We caught up with Alan McCormack for an in-depth look into his journey so far...
Developing my love for the game…
“I remember as kids we’d go out and play on any bit of grass that we could find. Kicking a football around and playing the game is all I’ve ever known. As you get older you start to take it more seriously and you realise how big football can be, and everything just grew from there.
Joining clubs in Ireland and getting a chance to trial in England…
“I played for three clubs whilst I was back home in Ireland. My first team was called St Kevin’s, I started there and went through the age groups and that’s when the new age bracket rule came out, so I moved on to Home Farm. I didn’t like it as much there though and there was a bit of a rivalry, so I moved to Stella Maris and spent my last two years in Ireland with them. They’re all good clubs for younger players back home in Dublin, St Kevin’s are now are a fantastic feeder club and there’s been some good players to come from there.
“The club secretary and manager at Stella Maris at the time said they’d try and get me a trial with a club in England because that’s how you’d go about it as a young player at the time. You’d go on trial for a week and see how you got on. Whenever scouts came over to watch our games I’d always just miss out on getting an opportunity, then they just happened to know a Preston North End scout who was after a couple of players so they took me on trial and we’d see how it went from there.
“I was 18-years-old at the time and for me it felt like a bit of a last chance to go and have a good go at it. Thankfully it went really well, I settled in quickly and had a good week’s training then they offered me a scholarship from there, which I took with both hands. My parents weren’t best pleased though because I’d just started my electrician apprenticeship before my trial, and it was a bit of a risk because I’d be moving away from home and on less money. But I made my decision and came over to England.
“It was a dream come true for me. I still look back on it now and think how lucky I am to have made it in the profession. I don’t think players take it for granted but it does become your every day job and you do get used to it, but I still look back now and realise how fortunate I am to live the life of a footballer. It’s something that most kids dream of.”
Moving to England and gaining first-team experience…
“I had a couple of loan spells at the beginning, starting with Leyton Orient. It only lasted 7 games or so and most of those were from the bench, but what it did give me was the chance to be in and around it on a matchday and it meant something for everyone involved come 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. I wasn’t just going to be 19th man or sit in the stands, instead it gave me that taste of competitive league football and what it would take to break through and be a regular in a first-team.
“The experiences helped but I don’t think it made me a better player straight away, it took me a few years to develop, improve and understand everything but that all comes with experience. I knew I wouldn’t just walk in to the first team at Preston and I was man enough to accept that and move on.
“A move to Southend United followed and I loved it, especially the first couple of years. I still have good friends there now. We’ve got a house there and we take the kids down quite a lot. I absolutely loved it, it’s a family club and everyone got on well together. We had a good time there and I played a lot of games. I had one particularly strong season where I scored nine goals playing alongside Nicky Bailey in midfield.
“We had a really good understanding together and he scored 11 goals that same season, so 20 goals combined was a very good return as well as having striker Leon Clarke on loan. We had a great side that year and just missed out on promotion, then towards the end of my time with Southend there were a few things happening off the pitch and it was time to move on.”
Joining Charlton Athletic and it not quite going as planned…
“The season before I joined Charlton, I hadn’t had the best year at Southend. Although we’d had a couple of good years prior to the last one, we ended up getting beat most weeks and went on to get relegated. There were financial problems at the club, and I lost my way in football a little bit. I was possibly losing my interest but then a massive club like Charlton came in for me. I was actually close to joining someone else but they’re a huge club with a fantastic stadium and were in the Premier League just 3-4 years before I signed, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
“I signed with them and looked to get my love for the game back, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out as well as we’d have hoped. It’s a huge club with a big fan base and I possibly didn’t quite get to grips with that and didn’t have the best year in terms of performances. There was a spell where I was a regular in the team and having some good games on the right of midfield, and I carried on playing when Chris Powell came in as manager, but then my performances started dropping and I was taken out of the team and that gave the chance to stop and take stock of what was going on. At the time it could’ve gone one of two ways and it was a huge learning curve for me, and I’ve taken a lot from that experience.”
