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Thursday 20 September 2018

'We have more like McClean'

THREE decades on, Liam Buckley can still recall his elevation from the League of Ireland scene to the senior international stage.

Memories remain of being shouted at by Liam Brady and rooming with Frank Stapleton, at the time one of the finest strikers in the European game.

And the current St Patrick's Athletic manager believes that some of the current crop of home-based players can, with the right help and training, follow in the footsteps of exports like Keith Fahey and James McClean by going on to win senior caps.

Talent

The Ireland squad which reported for duty ahead of the friendly against the Czech Republic last month contained no less than seven players who had played in the LOI (David Forde, Stephen Ward, Keith Fahey, Seamus Coleman, James McClean, Shane Long and Kevin Doyle), the largest presence of current or ex-LOI players in decades.

And there could be more, says Buckley. "There are loads of players here and a lot of talent in this league," the Saints boss told the Herald. "If they are in the right place at the right time, as James McClean was, then you always have a chance and I think we have players in the league who, given time, could aspire to the same levels as these lads like Keith Fahey, who was a tremendous talent here at St Pats, and he got a chance as well.

"Even outside of the league here you have players who could have a chance at international level.

"Shaun Williams played in the league for Drogheda and he played under me at Sporting Fingal and he's now doing well at MK Dons in League One.

"Shaun is a top, top talent and if his club get promoted, I know he has the ability to play at a higher level."

Buckley's own international career was brief: just two caps, both in home friendlies over the summer of 1984, against Poland and Mexico, and both scoreless draws.

He made his debut as a sub for Stapleton against Zbigniew Boniek's Poland when he was still a Rovers player -- he had moved to Belgian side Waregem by the time he won his second cap -- and admits it was a step up.

"I remember getting the call for the game," he says of his debut as he became a team-mate of legends like Brady, Stapleton and David O'Leary.

"I was sitting there in the dressing room with all these guys from Arsenal and Manchester United, you also had Brady at Sampdoria and Mickey Walsh at Porto, some of the top players in the world at the time.

"I knew who they all were but they didn't know me, I was only in the squad from Rovers.

"Liam Brady walked up to me the first day I was there and said, 'How are you, Liam, I see things are going well for you at Rovers'. He went out of his way to make me feel welcome and that helped me settle in.

"Then the game was on, and a minute after I got on Liam passed the ball up to me and it just bounced off my knee. I won't repeat what he said to me then, there was no 'chin up, son' because I was part of the group now and I had to come up to their level.

"It was a step up in standard but I just dealt with it.

"And if we can do more in this league -- better coaching, better training facilities -- then the kids playing in the league now can have a chance as well," added Buckley.

"There has been a distinct lack of coaching in relation to some of these players and they need to be helped, if they want to play at a higher level there is stuff they have to do.

Kicking

"Some guys still think that it's just about getting out there, pulling on a jersey and kicking a ball but there's a lot more to it. And with our players now we are trying to train them in."

The Dubliner played for clubs in Spain, Belgium and Switzerland with success and he's already spotted one home-grown player who would feel at home on the continent. "Christopher Forrester is a fantastic link player, he would be loved in Europe, they would be all over him in one of the European leagues and he could definitely get a career out of it, provided he stays fit," said Buckley.

"Jake Carroll is another top talent who has a great chance."

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