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From Belcarra to Brentford

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HOME AWAY FROM HOME Alan Walsh from Belcarra, the Director of Operations, is pictured at Brentford Community Stadium, the home of Brentford FC.

Mayo native Alan Walsh is preparing for life in the English Premier League

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Michael Gallagher

HOW do you get to the Premier League? Practice the saxophone!
The last three words may sound crazy, but they open a discussion describing the mad journey Alan Walsh has taken from Balla Secondary School to Old Trafford, Anfield and Elland Road with a stop-off at Katie Taylor’s Olympic boxing final thrown in for good measure.
The Belcarra man is Director of Operation at Brentford FC – he’s living the dream and he knows it. Last Wednesday morning he took time away from his team’s preparations for their debut in the Premier League to speak with The Mayo News and the chat was filled with laughter, stories and most of all, humility.
“I’ve been lucky. I left home at 17 and never imagined I’d end up here. I came over to London to do a Music degree in 1993 and needed to get a few quid in the pocket to be able to go out at the weekend. I had a friend in the exhibition industry, and he got me a week’s work as a ‘runner’ in The Olympia near Hammersmith and it just rolled on from there.
“I was employed in the exhibition industry from 1998 until 2011 doing multiple shows such as London Boat Show, Grand Design show, Royal Tournaments, awards events and then boxing, wrestling and judo at the ExCel Centre.
“Then, in 2011 I applied to work with the London Olympics and I was lucky enough to be in charge of the boxing and weightlifting arenas for the games themselves at the ExCel Centre,” Alan explained as thoughts drifted back to those halcyon days when Irish eyes were trained on that famous arena.
Did he get to see Katie Taylor’s gold medal fight? You bet he did!
It’s an occasion he’ll never forget.
“The noise was just amazing. Most of Ireland seemed to be in there somehow. It was a sea of green and to be there was very special. To see her win and then the presentation and the anthem, will stay with me forever,” he continued.
After the Olympics and Paralympics were over in October 2012, the saxophone aficionado took some time out and then Mrs Walsh saw an ad saying Brentford were looking for an Operations Manager. An application and interview followed at the third-tier club and in April 2013 the Mayo man was headed for Griffin Park.
He worked his way through the ranks to Director of Operations as the club was promoted from League One to the Championship and eventually to the Premier League last month. It has been a thrilling adventure; a thoroughly enjoyable journey where Irish men played a part.
“We had John Egan here. He was our captain and we sold him to Sheffield United. Alan Judge, Alan McCormack, Jonathan Douglas, Stuart Dallas, Scott Hogan and a few more lads have gone through the club,” he added before describing the way Brentford balanced ambition and the books.
“We always wanted to be competitive and get to the Premier League. We hadn’t the biggest stadium in the world at the time, so we had to sell players to bring in finances. When Newcastle United were in the Championship they had 50,000 at home matches while we had 12,000 in Griffin Park, so we had to continually find players who had the technical ability but needed to be moulded to compliment the team and fit into our style.
“We sold a few strikers – Andre Gray went to Burnley, Scott Hogan to Villa, Neil Maupay to Brighton, Benrahma to West Ham and Ollie Watkins to Villa and managed to replace them with really fine players,” Walsh continued before being asked about possible transfer targets in the coming weeks.
“Of course, we’re looking to strengthen the squad, but we play a particular style, so cannot bring in too many as it will disrupt the team and we also have to reward the players who got us promotion.
“I have nothing to do with that type of thing though. I run the stadium and the training facility with my team. We provide the surface on which the team will play and train while also running match-day operations,” Alan continued before explaining how his father, Thomas, was on hand to witness Brentford’s promotion.
“He came over for our son’s communion and went to see a London Irish rugby match and the second leg of our promotion semi-final against Bournemouth.
“He was supposed to fly home on the Wednesday but said he’d love to wait for the final and we arranged it. He was sitting very close to our manager, Thomas Frank’s, wife at Wembley and had a mighty day and night.
“He saw Katie Taylor win gold as well, so he’s a bit of a lucky charm, I think. Maybe James Horan should bring him along with the Mayo team! I’ll have to get James’ number and see if we can arrange it,” he laughed.
Alan Walsh is living the dream. His journey to the Premier League has been an epic adventure and the greatest days are yet to come.
How do you get to the Premier League – practice the saxophone!

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