Warrenpoint Town boss and former professional striker Matthew Tipton has signed up to provide a weekly column on his views of a debut season in Irish League management and playing career covering 10 clubs across three countries:
“Every player will one day become an ex-player - that’s the cold, hard truth...circle of a footballer’s life etc.
If lucky, you get the chance to hang up the boots on your own terms (rather than an injury-enforced decision or absence of interest).
Injuries played a part in my decision to retire from the books at Ballymena United but I was also able to take the decision aware of openings in coaching and management.
I love being manager of Warrenpoint Town and have been able to say with honesty I do not miss playing any time asked over the past months.
But, still, the old striker’s instincts never leave and the sentiment of kicking every ball from the wrong side of the white lines holds true.
Thirty-plus years on from playing my first organised game means it is hard to completely shake off that bug.
So, when I got the opportunity this week to pull on the boots again I, of course, jumped at the chance.
Now, when I say I got the opportunity - it doesn’t half help when you are the manager of the team and can arrange friendly games at any time that suits.
Of course, the thinking was about more than just giving me a chance to relive the buzz of putting the ball in the back of the net. There was a genuine reason behind the midweek friendly trip to Valley Rangers.
The main reason for the lack of game time for first-team squad players is the fact that our Development League squad also plays on a Saturday, therefore, anyone who is not starting in the first team will be without minutes until such a time we can arrange friendly games.
The game also gave me an opportunity to look at and assess how our younger players are developing as I often only see them during training sessions and that’s not always a true reflection on how players react to match situations.
When selecting the squad I took a notion that I would put myself on the bench in case of emergency (but it was always in my mind that I would get myself on just to see if I could still compete at that level).
If anyone doesn’t know where Valley Rangers play they will be in the same boat as I was at 5pm on Tuesday!
I had never been to Kilkeel since moving over here from England but I knew it was a town based by the sea so, in my wisdom, I thought the ground would be low down. How wrong I was!
The ground was perched at the top of a mountain and when we turned up at 6:30 the wind was blowing at a rough guess of 100mph straight down the pitch - add into that the torrential rain that was coming down and the idea of putting myself on to recapture the glory days was slowly becoming far less appealing.
The nearer we got to kick-off I decided to just bring my kit out in the off-chance that a) the wind died down or b) the nightmare scenario of injury.
The first half went to plan, with the players doing really well and giving me the chance to make three out of the four subs that I had planned to make at half-time.
Then came the first spanner in the works, with Anto Reilly complaining of a tightness in his calf so, with a big few weeks coming up, we took no risks and whipped him off.
This meant I was next in line to come on. The sight of me getting changed in the dug-out was far from a sight to behold for those hardy souls just looking to brave the winter elements to watch a game of football.
To the great delight of assistant manager Dave Miskelly and coach Chris Wright they then got the chance to send “the gaffer” for a warm-up which, as my players will testify, is something I often say is a waste of time!
I must admit I was getting slightly nervous as I didn’t want the young lads who were playing to see the manager making a fool out of himself and ruin my credibility.
With 30 minutes to go young Liam McKenna said he had a tightness in his hamstring (which I’m 95 per cent certain Dave told him to do).
Liam plays in the defensive midfield role and I fancied a bit of that so on I trotted. I wanted to be a coach on the field and show the players the positions to take up and how to use the ball.
That was an awful lot easier in my head than it actually proved on the field of play. For the first 10 minutes I was all over the pitch - dictating play in and out of possession, screening my two centre-backs and intercepting.
I was like Claude Makelele in my mind and...that’s where the trouble started.
I often use a saying “don’t get your ambitions and capabilities mixed up”. Instead of keeping the game simple, I decided to open my range of passing up and that’s when my body rebelled, with my thigh muscle especially groaning (a fact few fans of Bury and Linfield will be shocked by given my problems at those clubs with that particular injury).
I then spent the last 10 minutes of the game more like Claude Greengrass from Heartbeat rather than Claude Makelele.
Maybe the idea of warming up is something I won’t scoff at in the future.
Ultimately, it was useful from a manager’s stance and we managed to get plenty out of the friendly.
But, safe to say, that’s my dreams of making a comeback well and truly over...well, until the next time.”