Swan-derful opportunity for local man Brendan

IT won’t just be in the valleys of Wales that there’ll be singing if Swansea City secure promotion to the Barclays Premier League next week.

It’s a fair bet that there will be more than a few cheers in the Braid valley area of Ballymena if Carnlough man Brendan Rodgers can steer the Swans to English football’s top flight for the first time in 28 years.

It would complete a remarkable journey for Rodgers from the park pitches of Ballymena to Wembley stadium and possibly the multi-million pound world of the English Premier League if Swansea can overcome his former employers Reading in next Monday’s Championship play-off final.

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Rodgers still maintains strong links with the Ballymena area through his extended family and it was in the borough that he cut his footballing teeth in a career that would be cut tragically short by injury but which in turn set him on course for a coaching career which has now reached its highest point so far.

Brendan began his playing career with Star United under the tutelage of Arthur McClean, where he played from the ages of 12-16, his performances as an energetic midfielder earning him a call-up to the Ballymena League Select for the Northern Ireland Milk Cup - a competition which Rodgers would later revisit in his coaching role with Chelsea, where he was reserve team manager during Jose Mourinho’s time in charge at Stamford Bridge.

“He was very dedicated - most of the other boys in the Star team would have been from in and around Ballymena but Brendan’s father would bring him up from Carnlough each week.

“He was a good player and he could well have had a very good career in the game, had he not suffered from injury.

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“He was confident in his own ability without ever being arrogant - he was a nice lad to work with.

“He has done very well for himself - he was very highly thought of at Chelsea and he has has a good start to his management career.

“I was talking to him when he was over here with Chelsea for the Milk Cup a few years ago - he was recalling the times when the boys used to train by running laps around the Showgrounds and the old sheep pens at the bottom which are no longer there.

“I’m very pleased for Brendan and it would be great to see him managing in the Premier League,” added Arthur.

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Brendan’s progress as a player in his teenage years was all the more remarkable as all his football was played outside school, as St Patrick’s College, as it now named today, did not play football on a competitive level at that time.

“He was a great sporting all-rounder,” recalls St Patrick’s teahcer Paul McKee.

“He played gaelic football and hurling and he was an excellent point guard in basketball.

“He was back at the school a couple of years ago as guest speaker at our prize day and he spoke very fondly about his time at St Patrick’s.

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“He was a bright lad, no doubt about that, but by his own admission, he said he wasn’t particularly academically motivated but he loved the sport - that was his thing.

“Brendan is a great fellow and I have always kept an eye on his career. After I would watch the English Premier League results on a Saturday, the next one I would look for would be Swansea.

“It was the same when he was at Reading and Watford and it would be amazing if he could take a team into the Premier League,” added Paul.