Brian Gardner: Cup hero’s heart is still in Waterford

MATT KEANE MEETS

Part One

Brian Gardner entered football folklore when he scored the winning goal for Waterford FC against St Patrick’s Athletic in the 1980 FAI Cup final in Dalymount Park.
It’s 36 years ago since that historic day and many people find it difficult to understand that the club hasn’t won the famous trophy since Brian headed the only goal during that memorable occasion.

Brian, pictured during his playing days.

Brian, pictured during his playing days.

Despite the long period of time that has elapsed, Brian admits that his heart is still very much in Waterford and he does his level best to get back here as often as he possibly can. He returned for a week recently and was kind enough to look back at his life in general, as well as that amazing day in the capital.
“I came to Waterford in 1978 and we played Shamrock Rovers in the semi-final but lost and the following year we reached the Final and we were defeated by Dundalk so we were determined to beat St Patrick’s in the 1980 Final,” he began.
“We did reasonably well in the league that year but we drew far to many games to challenge for the title but we knew we could go on and win the cup. The shackles came off and we scored five goals in the first round, three in the second round and then we beat Athlone Town narrowly (1-0) and I scored the winning goal in that game in Kilcohan Park.
“We then had the two games against Limerick in the semi final. The first game finished level at a goal apiece and then the replay in Milltown. The second game was amazing and we scored three headed goals to go through to the decider.”
Alan continued: “I can still remember scoring the winner in the final as if it was yesterday. Larry Murray was incredible that day he went off on a run down the wing and he got a slight nudge from a defender but not enough to stop his run but the referee blew his whistle for a foul which we didn’t think was the correct decision.
“However Larry took the free-kick just outside the 18-yard box and I was further out than usual for some reason and when Larry pinged the ball over away from the danger area I was in the ideal position: I met it perfectly after attacking the ball and it sailed past the goalkeeper!”
He then spoke about how he came to Waterford. “I was playing with Preston North End who had just been relegated to the old Third Division and money was tight at the club and a lot of the young players who had signed at the same time as me got released.
“The manager of the club at the time was England’s 1966 World Cup hero Nobby Stiles. I remember one morning he came up to me and he said he’s like to see me in his office when the training session is over.
“I immediately thought I was going to be released considering what had happened to the other lads. When I walked into his office I sat down and I noticed that there was another person in the room whom I didn’t recognise. It was Shay Brennan who had played on the Manchester United team with Nobby when they won the European Cup in 1968.
“Of course Shay is well known to followers of Waterford football for obvious reasons and both of them suggested that I should go to Waterford but I turned down the offer there and then.
“Shay then stepped forward and told me not to turn down the idea so quickly but I felt it wasn’t the right move for me – Shay was persuasive and he said Waterford would pay me the same money that I was on at Preston. He asked me to go to Waterford for a month and if I didn’t like it I could come back so I decided to take the chance – and the month turned into six weeks.
“The manager of Waterford at the time was John McSeveney and he didn’t play me during that period because the deal had been put in place by the chairman Joe Delaney – John had no idea I was coming over.
“I kept saying to Joe that I’d had enough, I’m off back to Preston because the manager doesn’t rate me as a player but Joe asked me to remain on for another two weeks – he obviously knew there was something going on behind the scenes and shortly afterwards John had left and Colin Harper came in as the manager and everything changed for me after that.”
Brian Gardner with his wife Lyndsay.

Brian Gardner with his wife Lyndsay.

He continued: “We were full-time players and it was great but during the close season the club sent us off to America to play to cut down on the wages bill and players like Mick Madigan, Vinny McCarthy and myself went to play in Los Angeles – Sid Wallace went to play with another club – and it was the thrill of a lifetime.
“While it looked glamorous from the outside, physically it was tough going because we going from one season to another which included pre-season training in both countries but we lived life to the full.
“We did fashion shows and met some famous people like Rod Stewart and several other stars like the group ‘Supertramp’. Eventually the Waterford team started to break up and the club began to change – in 1982 it became Waterford United and completely out of the blue I got an offer from Paddy Mulligan who was the manager of Galway at the time and I decided to accept the offer so in 1983, I left Waterford.
“It was a very hard decision to be honest because I felt I was leaving my allegiance and I had settled here but something in the back of my mind was telling me that the club was going into something of a decline. It was a strange time because my heart was in Waterford but as a footballer I just had to make the move.
“I played all of my football at full-back with the Blues but Paddy Mulligan played me at centre-back alongside Denis Bonner and we had players like Eamon Deasy and goalkeeper Richie Blackmore and we won the League Cup in 1985, the first major trophy the club won. The club grew and grew and it was a great period and we finished runners up in the League one year and I scored 11 goals.”
Brian continued: “I stayed with Galway until 1987 and I played my last game for the club in St Mel’s Park in Athlone where I sustained a very serious knee injury – it turned out to me my last ever League of Ireland game. The surgeon in Galway told me the only game I would be playing from then on would be snooker – I was only 28 years old.
“I returned home to my parents which must have been a massive shock to them at that time but I went back to the surgeon at Preston, a chap called Denis Lowes and he treated me superbly. got back playing once again with a club called Chorley FC and I got back playing at a decent level. I then went on to play for Southport and Workington and I ended up at the age of 39 as the player-manager of a club called Darwin FC.
“I can remember one Tuesday night we had a game and it was pouring rain and it was freezing cold and at that stage I was also employed in a full-time job outside of football and on that night I decided to hang up the boots for good.
“I just had enough but looking back now I have to admit my days with Waterford will always be my favourite time in football.”
Next week: Brian speaks about growing up in England, hw life was for an only child and how he still regards Waterford as his second home.

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