Meenlaragh native Coll continues to keep the faith

Alan Foley


Alan Foley

Meenlaragh native Coll continues to keep the faith
One evening last week Joe Coll received a curious telephone call asking if he was free to travel to Norway the following day.

One evening last week Joe Coll received a curious telephone call asking if he was free to travel to Norway the following day.

One evening last week Joe Coll received a curious telephone call asking if he was free to travel to Norway the following day.

It was from Joe Corcoran, a scout for Manchester United, the club where goalkeeper Coll, 19, had a two-year scholarship but opted not to turn professional in 2012.

Coll played seven times for the United academy side that season and made the bench for the club’s reserve team.

When he first signed in 2010, Coll was welcomed as United’s first team overcame Fulham on their way to winning an 18th Premier League.

“They took us, the family, up to Sir Alex Ferguson’s office first off,” Coll says.

“After the game, I was taken down to the changing rooms and that’s where I would’ve met the likes of Edwin van der Sar.

“I got to know the likes of Darren Fletcher, who is a real gentleman, and John O’Shea. I got on well with the goalkeepers - van der Sar, David De Gea and Tomas Kuszczak.”

Coll was a guest of the club at the 2011 Champions League final at Wembley, where Barcelona triumphed against Ferguson’s team, 3-1.

When faced with possible career paths, Coll felt as though he had a better chance of forging a professional career away from Old Trafford.

He had represented the club at reserve level in pre-season friendlies but the path to the first team was a minefield.

Kuszczak, Dane Anders Lindegaard, Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone all played for United’s second string that season.

Although Coll had trials at Bury, Tranmere, Hearts and Motherwell, no contract came. He spent a season at Derry City but failed to make an imprint.

Coll’s father Tom, a fisherman by trade, had scored a few goals in his time when he played for Glenea United and took the Glasserchoo club to the Donegal League Premier Division the season before last as manager.

It was Glenea’s first title since completing a three-in-a-row back in 2004. Joe Coll had been on their books since the age of six and had lined out for the first team at 16 prior to his move to Manchester.

Older brothers Donal and Seán line out for the club. As youngsters they required a goalkeeper so the duty perpetually went to the younger of the three - Joe .

“Dad never forced me to do anything but I always enjoyed playing with Glenea United, Joe Coll says.

“I grew up supporting them and went to watch all of their games. They won three Donegal League titles in a row 10 years ago and had the likes of Maurice Ferry and Eamonn Cannon. A serious team.

“It was great and I learned a lot from watching them play football. I loved it and I still do. There’s a lot of people involved with the club that I would have really good time for.

“Glenea won the Donegal League two years ago and I listened to it in Manchester.”

That love runs deep and options were considered before opting to move home from Derry.

“Glenea were kicking off their season and I thought to myself I may as well go and play with them,” he says. “Derry’s reserves play in the Ulster Senior League and Glenea are in the Premier Division of the Donegal League.

“The way Glenea play football, they would be well capable of holding their own in the Ulster Senior League so it wasn’t much of a step down.”

In September, Coll returned to Pobalscoil Chloich Cheannfhaola and will sit the Leaving Cert in June 2015.

What United could never give Coll was Gaelic football and Maxi Curran and Rory Gallagher have offered an opportunity with Donegal U-21s. Coll was never a goalkeeper with Cloughaneely but that’s where he finds himself now.

“Growing up, I played as much Gaelic as I did soccer, “ he adds.

“Usually they ran one after the other so never really clashed that much.”

Coll’s story would’ve written the most romantic of fairytales - a youngster from the Gaeltacht who joined Manchester United to follow in the footsteps of Shay Given and Packie Bonner.

But it’s too early to put the pen down just yet. Last week, Corcoran, and then the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland general secretary Stephen McGuinness came calling.

They wanted Coll to be an addition to the Irish squad for the Fifpro competition in Norway - organised to help give unemployed footballers an opportunity to find a club - after goalkeeper Gabriel Sava withdrew with an elbow injury.

Coll travelled through the night and boarded the flight to Oslo. Ireland lost 2-1 to Finland and then 3-2 on penalties against Sweden after a 0-0 draw but Coll made a string of saves.

“The players voted for Joe Coll as the Irish player of the tournament and it’s well deserved, he did fantastically well,” McGuinness said.

“It beggars belief how a guy like that could end up back playing local football in Donegal. I’ve no doubt that he’ll get something in the league for the coming season.”

Coll has seen lots of changes in life of late but retains the same philosophical and laid-back demeanour.

“The lads voted it and it was something that was nice to get to finish off the tournament,” he says.

“I’ll take it as it comes, I’d like to get my Leaving done but if something comes up that I could work around then that would be great.

“‘I’ve never had regrets. I’m happy in what I am doing. I know I had to adjust to the situation but there’s no point in looking back wondering what could have happened.

“It depends on how you want to take it really. You might feel as though you shouldn’t be home but all you have to do is just get with it.

“If I can get something out of last week in Norway then that’s great.

“If you enjoy what you’re doing and you’re happy that’s the main thing. And I am.

“The way I see it, what’s for you won’t pass you.”