Players praise Top of the Hill legend

It’s not every day that top Irish League and League of Ireland players line up to praise the manager of a local youth team but that’s the case for former Top of the Hill Celtic boss, Eamon McLaughlin, who recently stepped away from the Waterside club after close to three decades.
THE McLAUGHLIN CLAN: Aisling, Cara, Niamh, Baby Riona, Seany, Aaron, Caolan and Eamon at Rionas christening.THE McLAUGHLIN CLAN: Aisling, Cara, Niamh, Baby Riona, Seany, Aaron, Caolan and Eamon at Rionas christening.
THE McLAUGHLIN CLAN: Aisling, Cara, Niamh, Baby Riona, Seany, Aaron, Caolan and Eamon at Rionas christening.

The Waterside club occupies a special place among the Gobnascale community and has produced an incredible succession of senior and professional players down the years, all thriving under the coaching of McLaughlin with players like Bristol City’s Rory Holden praising his uncle while Glenavon’s Josh Daniels, ex-Derry City and Coleraine midfielder, Darren McCauley, and former Finn Harps and Institute centre-back Niall Logue led the local playing plaudits. .

McLaughlin, a youth worker at Hillcrest Trust, took the difficult decision to spend more time with his five children, Niamh, Cara, Caolan, Aaron and Riona and partner, Aisling.

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“After 27 years as a manager and coach with Top of the Hill Celtic I have decided to call it a day,” explained Eamon.

“Since the Covid 19 lock down I have had time to reflect and the time is right for me to put my young family first. I have made some amazing friends and have loads of memories from my 27 years involvement. I started as a manager at the age of 19 when managing a Top of the Hill Celtic under 17 team and led them to a cup final at the Brandywell.”

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Holden was on-loan at League Two side Walsall, from Championship side Bristol City and the ex-Derry City starlet admits his uncle played a big role in his development.

“I would like to thank Eamon for everything he’s done for me, both within football and outside of it,” stated Holden. “He’s been there for me since the age of four when I started playing football with TOTHC and before that as he’s my uncle.

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“He’s been there through both good times and bad and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it wasn’t for him with all the advice and support he’s given me. I would like to wish him all the best for the future.

Former City winger, Josh Daniels, stated that without Eamon’s dedication he wouldn’t have enjoyed the career he has had up to date.

“Without Eamon I wouldn’t have played youth football,” explained the Glenavon star, “I lived in Galliagh at the time and no one drove in my family. He used to drive from the Top of the Hill to my house and take me back over to the Top of the Hill for training.

“I found it hard to stay in teams at that age but with TOTHC I loved it and that was down to Eamon. The amount of tireless work he put in with everyone, not just me, was amazing.

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“One of my proudest days was signing for Derry and I made sure he was there beside me when I signed. He develops people and footballers and was like a father figure throughout my youth career. He’s one in a million.”

Another Gobnascale man who went onto win a host of medals after his youth and junior career with Top of the Hill is Darren McCauley and the former Bannsider, who is now playing in Australia, praised Eamon and the late Keith ‘Oxy’ Roddy for his progression.

“Along with Keith 'Oxy' Roddy, Eamon was the biggest influence on my youth career with Top Of The Hill,” explained the former Institute man.

“When Oxy passed away, Eamon stepped up to the plate and helped the club become the success it is today providing a safe space for young players to play the sport they love.

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“He worked tirelessly to organise training sessions and competitions for us. Not only did he develop my football skills - his legendary outside of the boot shot is a sight to behold - but he also helped instill healthy values in me such as honesty, communication, respect and a sense of humour.

“After training and games he would drop me home and we would discuss football the entire time. Despite his poor music choices playing (Gnarls Barkley “Crazy” if my memory serves me right) I always looked forward to discussing the game.

“We went to Ayr in Scotland for a tournament where the boys soon discovered that his dance moves on a night out were also questionable. We visited Newcastle to see (Michael) McCrudden and I’ll always remember the nicknames Eamon gave me after a night on the tiles: ‘Miracle Bap’ and ‘Breezer’ - I’ll leave that up to interpretation. Fond memories on and off the pitch, enjoy retirement ‘ya big maggot’.”

Former Institute, Derry City and Finn Harps centre-back, Niall Logue, who is now captain of United Soccer League One side, FC Tucson, hopes his old boss can enjoy his retirement.

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“Big Arnie was always your first thought when someone mentioned TOTHC FC,” confirmed Logue, “For me he was the face of the club, he was someone that was always around helping in whatever way he could. Even if he wasn’t your manager he was there supporting at the games, helping with lifts, collecting jerseys, washing them etc, you name it, the big man did it.

“For me personally Arnie was always there for guidance throughout my career. He never forced his opinion on you but, as a player, you knew he was always there to give some advice if needed.

“I’ll be forever grateful for what TOTHC provided me with and taught me over the years and Arnie was a big part of that. He, and many of the other coaches, took pride in watching us succeed on the pitch but also off it. He made sure we were doing the right things behind closed doors, things which would elevate our games to the next level but also help us as people too. They gave me that foundation to succeed and I don’t think I would be where I am today without everything I learnt at that club.

“To ‘Arnie’, congratulations on an unbelievable career in the game. You will be missed but enjoy your retirement and if you could pass me along the number of who I can call next for a bag of footballs when I’m home, that would be great. All the best big man.”

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