A lifeline from Swindon Town and working with Di Canio…
“Not many people know this but I wasn’t going to continue playing that summer and Charlton offered to release me. They said a few clubs were interested in me, but I wasn’t keen on playing and I went into a little shell for a while. I spoke to my wife about it, she helped me and reminded me that football is all I’ve ever known, so I took a week away and started training on my own. Then my agent got in touch and said there’s interest from the Swindon manager, ‘and by the way, you might have heard of him!’
“Di Canio was keen on signing me and we had a conversation about joining. He was one of the best players to play in the Premier League, not just through talent but you could tell his passion for the game, and he could create moments of magic and he just had a special aura about him which is very rare. He was so unique, and I couldn’t say no to him. He was so passionate, and the way he’d deliver his messages was brilliant. He was so emotional when talking about football and his philosophy that he’d get close to tears, you could see how much he wanted to win and that was exactly what I needed.
“It was a tough couple of years, in fact probably the hardest I’ve worked. It was mentally and physically tough, but it was setting us up to win. We’d work extremely hard Monday to Saturday and then have Sunday off. We’d have 2 to 3-hour sessions every day and a slightly shorter one on the Friday before the game. If you didn’t perform on the Saturday, you’d soon know about it Monday morning when we watched back the videos! His coaching was phenomenal, he taught the game in a brilliant way.
“His knowledge about where we needed to be on the pitch was fantastic, and he’s drill us and drill us until we were at the level he wanted. I think that’s when I started changing as a player and taking more interest in the reading of the game. I worked on my weaknesses, my attitude, everything I could to make me a better player. I was made captain and again it was another help for development because I had that extra role of responsibility. Everything was falling into place, I was enjoying my football, we were winning games, my wife was pregnant and we were settled so it was a great time in my career.”
Successful spells with Brentford and Luton followed…
“I loved it at Brentford, it’s a special club. I was there for four years, and we had a few different managers during that time, but the club stayed the same throughout. It was the first club to go down a new route of bringing players in and the structure was starting to become much different to the traditional way. We were training differently, eating different foods, sleeping differently, had coaches for lots of different aspects which you wouldn’t normally have.
“They really revolutionised the way things were being done, particularly outside of the Premier League and they’ve reaped the benefits since. It’s a great club with great people and we had great success there, and they deserve any future success they get.
“Luton reminded me of Brentford. Great fanbase, great club and so focussed on having a philosophy and an identity as a club. Any manager that would come in, as they did at Brentford, would come in with the philosophy of the club rather than try and change everything to something completely different. The club had a decent budget for the level they were at but that certainly didn’t take away from the work that was put in. Everyone from the manager, the coaches, the players and the staff around the club were extremely hard-working, and it was a very family orientated club and fanbase.
“Fingers crossed they can stay in the Championship this season because they do deserve to be up there. To join them when I did and to see where they are now, it makes you only want more success for them.”
A move to Northampton Town and enjoying my time with the Cobblers…
“I’ve definitely enjoyed my time so far, I’ve just been frustrated by the injuries I’ve picked up because they haven’t been really bad ones, they’ve just been niggles from maybe over-doing things. I know I should put the brakes on more and not over-do it, and the manager has been good with managing me both in games and in training and that’s been a massive help. I’ve always been a player that has had to work hard for anything I’ve got, and I’ve had to work harder than those around me because I was never as talented as them so I’ve had to overtake them through hard work and desire.
“Being at the age I’m at now, I’m learning to accept that I might not have the legs or the speed of some of the younger players, but because of my experience I know where to be on the pitch and that’s an important trait because it means I’m not out of position and having to sprint around to recover. So, I’m managing it, enjoying it, we’ve got a great dressing room here and although we’ve had a few sticky spells this season we’re near where we want to be. When we get back playing I really feel we can have a great end to the season, we’re on an upward curve and I believe we can take on anyone that we come up against.
“We’re a difficult team to play against and if we were to get in the play-offs then teams would have to try and stop us from playing our way, because we’re effective at what we do. We’ll have to see what the coronavirus situation brings first though as that’s our only priority at the moment.”