AFTER more than four decades involved in the professional game of football, Mick Conroy is set to retire from his role with the FAI very soon, but he intends to stay involved in the game in some capacity.
Between playing, coaching, scouting and working in coach education, Conroy has dedicated most of his life to the beloved game but now looks forward to having some free time as he retires from his role with the FAI later this month.
“All good things must come to an end some time but slowly I hope,” said Conroy.
“I have had 44 years in the professional game between playing, coaching, scouting and working in coach education.
“I am looking forward to a break but hopefully I will still be around to continue to ID players who can go on to the next level.”
Conroy, who was born in Johnstone, Scotland arrived in Cork in 1988 to try out for Cork City for what was supposed to be for a month.
Thirty four years later and Conroy reflects on the fantastic memories his new home Cork has brought over the years.
“My time in Cork has been terrific since 1988. I originally came for a month to see if I could fit into Cork City.
“Eamon O’Keeffe was the manager at the time and he was a former teammate from my time in Blackpool and he was trying to get me in for six months prior to me getting here in the summer of 1988 - but I was tied to Leyton Orient until the summer.
“I came over the following month on the car ferry from Swansea and remember thinking as the ferry came into Ringaskiddy.
“This looks like a beautiful place I hope this month works out.
“Well it did. I had worked as a player, then a player-coach and assistant manager at Cork City until 1993 when we won the league in a dramatic three-way play-off.
“Noel O’Mahony resigned and Damien Richardson came in and I was let go - it happens in the game but I was glad that in my time we had brought the team from the relegation area to league champions in a period of three to four years.
“I then started with the FAI in 1994 when they wanted to extend their FAS course from Dublin to having one in Cork.
I had recently completed my coaching badges in Scotland and had picked up great experience in the USA.
“My job was to co-ordinate the programme and select the best players from the area and give them the opportunity to participate in a full-time training programme.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of education. A computer Course and a couple of coaching badges with the FAI.
“I was also doing some scouting for Celtic and any players who I thought had the quality to play at a higher level I would give them a trip to Glasgow to see how they would get on.
“This was the carrot for the players - if they worked hard they saw the rewards and I also used my contacts to give players other opportunities.
The late Liam Miller was first to sign at Celtic, Colin Healy was next and David Moore after that. David Moyes was at Preston and I would also drop some information to him regarding players. It created interest here and the players saw the rewards.
“All in all about 500 boys and girls have come through the programme during my time.
“The major changes from FAS to ETB over the years has been the shift in education that has been developed over the 25-year period.
“We now have nine modules to be completed and a gym instruction course available for the learners, this is huge progress in education.
“Brexit and the huge rise in standards in the game for those trying to get to the Premier League has become very tough to achieve.
“I think going forward through the European route like Cathal Heffernan has done in moving to Milan will become more popular for talented players with the ETB select squad giving them opportunities to showcase themselves.”
Choosing to retire was a tough call for the former Celtic star, but working seven days a week has taken its toll and now he hopes he can stay involved in the game but choose his involvement. “I just felt that I was working seven days a week for most of the year between the ETB Course, Scouting for the FAI and coaching at UCC then throw covid in to the mix with those dreaded zoom calls and it was all a bit draining so the 29th of July is my last day officially - but no doubt I will still be looking and working with players in some capacity going forward.
“The plan is relatively simple. Have a purpose to my day - and hopefully it will involve football - somewhere - just less days and a few days off every week or so.”
A fairwell game was organised for Conroy as his ETB squad took on Tom Mohan’s International U19 squad recently.
It was a game in which Conroy believes shows the benefits and standard of the ETB programme.
“We held our own and only lost one nil and games at that level are well worth it as players need that sort of challenge regularly to progress.
“The benefits for learners are twofold. You get the opportunity to train and be the best you can be in this football environment and if you fall a little short of the professional level, then those nine modules will no doubt benefit you in education and a job in sport, or the gym instruction qualification is a bonus when you move on at the end of term.
“This qualification is recognised worldwide.
“My career so far has taken me to Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland.
“I am fortunate enough to having played in European competitions and traveled to most places in the world.
“So who knows where my next move will be?
“It could take me anywhere. But just not for a few months yet and Cork will be a tough place to beat.”