While there was always an element of risk involved in appointing Vinny Perth as Stephen Kenny’s successor, his best friend Barry Ferguson never doubted that his former team-mate would take to management like a duck to water.
The pair won two FAI Cups together during their playing days at Longford Town and have remained close ever since.
It was at Flancare Park where Ferguson first got a glimpse of the kind of character which has helped Vinny thrive at Oriel Park.
“My first sort of introduction to Vinny would have been when I joined Longford Town in 2002. He would have been at Longford a few years before I got there and would have been a mainstay of the team. He was captain and a big personality around the place and within the team. He would have been a big club man and everything was about the club and the team. Everything always had to be right for the club as well as the team. He was always big into that side of things.
“He always gave 100% and when the going got tough people like Vinny would stand up and be counted. People used to look to Vinny in games to sort of drag people through. You might have a really talented player who if it got a little bit wet or mucky they might go missing a little bit but Vinny as a player on the pitch could impact them by making a tackle or having a little bit of a scream at someone. He was good to have around the place in that way.”
Did Barry, now an FAI coach in Meath, expect him to go on to become a league winning manager though?
“It’s hard to say because when you look back you can see anything,” he said.
“If someone goes on to be a brilliant player then you can say yeah I seen that but he always had an interest in it. Even back then he would speak to players in the changing room and on the pitch. He knew that he could have a scream at me but he knew he’d have to put his arm around somebody else so even back then, without knowing at the time that he’d go on to be a very successful manager, he sort of thought about it.
“He was always big into the club aspect of things. He was never just a player who went to a club just to pick up money. He always had a big interest in the club. It was always about the club and what he could do for the club. He wouldn’t be afraid to open his mouth to a player if he felt a player was disrespecting the club.
“At Longford we used to have to go back to certain places after games and he’d make sure that the sponsor was respected after the game and that players turned up. You might have been beaten in the game and might not be in the humour but he’d always make sure the sponsors and the club were respected so I suppose little things like that transfer into being a manager where you’re not just focused on yourself. As a manager you’ve 101 things to concentrate on so from that perspective you could see it. He was always good at breaking down a game as well. He understood the game and what needed to be done for the next week.
“Obviously you’re not always in a position to do certain things as a player but he sort of had a general knowledge on the game and the way he thought about the game.
“He is always thinking about football but he’d read rugby books, he’d look at other sports and he’s just constantly trying to find an edge.
“Looking at it from the outside this year, I’m not sure a lot of the stuff he has been doing over the last 15 years has come into play this year because the club has gone through tough times and then had success. But how then do you motivate a team that has won the league over the past four or five years. It’s very hard to keep sustaining that momentum but him and the staff have managed to do it this year.”
Barry has been hugely impressed with the job his friend has done this season in stepping into Stephen Kenny’s sizeable shoes.
“It’s probably a harder job to manage the situation that he had this year,” said Barry, whose son Evan is on the books of Bohs currently.
“He was taking over a team where success is expected and demanded whereas sometimes it can be easier to go into a team who are bottom of the table and put a bit of structure there and then you can jump up the league. You can move from bottom to eighth and everyone says that’s brilliant but what Vinny has done this year is amazing because I can’t imagine it’s easy to manage the top players in the country. He’s had to not play players every week but still expect the best out of them a couple of weeks later. You have to take your hat off to him for that and what he has achieved.”
That said, Barry admitted he did slightly fear for Perth when a difficult start saw the champions fall 13 points off the pace of Shamrock Rovers in mid-April, albeit with two games still in hand.
“Myself and Alan Murphy would be really close to him and we’d speak to him every day. Over the years if they got a bad result we’d give him a right bit of stick. After the start he had this year we sort of gave him a little bit of stick but then it sort of got to a stage where you’re going, this is his life now.
“Last year he had a job and it was a totally different ball game. He was full-time last year but he still had the work outside of that but this year he has put his whole life into it. There was a stage, and you might never say it to him, where you’re thinking ‘Jesus you need a result this week’ and you’d feel for him.
“The one thing that the top managers have though is belief. He had a belief in himself but he also had a belief in the team. He sort of knew that the form would come. He knew they had had a bit of bad luck but he didn’t harp on about it because stuff like that you can’t change. There’s no point crying over spilled milk so he just got on with it and maintained his belief.
“From chatting to him every day during that period, he knew there were better times coming. He knew when he got the players back they’d be fine and to be fair I think they maybe had a bad month but after that they just went from strength to strength and 30 odd games later they had won the league, which was amazing.”
Now that the title is in the bag, Barry says he won’t be letting his good pal get too big for his boots.
“We have a little trip at the end of every season where we go away and watch a game and stuff like that and we keep giving him a bit of stick about not bringing his medals with him through the metal detectors at the airport,” he laughed.
“We’ll keep his feet on the ground but from our perspective looking on seeing the time and effort he has put into his career over not just the last five years but probably over 20 years, he deserves everything he gets. I know he’ll have unbelievable pride in lifting that trophy but he’ll take more pride in seeing the team and the staff lifting it than he will himself.”
While Barry played with Shamrock Rovers during his own playing career, he is now hoping his good friend can go on and complete the treble.
“I’ll be there and it would be fantastic for him to do the treble. He’d put himself in a bracket that only one other person is in and that will be there forever if it’s done.
“Stuff like that for him and his family will be amazing but even what he has achieved up to now is amazing and it has been a great year for him personally,” said Ferguson.