NO ONE could ever doubt Barry Molloy’s love and loyalty for Derry City and, after announcing his retirement from football this week, the former ‘Candy Stripes’ skipper looks back on a distinguished career which involved so many magical moments.
The 33 year-old Bishop Street man endeared himself to Derry City fans during 10 years unbroken service for not only his leadership qualities and workrate on the pitch, but for his generosity and approachable nature off it.
And, in a candid interview, Molloy reveals how he turned down the chance to join then SPL club, Dunfermline, in the hope of clinching an elusive Premier Division title with Derry, reinforcing his loyalty to his hometown club.
Reminiscing about his time at the Brandywell club, Molloy spoke about Stephen Kenny’s ‘legendary team-talks’, the loss of his mother before that remarkable night in Gretna during the UEFA Cup run in 2006, and the reasons behind his ‘emotional’ decision to call it a day.
The combative midfielder, who so many times had sacrificed his health by playing through the pain barrier for the good of the club, explained how the fear of not being able to play football with his young son due to the pain in his troublesome ankle had been the driving force in his decision to retire.
“It was a big decision for me,” said the midfielder. “From when I told Crusaders I wanted to leave, there were a few clubs on to me and Derry was one of them and that sort of turned my head a bit - the thought of going back to Derry. I was keen then to give it another go but I just didn’t feel it would be worth pushing myself for another year in case I got injured again.
“I felt Derry would have been the only club worth giving it another go despite the risk of getting injured again. That wasn’t to be and now the decision is starting to sink in.
“It was emotional when I started getting reaction to my post on Facebook. I realised that’s it, and it hit home that football’s done for me.
“I didn’t actually cry but I was close a few times. I tried to get away from it and went for a drive to clear my head. I wanted to get it out there and had it written out for a day or two beforehand. I wanted to let people know that was me done.”
And Molloy recalled one instance, where he was struggling to play football with his son due to injuries after an operation on his ankle, which had weighed heavily on his mind having watched so many retired footballers struggle to walk in later life.
“I’ve done my ankle ligaments on numerous occasions over the years and always played through it and that’s probably taken its toll now,” he said.
“If I was a bit wiser and more selfish, I might have been able to play on for a while longer. But if I was to go back now to those games when I played through the pain, I would do the same again. I always tried to put the team first and felt, if I could get to the end of the match, I would be alright.
“My ankle feels great now but the worry is that you can make it 10 times worse. After I had surgery, I spent a lot of time playing football with my wee boy and I could barely play with him. It was hard to kick a ball and I didn’t want to be like that the rest of my life. I didn’t want to get to the point where I couldn’t keep up with him and help him with his football. That was a big part of it. I don’t want to be struggling to walk for the rest of my life - there’s so much more after football.
“I see players who have retired and they struggle to walk and that popped into my head. I don’t want to be like that. That was the deciding factor for me.”
It’s obviously very sad I didn’t get to share those moments, like the FAI Cup wins, with my parents but I dedicate everything to their memory and what they’ve done for me.Barry Molloy
Molloy has enjoyed a wonderful career which began as a youth with Brandywell Harps and, then, Trojans before he was snapped up by Derby County as a fresh faced 15 year-old in May 1999.
After five unforgettable years at the ‘Rams’, where he progressed from the youth team to the brink of making first team appearances, he returned home ‘devastated’ as his cross-Channel career appeared to be over.
But he revived his career with Drogheda United in the League of Ireland before Stephen Kenny made him an offer to play for Derry City in 2004 - an offer he simply couldn’t refuse.
It was the beginning of a blossoming relationship with both Kenny and the ‘Candy Stripes’ which brought with it two FAI Cup winners’ medals, five League Cup victories, a First Division title and many European adventures.
“I was delighted to get to Derby as we had a couple of other Derry lads, Gerard Doherty and Brendan Canning - so it was a very exciting time,” he explained. “I was unfortunate not to get a few games. It never happened and I was devastated when I came back to Ireland. The dream was always to play in England but for whatever reason I wasn’t good enough at that level and I came back. That was the start of my League of Ireland years.
“Harry McHugh signed me for Drogheda and then got sacked after the first game before Paul Doolin came in. After a couple of games he signed me permanently and the fans and board were very good to me. But, once I heard Derry and Stephen Kenny were in for me, my mind was made up. I wanted to go back home.”
While he regards then Trojans boss, Raymond Carton as an influential figure in his career, Molloy’s relationship with Kenny was a special one.
