Colourful, charming and enlivening are words many would use to describe Roddy Collins.
Collins doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. He wears it on his shoes, trousers, jacket, shirt and tie. What you see is what you get with Roddy and to say he’s charismatic would be stating the obvious.
The new Derry City boss arrived to applause and cheers of approval last week in the Derry City Social Club in Crawford Square.
Many Derry City fans could tell you all you need to know about Roddy Collins the footballer and manager but what do they know about Roddy Collins the man?
Roddy was born in Cabra in North Dublin in August 1961 and recalls a very happy childhood spent boxing with his brothers and enjoying free bottles of Guinness from St. James’ Gate where his father Pascal worked.
“I am from a good working-class family and community from Cabra, which is on the outskirts of Dublin city centre.
“My father was called Pascal and he died at the age of 47 while jogging in the park. My mother is called Collette and she’s still alive and in great form.
“My da worked in the Guinness brewery in St. James’ Gate - he shovelled the grain. I have four brothers, two sisters and I’m the second eldest - my brother Michael is the eldest.
“I had a brilliant childhood growing up in Cabra. We had a lovely little home - we all lived in my granny’s house and I was always well fed and always had a good warm bed. There was always a great atmosphere about our house. There always would have been a coal fire blazing and we would have had many a hooley on a Saturday night with all of the free Guinness my da brought home.”
Roddy attended Stanhope Street Catholic School before moving on to O’Connell Christian Brothers School. When it came to football and boxing Roddy couldn’t have been any more passionate but when it came to school he just could not get enthused.
“I absolutely hated every single minute of school - I couldn’t wait to get out. I was only happy when I was boxing, playing soccer or GAA.”
Roddy’s family are synonymous with boxing throughout Ireland.
His uncle Jack O’Rourke was an Irish heavyweight champion, his father was Leinster middleweight champion, his uncle Terry was Leinster welterweight champion, his cousin Johnny was national junior heavyweight champion, his brother Pascal won the Boston Massachusetts middleweight title and his younger brother Stephen Collins is a former WBO middleweight and super-middleweight champion.
“I come from a family of champions,” said Collins.
“We used to have a boxing gym at the back of the house. Boxing was my thing till I was about 16 - that’s when I saw George Best score against Benfica in the final of the European Cup, that’s when I fell in love with football. I started to get a bit of attention when I was about 13 or 14 but when I got that we bit older my father said to me that if I wanted to make a go of either boxing or football I was going to have to make a choice. Obviously I chose football.”
Roddy started off playing youth football with Dublin amateur side Stella Marris F.C. and at the age of 17 he moved to England where he had brief spells with Fulham and Arsenal.
“I played ten years of junior GAA football for O’Connell Boys - I was in the same team as the famous Dublin goalkeeper Paddy Cullen.
“I played as a right-sided midfielder to start off with and I spent the best part of a year in England between Arsenal and Fulham.
“Things didn’t work out over in England so I came back home and signed for Bohemians.
“Bohemians were part-time when I signed for them. I was 17 at the time and after playing about a year for them in the reserves I made my debut for the seniors in Ballybofey against Finn Harps. I also played for them in Europe but when I was about 18-and-a-half I suffered a very badly broken shin bone.”
Roddy’s broken shin meant that he couldn’t play football for almost two years and when he got back on his feet he started up his own plastering business.
A few months after recovering from his injury, Roddy signed for Athlone Town where he scored in the 1983–84 European Cup against Standard Liege. Roddy also scored Athlone’s goal in their 1984 FAI League Cup final loss to Drogheda.
Roddy stayed with Athlone for one season before then- manager Turlough O’Connor sold him to Drogheda United for £5,000. Then when O’Connor took over at Dundalk he bought Roddy back before selling him for £35,000 to League One outfit Mansfield Town.
“That’s where I met John ‘Bugsy’ Cunningham on my first day and we have been best friends ever since. I’m godfather to John’s son, Conan.
“My time in Mansfield was rough because I broke the same leg there twice and things didn’t go well there at all.
“Newport County started to show an interest but the day I went down to see the club I got a phone-call from Noel King, who was managing Derry City at the time. I agreed with Noel to join Derry City over the phone. My wife, Caroline, was homesick so she was delighted Derry had come in but when I went back to my digs to wait on the phone call to tell me what flight to catch from Bristol Airport, it never came.
“Newport asked me to come and see them again so I did and I never got another call from Derry. I needed the work and needed the money because I had nothing else to come back to.”
Newport County was a disastrous time for Roddy and after 14 first team appearances he was signed by Noel King, who had since moved on to Shamrock Rovers. He spent a full season with Rovers, then re-joined Dundalk F.C. before moving on to Sligo Rovers where he made only six appearances.
“Sligo Rovers was another disaster because I was only with them for about two months. I gave my signing-on fee back to the club and joined Crusaders in the Irish League.
“My contracting business was going well too and I spent about two-and-a-half seasons with Crusaders. I really enjoyed playing in the Irish League - it was great. There were plenty of chances to score goals and went into a club who were rock bottom and we managed to break into the top six.”
Roddy then left Crusaders to join Bangor where he ended up becoming player/manager at the age of 33.
“I remember paying the wages of the players twice out of my own pocket. We were at the bottom of the table when I got the job and when we got into the top six I tried to sign Liam Coyle and a few others who I knew would help us to win the league. Then I got a phone-call to tell me that the club no longer wanted me any more. I had great plans for Bangor but the way in which I was cut down knocked lumps out of me.
