When a promising football career is continuously blighted by injuries and given the unsecure nature of League of Ireland clubs’ financial history, it’s time to consider other workplace options. Shane Barrett was more than aware of this reality and told extraTime.ie why he has no qualms about leaving the game when he did.
Growing up in Enfield, Co. Meath, Shane played underage football for Home Farm and then spent an injury-interrupted four years at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ youth programme before being released in 2001.
“It was only years later I realised the negative impact, mentally, that the injuries had on me while I was at Wolves," said Barrett. "When I got similar injuries later on in my career, I was more prepared and better able to cope.
"At Wolves, being so young, I found it quite hard to keep myself busy and stay focused. Three or four weeks after going over there, I was out injured between 18 months and two years … That was really difficult. I appreciated how much when a similar injury at Drogheda, I was able to see things in a more positive light than at Wolves.”
Brief spells with Dublin City and Garda on his return to Ireland preceded signing for Longford Town in the summer of 2002. The young forward started brightly, scoring a dozen goals during his maiden season, but was moved to left wing for the following campaign.
“When I look back upon 2003, I didn’t quite hit the heights of the season before. Paul Keegan came in and Alan Mathews chose to put him up top. I think he saw me as a better option on the wing because of my pace and fitness levels, but I was disappointed on the back of the previous year.
"When a manager makes those choices, you just have to get on with it. I had a decent enough year, but nowhere near as good as the one before.”
In Barrett’s four seasons with the midlands club, they won an FAI Cup and League of Ireland Cup double (2004). However, he also played a major part in securing Longford’s first ever blue riband success by netting the decisive goal in a 2-0 victory against St Patrick’s Athletic the preceding year.
“I remember looking forward to the game, the occasion and the potential of winning it. It was a really memorable game for a final … My first major one in adult football. The excitement beforehand led to everything working out for me and the team on the day. It was a very positive experience.”
Shane went on to join Paul Doolin’s Drogheda United on a three-year deal in early 2006. The subsequent year, he suffered a cruciate injury in a Setanta Sports Cup fixture against Linfield, ensuring the Meath man played no part in the Boynesiders’ Premier Division success of that season.
“At that stage of my career and my life, the chances of coming back to play again at the same level was highly unlikely because the injury was so bad.
"I wasn’t so much disappointed for myself because the writing was on the wall for my playing days. For the lads, it was a great achievement and I was certainly delighted for them.”
After yet another injury-riddled campaign in 2008 and with the Drogs in financial crisis, Barrett signed for Shelbourne ahead of the 2009 season, only to reappear at the Louth club that April.
“Alan Mathews was at Drogheda then. For me, it was going back to something I knew and as a semi-professional, as I had a job at the time, so I wasn’t overly concerned about the money aspect.
"I was more worried with trying to get back fit because there were so many freak injuries after my return that I couldn’t train much. I was comfortable with Drogheda and knew I could perform there, so I wasn’t too worried about them paying me because I wasn’t on that much going back.”
Taking a break from football that summer, Shane later joined Liam Buckley’s Sporting Fingal in January 2010. Featuring in just two league appearances, he then teamed up with Tommy Dunne at Cork City, a club in its infancy as one owned by supporters.
“I’d love to know the stats on Irish clubs’ financial difficulties, in comparison to other countries. Every one, at some point in their history has suffered so and it’s a pretty sad indictment on the league and the way it’s ran.
"It hasn’t been any different in the last dozen years or so. It’s a wonderful thing to get paid to play football and because that career is so short, you want to earn as much as you can during this time.
"You have to think ‘what’s the point?’ pursuing that career if the wages aren’t guaranteed every week. It wasn’t a concern of mine going to Cork. At that stage, I was more interested in getting back to the fitness levels I was previously at.”
One final attempt at re-igniting his footballing prowess, at Monaghan United in 2011, ended after a solitary league appearance for Barrett.
“I got to the point that I questioned the career I was in. I enjoyed football, but was doing a lot of travelling and couldn’t see myself getting back to the standard I was at. I wanted to pursue a different career and to do so, I had to give up soccer. I made the right decision, but don’t think I would have retired so early if I was at the level I was at in 2007 ... I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so have no regrets.”