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Andy Kirk On Managing Brechin City, Hearts And Representing Northern Ireland

Andy Kirk On Managing Brechin City, Hearts And Representing Northern Ireland

An interview with Andy Kirk, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You are currently the manager of Brechin City. You won the Highland League title last season but just missed out on promotion back to the SPFL. How would you reflect on your time in charge of the club so far?

“I was appointed in 2021 at Brechin and I have enjoyed the challenge of being a manager because that was my aim when I started coaching.

“The task at the club was to restructure the club after a few difficult years prior to my arrival in order to challenge to win the Highland League title and return to the SPFL.

“The job has not been without its challenges because I only had three signed players when I arrived as manager so I needed to fully build a team from scratch ahead of our first competitive game which was three weeks from that point.

“Having said that, I have loved every minute of it and we managed to finish third in my first season in charge which was a positive season given the starting point that we had.

“Then, to go and win the league title within two seasons was pleasing for everyone at the club.

“We added quality to the squad and having that first season under my belt enabled me to understand what we needed to make the next step.

“We clinched the league title in dramatic fashion on the last day of the season away at our rivals Buckie Thistle and that was an incredible day to be involved in.

“Unfortunately, after winning the title, we just missed out on promotion to the SPFL in the playoffs against Spartans in a game that was settled by penalty kicks. Such are the fine margins of football.

“Everyone at the club is even more determined to improve on last season going into this year and we are raring to go for the new season.”

If we rewind back to your playing days, you started your career in Northern Ireland with Glentoran. What are your memories of that time?

“Glentoran offered to take me into their youth set-up when I was a teenager and I progressed to the reserve team pretty quickly.

“The club was the best thing for my early development because I was playing against men in the reserves from a young age which set me up well to make my first team debut at 16 years of age.

“I scored on my debut to make it even better then from there, I went on to have two and half strong years in the first team at Glentoran scoring regularly as we went on to win the Irish League title in 1999.

“That was a special feeling and a proud moment for me because I learned so much from the senior players at the club and the demands placed on you by the fans.

“I will always remember my time at Glentoran fondly.”

You moved from Glentoran to Heart of Midlothian in 1999 and you played under Jim Jeffries and Craig Levein during your five years at the club. What were they like to play under?

“Jim Jeffries helped me to adapt to full-time football having arrived from playing part-time in Northern Ireland.

“He was a big character and a strong-minded man. He had a desire to win and he taught me a lot.

“I doubted myself initially when I went into Hearts and it took me time to adjust but he had patience with me to then integrate me into the first team over time.

“I only played a handful of games under him as he soon left for Bradford City.

“Following his departure, Craig Levein arrived as manager and he was a young, hungry manager at the time having joined us from Cowdenbeath.

“Craig demanded that you worked hard and played with passion and aggression. You had to make every game tough for the opposition. He would not accept any less.

“He helped me establish myself as a first-team player at Hearts and we had some good memories, winning big football matches and playing in Europe under him.

“Playing at Tynecastle was always special because the fans are right on top of the pitch and they always have your back. They are demanding but so they should be because Hearts are a big club who should be competing at the top end of Scottish football.

“It was a brilliant place to play and the fans took to me which is always a bonus. Some of the best days of my career were at Tynecastle for sure.

“I will always remember the game that we had against Stuttgart in Europe. The place was bouncing and we took the game to them. We won 3-2 which was a superb result but went out due to the away goals rule which was a sickener.”

You moved to England in 2004 and played for clubs such as Boston United, Northampton Town and Yeovil Town. How did your time in English football compare to life at Hearts?

“It was a different style of football down south. League Two was a competitive league with many teams being of the same level which made every game tough.

“Thankfully, I was able to score regularly at Boston then at Northampton which always eases the pressure on any striker.

“I played under Steve Evans at Boston and he was a good manager for me. He has achieved many promotions in English football which is no surprise to me having worked with him.

“At Northampton, I worked with Colin Calderwood and he had a strong relationship with the players. I enjoyed working with him.

“Yeovil Town, on the other hand, was a difficult experience which led to me wanting to return to Scotland which I was able to do with Dunfermline Athletic.”

What was your time with Dunfermline Athletic like as you entered the latter years of your career?

“I had a few offers but when I spoke to Jim McIntyre, I was enthused by what he wanted to achieve at the club.

“They had a plan to win the league and return to the Scottish Premiership which I was attracted to.

“I spent five years at the club and we won the Championship to return to the top flight which was a nice thing to do.”

Finally, Andy, you won eleven caps for Northern Ireland. Was that the pinnacle of your career? 

“Absolutely. It was always the main ambition for me as a young kid progressing through the youth setups with the national team.

“It meant so much to me and my family when I pulled that jersey on and represented my country.

“It was an honour to receive eleven caps. Of course, I would have liked even more but I am thankful to have played at that level of football because not every player can say that they have played at international level.”