“I then went and worked with my brother Stephen for three years in the gym and I still had the plastering work going on too.
“So three years later I got a phone call when I was lying in bed late one Monday night. It was my old mentor and friend Turlough O’Connor. He told me that they were planning on building a new stand in Dalymount and he asked me if I would like to get involved. Initially I thought they wanted me to do a bit of plastering but they wanted to offer me the manager’s job,” he laughed.
“I met them the next day and agreed to take over. I signed my company over to a young lad from Dublin and threw myself back into football again full-time. I spent two and a half years there and it all went in the blink of an eye.”
Roddy led Bohemians to their first ever league and cup double in 2001 but surprisingly he was replaced by Pete Mahon.
“I wasn’t really one for celebrating. When we won the league I went with my wife and my two best pals for a few quiet drinks in Myos Pub in Castleknock and the following week when we won the cup I went with the same three people to the same corner in the same pub for a few relaxing drinks.
“Celebrating and jumping around means nothing to me. I was just delighted to see happiness on the faces of the supporters and the players. All I wanted to do was start planning for the next trophy.”
On the back of his success with Bohemians, Collins was offered the chance to become manager of English side Carlisle United.
“A really colourful chairman by the name of Michael Knighton offered me the chance to come and manage Carlisle United. It was a really tough first season but it established me over there as a manager.
“To have kept them in the league for two seasons with little or no resources is by far my biggest and best achievement in my career to date - and we got to a national cup final in Cardiff to boot.”
Roddy lost his job with Carlisle in 2003 and claims that certain “vindictive people” stopped him from making a come back to football management for six years.
“It was the worst and most depressing experience you could put any man through.
“I can’t explain how depressing it was. I had a good CV - there was no doubt about that - some of the jobs I was getting turned down for you would not believe.
“A few people came to me to tell me that my CV wasn’t the reason I wasn’t getting a job it was because of a few vindictive people who wanted to stick the knife in and keep me down. It was torture for me and my family.
“I remember in order to bring money in I had to go back and work on a building site and my first day at work a fella leaned over the scaffolding and said, ‘Here’s the guy who said he was going to be manager of Ireland someday’. It wasn’t a nice time but that’s life.
“It was six-and-a-half years out of football but out of the blue I got call to go Malta. I thought it was a wind-up at first because not only was I suspicious of the whole Malta thing the person who was ringing me was calling from Russia. I thought to myself, ‘if I can’t get a fecking job in Ireland how on Earth am I going to get one in Malta’,” he laughed.
“I went out there straight away with my wife and children but we were back in Dublin before Christmas. We played some great football but the money the Russian investors had promised wasn’t there so I sent my family back home and then I arrived back home one week before Christmas.”
On his return from Malta, Roddy was offered the chance to manage Cork City.
“I came home and took a phone call from Cork. I went down there thinking I was going to change the world.
“It was an absolute war there between the man who owned the club, Tom Coughlan, and everyone else.
“My philosophy is to show loyalty to whoever shows you loyalty so when the other crowd forced Tom out I was guilty by association and they told me I wasn’t wanted. But I will sleep easy with that one let me tell you.”
Alan Byrne, who was playing for Monaghan United at the time, is Roddy’s son-in-law. After losing his job with Cork, Roddy took over the reigns at Gortakeegan and in his first season they missed out on winning the First Division by one point.
“I was encouraged to apply for a few Premier Division jobs at the time but because Monaghan United had shown me loyalty and had given me a break I decided to stick with them and I said publicly on MNS one night that I wouldn’t walk away.
“Monaghan folded last season and I was without a job again but then the Limerick job came up. I spoke to the chairman Pat Sullivan but then my old pal Turlough O’Connor called me and told me about Athlone. I told Turlough that there was no way I going back to do the First Division work again but when I went to Athlone and heard and saw what they were about I took the job straight away.”
Roddy won the First Division in his first season in charge of Athlone - with 11 points to spare - and his next job was confirmed last week when he took over as manager of Derry City F.C.
“I always wanted to show Athlone Town respect so I listened to their offer first before anyone else’s but obviously that didn’t materialise. I was also attracting attentions from Sligo Rovers but then the Derry job came up.
“I am delighted to be here and the Derry job has always been one I have wanted to give a go - the simple reason being the supporters. If you want a passionate club all you have to do is look at Derry City F.C.
“For anyone in their right mind who wants to win trophies in their own country, Derry is the place to be. Derry have such a professional Board of Directors and I feel really comfortable amongst the people here. They have the same mentality that I was brought up with.
“I am really looking forward to getting stuck in and I am absolutely delighted to be working with Peter Hutton.”
Roddy and his wife Caroline have been together since they were 15 and they have five children together.
Roddy and his family will move to Derry on a permanent basis in the next few weeks.
“Caroline is the mother of my five kids. Every single thing that went wrong for me in football and in life, she’s been there. And I realised she was a bleeding jinx,” he joked.
“My eldest, Sinead, is a teacher, then there’s Niamh who is a beautician. My son Roddy junior is a professional footballer and he’ll be joining Derry City in the next few weeks.
“Then there are the two youngest, Padraigh and Lauren. I am also a granda. One of my wee grandchildren, Donnacha, lives with us in Dublin. He’s a great wee lad.
“I am really looking forward to Christmas this year. We always have a few hooleys down home and if there’s a sing-song to be had, I am your man.
“But then after Christmas it’s down to the challenge I have been looking forward to for quite some time. It’s a privilege being here at the Brandywell and I can’t wait to get started.”