer he was invited for a month's trial at Galway United, the club he has followed since childhood, and it didn't take long for him to impress.

He played four games during the trial and was then offered a year's contract, which he says he was "thrilled" about. "I'd been coming to see United play since I was a kid and I'd always wanted to play for them some day."

When St Patrick's came to town last year Foley was on the terraces having, until his recent switch to attack, been part of a four-man battle for the two central defensive positions.

United had been having terrible difficulties finding the net over the first half of the season and their manager, Don O'Riordan, admits that the decision to play Foley alongside Eric Lavine for the Bohemians game was a bit of a throw of the dice.

Even before the game the Galwayman, who is currently on a post-graduate placement with United's sponsors Compaq, was trying to impress upon his manager that while he'd play wherever he was asked to, he shouldn't be judged too harshly on how he did up front. After he slotted away the third (and a couple of them were fine goals) there wasn't much of a chance of that.

While he hasn't quite maintained the strike rate, his partnership with Lavine has flourished, with the more senior man starting to benefit from Foley's willingness to get in amongst defenders and cause problems all around the box.

He could well prove quite a handful for his old mate Hawkins this evening when they come up against each other for the first time in anything more serious than a training-ground five-aside.

For all the attention he has attracted as a striker, though, Foley insists that he sees his future back in the heart of a defence, although which defence appears to be open to debate.

"Don asked me about my plans recently and obviously one thing I'd like to do is to establish myself with United. Playing in front of the hometown crowd is a great feeling and it's a dream come true for me. But," he adds with barely a pause for breath, "any player is going to want to play with the best team he possibly can and St Patrick's . . . well, they have got very strong links with Galway over the years."

Foley to score a dramatic late winner, then, and travel back to Dublin on the bus with Dolan and company. Forget the non-league outfits, Terryland looks like the place to watch for this weekend's Cup fairytale.