DAVID FORDE has described his former Derry City teammate, Paddy McCourt as ‘an absolute genius’ and one of the best footballers he’s ever witnessed during his 20 year professional career which recently came to an end.
The ex-Republic of Ireland international goalkeeper, who officially hung up his well worn gloves last month, was commenting on the SSE Airtricity League’s ‘Greatest League in the World’ podcast, and recalled his time at Brandywell under manager, Stephen Kenny.
It was on Foyleside where he resurrected his career after a frustrating spell at Barry Town and then West Ham and he paid tribute to the club’s supporters and a ‘unique’ football club during what was a turning point in his career.
It was an intervention with Kenny which convinced the Galway man from chucking it all in after being released by the Hammers and after his memorable spell with the Candy Stripes, he never looked back, moving on to forge a career with Cardiff, Millwall and Cambridge and a five year spell as Ireland’s No. 1.
“He (Stephen Kenny) came down and met me in a hotel in Galway and we had a brief chat,” recalled Forde. “He said; ‘Come play some games, there’s only 10 or 11 games left in the (2005) season. You can train back in Galway’.
And that was just a lovely transition in. It showed to me he had a great sense of understanding and compassion in where I was at in myself. I thought it was some great man-management on his behalf.
“Then as it unfolded I started to really enjoy my time in Derry. It’s a phenomenal football city and they’re absolutely amazing football fans and some of the best I’ve witnessed over my 20 odd year professional career. I really started enjoying my time and the following season I ended up signing on a more full-time basis and the rest is history.”
The ex-Millwall man was part of the famous 2006 Derry City team which went on that memorable UEFA Cup run, defeating Gotenburg, Gretna and holding PSG to a draw at Brandywell before losing out 2-0 at the Parc des Prince in the second leg.
Forde reckoned that team had ‘a unique bond’, ambition and a team spirit which was ‘through the roof’.
“It was an amazing group of players,” he recalled. “Probably one of the best group of players and the best sense of camaraderie and the team spirit was through the roof. We had such a lovely blend and Stephen had amalgamated such a special group of players.
“Ultimately Stephen’s blueprint was make it local, make it Derry, get the fans and get the people back in supporting the players and supporting the club and if you can add a mixture of various different personalities from around the country it will certainly help. What we actually had was ambition.
“We had the likes of Paddy McCourt who was, hands down, probably one of the best footballers I’ve ever played with and ever witnessed. I thought he was an absolute genius. The way he could move with that ball was phenomenal. What a phenomenal talent and we were blessed to get someone like him.
“Then you obviously had the stalwarts of the club, Eddie McCallion, Peter Hutton, Sean Hargan, Gary Beckett. They understood the culture and history of the club. And then you had the likes of Killian Brennan who had just come back from the UK and was ambitious and Barry Molloy a local Derry lad and big Ciaran Martyn a fantastic League of Ireland player.
“And one who I was surprised never went on (further) himself, big Clive Delaney and Pat Jennings Jnr. But it was just the way we had such a unique bond and one of those things that comes along once in your career.
“I think we came as close as any other League of Ireland team getting to the (UEFA Cup) group stages. We set the bar for what was actually possible and many years later seeing Shamrock Rovers doing it and getting to the UEFA Cup Group stages was a phenomenal achievement.
“It’s such a pity it isn’t a more frequent thing because of what that would generate for the League of Ireland in terms of revenue and everything else. Hopefully one day that will be common practise.”
The 24 times capped goalkeeper will be honoured at half-time in Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualifier between Ireland and Switzerland for his own contribution to Irish football.
“It’s been absolutely epic; an absolute odyssey. To come and stand there next week in front of all of those Irish fans . . . I could be in tears, you know? I can feel it already.”