The Ireland Connection – How The Imps Are Set To Benefit

Courtesy Graham Burrell

I read an article on Lincolnshire Live yesterday with interest, discussing the Irish connections we have forged in recent months.

It suggested three players we might sign (two of which it concluded we almost definitely wouldn’t), including Adam Idah who was heavily linked with us in the winter window, and Connor Ronan who signed for Blackpool on loan. I was led to believe at the time that we might have had a passing interest in Ronan and Jez George, the Imps’ Head of Football seemed to confirm it in a chat with punditarena when he said: “We’re aware of other players as well. Connor Ronan, we like him. Adam Idah we like him. Dara O’Shea too.”

Whilst that was very much the focus of the Echo article, I really liked some of the stuff I heard about Sean Roughan, a 16-year-old we deliberately targeted from Pheoix FC in Dublin and who we went to some lengths to find an Irish tutor for.

Credit – Phoenix FC Facebook Page

“Basically his Mum was really clear with us all the way through that process that he could come, but only if we completed his Irish Leaving Certificate,” said George.

“That’s a challenge for a League One English football club. We were able to hook up with an independent school called Lincoln Minster, who are able to deliver all the subjects bar Irish, and therefore we advertised to get an Irish teacher who could teach Gaelic and we’ve managed to do so.

“We found a lady lives who in Nottingham who is over there because her husband is involved with the Wasps rugby team and used to be at one of the Irish provinces.”

I know we talk about ‘The Model’ in the short term and some want to judge the results after just six matches, but aside from players like Anthony Scully and Zack Elbouzedi, there is a concerted effort being made to attract quality from across the Uk and Ireland to the club. The lengths to which we went to secure Roughan, who recently made his Eire Under 17 debut, shows that the club are making changes behind the scenes which might not see us reap rewards for a number of years.

That brings me rather succinctly around to Jez George. Now, I’ve heard plenty of chatter from those who claim to know Cambridge fans nailing him down as a scapegoat for them wasting their cup run money. Having lived in Cambridge and spoke to members of their Trust about George at the time, the chatter is incredibly unfair. He was actually described as ‘the heart and soul’ of the club by Dion Dublin and those who take the time to research his background will see a CV littered with positive work in youth football as well as senior football.

In fact, I’d say the perception of Jez George amongst our supporters is warped by the fact we’ve rarely seen or heard from him. I noticed he was visible behind the scenes when Jamie McCombe took over on a temporary basis, sitting at the back of the press conference and sitting in on Michael’s unveiling. Since then, George has taken a step back once more in terms of his public appearances, but not the work he puts in.

I understand he is heavily involved in the transfer business we conduct and was instrumental in presenting us as a club to at least one of the Premier League sides we’ve subsequently done business with. What I will say is I expect to see more of him in the coming months, maybe even face to face, who knows?

Jez George (Middle)
Picture: Chris Vaughan Photography for Lincoln City Football Club
Date: July 1, 2019

Back to Ireland, it has long been a source of top footballers and right now, Lincoln City are going to be high on the list of Irish fans favourite English clubs. Jez joked in the article with punditarena about having an emerald green away kit next season to satisfy that thirst, but it isn’t an entirely fanciful idea. Whilst not all of the players we’ve brought in from there will be a success, it is worth noting our links with the League of Ireland over the last forty years. Brendan Bradley was an insane talent who simply couldn’t settle here, Jeff Hughes and Gareth McAuley both went on to play at a good level, if not a great one and even Chris Fagan who struggled here, went back to the LoI and made a big impact.

If we are to progress as a club, both in terms of attracting talent and developing exciting players, then these jaunts to Ireland and the lengths we are prepared to go to in order to attract them here will be really important. The name Sean Roughan might mean little to you now and Anthony Scully might only be a game or two into his career, but who is to say they’re not the next Hughes or McAuley, ready to perform for us on the field and eventually make us a great profit off it?

When referring to The Model in future, lets not just pigeon-hole it as the summer business, but look at the whole picture and some of the key faces who are deeply involved with it, like Jez George, whom we may not know much about but who is helping to drive us forward to League One consolidation and maybe, one day, Championship football.

Our podcast with Clive Nates should be up tomorrow, Ben sadly has to do a real job as well as the podcast. He also has to eat and sleep, apparently.