“Stephen was brilliant from the day he brought me in. I was probably one of the first couple of picks in his team. I rarely got dropped and he had a lot of belief in me and got the best out of me. He’s an unbelievable manager and his record speaks for itself. He’s the best manager I played under in terms of man-management and motivational skills.”
And his pre-match team-talks are something that will live long in the memory for Molloy.
“Our team-talks under Stephen Kenny were legendary,” he laughed. “You would be sitting waiting for him to come in and, as soon as he came in, you would see everyone’s heads going down because someone was going to laugh.
“He was that kind of character and had this routine of taking his jacket and tie off and rolling up his sleeves and would go from being quiet to going mental in about three seconds. It was one of the funniest things. You could see all the boys trying their hardest not to laugh and some of the things he came out with in the dressing room were hilarious. They would be the stand-out moments off the pitch for me - Stephen Kenny’s team-talks.”
Under Kenny, Molloy enjoyed his best years in a Derry shirt including those FAI Cup triumphs which he shared with his two children, Ellie and Rossa.
“In 2006, I think we played 52 games that season and were the best team in the country. Shels probably deserved to win the league but we were the best team in Ireland that year! We had four brilliant players in every position.”
The 2006 season was Molloy’s best year in a Derry City shirt but it also involved one of his biggest heartaches having come so close to completing the club’s second ever ‘treble’ and a league title he had always craved.
“The league evaded us. It came to a stage when Stephen was managing Dunfermline and he wanted to sign me but Derry had offered me a contract and my words to him were: ‘Stephen, I would love to come and play for you but I really want to win a league title with Derry.’ That was always my motivation. Unfortunately, it never happened.
“We won the First Division which was a big part of Derry’s history as well. I’ve so many good memories with FAI Cup wins, League Cup wins and the European adventures. The first FAI Cup final in 2006 was amazing. My daughter Ellie was aged just one but I had her on the pitch with me. But, in 2012, that was my favourite football memory - the fact I had my two kids on the pitch with me afterwards and they loved lifting the trophy in front of a big crowd. So to share that moment with them is something I’ll always look back on with fond memories.
“And not many people get to walk their hometown club out onto the pitch in a cup final. That was amazing from a personal point of view but the only sour note was my last kick of a ball (against St Pat’s in the FAI Cup Final 2014) for Derry. I made a mistake which led to the second goal. You never want to leave on a sour note.
“It doesn’t keep me awake at night because, given what I’ve contributed to Derry over the years, it didn’t really matter that much overall.”
Molloy has experienced so many ups and downs in his career but the loss of his parents, Philomena and Joe, and particularly his mother prior to that magical night at Fir Park against Gretna, were among the toughest of times.
And he explained how he got some comfort from playing at Brandywell where he would glance up to the City Cemetery on match days and think of his late parents for inspiration.
“My mum was always there for me growing up and was always so supportive with football. She must have realised I was quite good because she always pushed me. When I was 10, she made me go out and clean my boots and stuff like that and I wasn’t allowed to be sloppy with things like that. She was unbelievably supportive and was there for me every step of the way.
“It’s obviously very sad I didn’t get to share those moments, like the FAI Cup wins, with my parents but I dedicate everything to their memory and what they’ve done for me. Everytime I went out on the Brandywell pitch, the first thing I would do would be to look up to where they are now in the cemetery and it was always a nice thought for me to think they’re looking over me playing in Brandywell. You can see the Brandywell from where they’re buried so it was always a nice wee touch and something I always thought of when I was playing at home. My mum passed away in between the European run in 2006, about a week before the Gretna game at Fir Park. We played Bray on the Friday before and I remember saying to Stephen Kenny that I wanted to play in that game and he told me to take my time.
“In my head I just wanted to power through it. I ended up not playing and then my next game was against Gretna and I got brought off after about 70 minutes and had ran myself ragged - but emotionally I was drained.
“For me, it maybe inspired me that year to do as well as I did. I remember when we won the FAI Cup final 4-3, I was very emotional and my first thought was my mum - that was for her. I was fortunate I had football to keep me going.”
Reflecting back on how he would like to be remembered as a footballer, Molloy hopes Derry fans will regard him as an honest, hardworking player who gave his all for the club.
And he hasn’t given up hope of returning to Brandywell in some capacity in the future.
“I never really wanted to get into coaching but the last six months I’ve come round to the idea of getting my badges.
“Hopefully, this year I’ll start with that and you never know - I could be back.”