Just over a week has passed since St. Patrick’s Athletic announced the departure of manager Liam Buckley by mutual consent. The 58-year-old had been in charge since December 2011, in what was his second stint as manager. It is fair to say that his second stint at the club was a successful one. He had guided the Inchicore outfit to a league title, two EA Sports Cups and an FAI Cup. The FAI Cup, in particular, was a huge win. The Saints won it in 1961 and it took them 53 years to lift it once more.
In recent years, however, the club has fallen behind the likes of Dundalk, Cork City, and Shamrock Rovers. Liam Buckley’s side just haven’t had the resources or spending power to compete with those clubs. They have had to cut their cloth accordingly. However, on the field, the club narrowly escaped relegation last season. This season they have steadied the ship but still miles away from the top sides. Too many clubs attempt to spend money they don’t have and end up in more trouble. I have no doubt that the hierarchy at the club are making sure that the saints are living within their means.
The biggest surprise of the announcement was the timing. There is still roughly a month to go in the season and the club are unlikely to be in contention at either end of the table. They also had a Leinster Senior Cup Final last weekend in which they were beaten by old rivals Shelbourne on penalties. Ger O’Brien took charge of that game and he will take the reigns until the end of the season. Ger played as a right-back for the saints and had recently taken up a coaching role alongside Liam. It is thought to be unlikely that he will want the job full-time.
Liam will be remembered fondly by the supporters of the club. He was a manager with clear principles. In a landscape where often success and good football are kept apart, Liam could produce both. Not alone did he win trophies throughout his career as a manager, but he always did it whilst delivering good football. A system that players bought into, enjoyed and proved successful. He adopted a 4-3-3 system for the majority of the seven years at the club. Liam loved players in midfield who could play football and control a game. Loved his wide players in the traditional sense, whereby they get to the by-line and whip crosses into the box. That said, he wanted his wingers to get their fair share of goals and support the striker. So despite his apparent quite nature, he had demands on players.
Liam Buckley began his love affair with the club in 1992 as a player. He played 55 games for the club as a striker scoring 11 goals. Great in the air, Liam was an old-fashioned central forward who could link up play. He left the club in 1997 disappointed that he didn’t get the managerial position at the club. Athlone came calling and he took up the reigns as player-manager, guiding them to the last four of the FAI Cup. In the 1998/99 season, an opportunity at the Richmond Park club arose. The Saints had lifted the title the previous year under Pat Dolan. Pat, had decided to take up the role as director of the club and the vacancy became available. Liam was persuaded back to the club as manager.
It wasn’t an easy job for Liam to take on, after all, how you do improve on winning the league? Pat Dolan was also a huge favorite amongst fans. But somehow Liam did improve things. Pat was a little more pragmatic as a manager who focused on a solid defense and worked hard on attacking set-pieces in which the saints were brilliant at. But Liam didn’t want to ‘just’ win the league. Liam wanted to do it in style.
A complete overhaul of the style of play and formation was constructed. Preferring to adopt a 3-5-2 system. Largely unheard of in the late 90’s in Ireland. He had three very good central defenders and clearly didn’t want to leave any of them out. Former Ireland U21 player Colin Hawkins, Packie Lynch, and Stephen McGuinness. The key to their success were the three midfielders. Martin Russell had a wound for a left foot and could control a game. Eddie Gormley was slightly more box to box and was capable of scoring from distance. Paul Osam was a natural athlete and complimented both players well. The Saints would go on and win the title for a second successive year, but this title was more impressive. Unfortunately by December the following year, Liam Buckley was sacked. The club were third in the league and it seemed very harsh considering what he had done the previous season.
Despite the clubs recent struggles, Liam leaves the club with his reputation intact. No doubt it was a difficult decision for him and the club. With or without Liam it is difficult to see the Saints push the big guns in the next few years. They do have a superb underage system and the focus has to be on developing those players and guiding them into the first team. As for Liam, what direction will he take? If a club requires a manager at the start of next season, then they will surely look at Liam. When giving the right tools, he has proven he can win trophies, while entertaining along the way. But, for now, Liam is a part of the fiber of St.Patrick’s Athletic. He will go down in the clubs history as a figure just as important as Brian Kerr and Pat Dolan before him. Liam Buckley will forever be a super Saint at Richmond Park.