Kieran O'Regan: An unsung hero in Cork's glorious soccer history

Kieran O'Regan: An unsung hero in Cork's glorious soccer history
Brighton player Kieran O'Regan checking out the ball control in Youghal in the summer of 1986. 

IF you thumb through the Evening Echo sports pages of the late seventies and early eighties you will find that the name Kieran O’Regan, through his starring roles with Tramore Athletic loomed large.

From 1976 to 1982 the talented squad of which he was one of the marquee players won four cup and league doubles as they graduated through the age groups to youth football.

Success continued and the cross-channel scouts were snooping, particularly after their two-goal victory over mighty Home Farm in the National Cup final.

His performance earned him a European Sports Award for soccer on the same night that Dinny Allen collected the Gaelic gong.

Matt Busby used to say, “We will judge players on what we see and the way they play not their birth certificate, if they’re good enough, they’re old enough”.

Tramore’s mentors adopted Busby’s philosophy when they introduced Kieran in the FAI Intermediate Cup final in 1981 and the teenager repaid their confidence by netting the extra-time winner against Ballyfermot in Richmond Park.

Kieran won his third national title in ’82 when they again claimed the FAI Youths trophy, this time trouncing Athlone 3-0 in Drogheda where he smashed a powerful 30-yard free kick to the net.

Tramore Athletic squad winners of FAI Youths Cup, Munster Cup, AUL League & League Cup in 1980. Back: Vincie White, Dave Barry, Ger Cunningham, Eddie Hennebry, Keith Anthony, Mark Smith. Middle: John Walsh, Kieran Murphy, Sean Madden, Tony Mullins, Mattie Murphy, Donal O'Callaghan, Pat Lane. Front: Tony Leahy, Brian Fleming, Paul Waters, Terry O'Donovan, Kieran O'Regan, Neil Dineen, Michael O'Rourke.
Tramore Athletic squad winners of FAI Youths Cup, Munster Cup, AUL League & League Cup in 1980. Back: Vincie White, Dave Barry, Ger Cunningham, Eddie Hennebry, Keith Anthony, Mark Smith. Middle: John Walsh, Kieran Murphy, Sean Madden, Tony Mullins, Mattie Murphy, Donal O'Callaghan, Pat Lane. Front: Tony Leahy, Brian Fleming, Paul Waters, Terry O'Donovan, Kieran O'Regan, Neil Dineen, Michael O'Rourke.

Two days before that final he played for Ireland Youths in the 3-0 victory over Wales. Kieran was unlucky not to have notched a hat-trick as he scored twice and had another disallowed.

Watching was Division One (top tier then) Brighton’s chief scout Jimmy Melia who immediately recommended him to his manager who invited him over for a trial.

Kieran recalled in an interview some years later: “I’d gone to Brighton on a one week trial; that became two, then I was asked to stay for three months.

“That came and went, and I never came back.”

In his first season the reserve, unbeknown to thousands of expectant Brighton fans, was on the brink of making a sensational debut for the Seagulls in the FA Cup semi-final. Kieran who went on to play nearly 100 games for the Albion, was nearly drafted into Brighton’s back line for that momentous occasion against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in 1983.

Only skipper Steve Foster’s bravery and sterling work by the club’s medics prevented the youngster having to step in to fill the gap.

As it was, he remained on the bench throughout the game and Mike Robinson’s winner gave Albion their ticket for Wembley.

The FA and Football were separate organisations and when Kieran made his first team debut a few weeks later he had to be given special dispensation from the League as he hadn’t been signed as a pro before the deadline.

Brighton needed to give him match time because of the live possibility that, due to injuries, he might be in with a shout of a place in the Cup Final against Manchester United.

The manager told the press: “Kieran is going to be a hell of a player. He only looks about 14, but he’s mature enough as a player to figure in my Wembley plans.”

In the event, forward Gerry Ryan got the nod for the one substitute’s place on the day, and rather ironically had to come on and play right-back in place of the crocked Chris Ramsey.

Melia stuck to his word and the youngster filled the right-back berth from the off at the start of the new season back in the second tier.

While at Brighton he gained four caps for the Ireland team and this, considering that it was the decade in which Brady, Whelan, McGrath, Sheedy, Moran, and Co were ever-presents, was a fine achievement.

He played a season for Swindon before getting a transfer to Huddersfield in 1988 when he was signed by his former Ireland manager Eoin Hand. He spent six seasons with Town making 199 league appearances.

“You’re always guaranteed 100% commitment from the workaholic O’Regan, but hand him the captain’s armband and you get 110% wrote the soccer columnist in the Huddersfield Examiner inspired by his herculean efforts after a 2-1 victory during which the Corkman donned the goalie’s jumper following the keeper’s dismissal. Kieran kept a clean sheet and then gave Huddersfield the points when he went up to smash a late penalty to the net.

The Hawthorns became his next port of call after West Brom paid £25,000 for his signature. After leaving WBA he had been mentioned as a replacement for the vacant manager’s position at Cork City following the retirement of Noel O’Mahony. However, he was overlooked because of a lack of managerial experience.

Ironically, shortly afterwards he gained that experience when he signed as assistant player-manager and later manager for Conference team Halifax which he captained and led back to the Nationwide League. When he retired from English soccer after almost 491 matches he took up a position as football analyst with Leeds Radio.

The Cork AUL are delighted to welcome Kieran home and he is a great addition to those outstanding players who have been enrolled in Cork Soccer’s Hall of Fame.

Picture: Larry Cummins
Picture: Larry Cummins

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