LIAM COYLE has hailed Jim McLaughlin as the biggest influence on his remarkable football career and one of the greatest League of Ireland managers of all time.
The legendary striker felt it was a timely and fitting tribute by Derry & Strabane District Council to offer McLaughlin the freedom of the city in recognition of his treble winning heroics 30 years ago next May - a extraordinary feat which remains unmatched to this day in the League of Ireland!
McLaughlin, who was born in Quarry Street, Brandywell in December 1940, brought Coyle back to Derry City from rivals Finn Harps in 1988 and the rest, as they say, is history as Coyle went on to become of the finest players ever to grace the League of Ireland and Derry swept all before them on their way to a unique domestic treble.
While McLaughlin had already achieved a level of greatness with Dundalk for winning the league three times and an FAI Cup and league double and, of course Shamrock Rovers, his name will forever be etched into the history books at the Brandywell Stadium for his unrivalled success during that golden era.
Coyle believes McLaughlin never received the plaudits his achievements during the 1988/89 season deserved and while he did receive three Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Personality of the Year awards (1979, 84 and 89) and a Special Merit award from the FAI in 2002, he reckons this particular honour from his hometown will rank among the Brandywell native’s most cherished accolades.
“He’s a Brandywell man, he’s a Derry man and he loved Derry City so this will mean so much to him,” said Coyle who was the youngest member of the treble winning squad.
“Not taking away from the other awards he’s been given but for Jim and his family, this will be a great recognition for what he’s achieved.
“Everybody who played under him, not just at Derry but in the whole of the League of Ireland, holds him in such high esteem.
“He’s a local man, grew up in Quarry Street not far from where I grew up. Obviously the treble was the pinnacle of Derry’s history and I’m sure Jim would say it was his highlight as well.
“He had won all his trophies away from home but the fact he’s being honoured now, on the 30th anniversary, is very fitting and fully deserved.”
Some opponents criticised McLaughlin for being a ‘chequebook manager’ while former Derry City boss, Noel King famously referred to the treble winning team as ‘Shamrock Rovers B team’ but Coyle believes it’s only now that people are realising how incredible his achievements were.
‘Macker’ doesn’t have to justify himself. His record of eight league titles, seven FAI Cups and four League Cups during spells with Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City stands the test of time!
“I don’t think Jim was ever fully appreciated at the time. He had a lot of people going against him. Some in the local press had a go at him and he obviously had to fight the Dublin press all the time. They never gave him the plaudits he deserved.
“At the time we won the treble everybody said, ‘Sure he bought this and bought that, not realising that what an achievement it was.”
McLauglin’s major successes came as a manager but he also enjoyed an impressive playing career and was capped 12 times, scoring six goals for Northern Ireland.
In October 1961 he took over the left wing spot from Peter McParland, scoring against Scotland on his debut and twice against England in a defeat at Windsor Park.
His club career began as a 16 year-old with the Candy Stripes in 1957 but he made the bold decision to move to England where he represented Birmingham City, Shrewbury Town and Peterborough during 14 seasons, scoring 26 league goals in 456 appearances.
“People forget he was a top player too,” adds Coyle. “Obviously his management overtook his playing career but he was a top player.
“He went to England when he was young and made his career over there. He was at Derry with my father, Fay, when he was very young as well. That’s how the connection with me came about because he was close to my father.
“But for Jim to go away to England to make a career for himself at such a young age was a big thing then.
“Then to come back and re-invent himself as one of the greatest, if not the greatest manager in League of Ireland history is some achievement. It just shows you his desire and will to succeed. He put that across to all his players.”
Coyle’s relationship with McLaughlin began at the age of 17 when he called to his house as manager of the Irish Olympic squad to assure him he would sign him should he be appointed Derry City boss. And Coyle believes it was his character and motivational skills which demanded respect amongst his players.
“From an early age Jim was looking after me, even when I wasn’t involved with Derry. He had belief in me and knew I had a bit of talent to be able to play in that side.
“Jim was probably the most important person I met in my football life,” he insisted.
“He could see things in you which maybe other people couldn’t and maybe that’s the genius of him. He made me believe I could be a top player and to go and do what we did that season, with that group of players , was really special.”
Ireland U21 boss, Stephen Kenny, who matched McLaughlin’s three SWAI Personality of Year awards in 2018, came so close to emulating the Derry man when guiding Dundalk to two league and cup doubles but was unable to complete the clean sweep.
“As the years go on, you think somebody is going to match it but it seems to be even harder. Stephen Kenny has been trying for 13 years. He makes no bones about it that he wanted to emulate McLaughlin but he just wasn’t able to do it. Every year I keep saying there will be somebody to do it but here we are, 30 years later.”