Matthew Tipton’s step into management as Warrenpoint Town boss will surprise few who have shared a dressing room or pitch with the 36-year-old over the past two decades.
Captain of Macclesfield Town at 23 years old and a vocal presence around each of the double-figure tally of clubs he represented in England, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Tipton’s playing career was dominated by goals on the field and opinions off it.
At 7.45 next Wednesday evening he will kick off life as a first-team manager - 90-plus minutes of football later will help reveal to Tipton if years of evaluating players and situations with one eye on one day making that call as the boss proved the foundations of life in the hot-seat or simply fantasy thinking.
“I’m a novice as a manager but have always naturally taken on responsibility at every club and seriously began thinking about moving into management about 10 years ago,” said Tipton, who will step into the management role with Warrenpoint as current Championship leaders. “Now I have the opportunity to stand or fall on the back of my own ideas and am relishing the chance to put everything into practice.
“Nothing will match the feeling of scoring a goal on the pitch but a few weeks back we played Institute and got a 1-0 win, with the clean sheet helped by specific defensive work I had done with the players leading up to the game, so that was a brilliant feeling.
“I have been taking coaching sessions for years at different levels and even at Ballymena United before joining Warrenpoint in the summer.
“Having that control as manager is going to be a challenge of course but one I have been working towards and thinking about for the past decade or so.”
Tipton arrived in the Irish League with Portadown and went on to sign for Linfield before joining Ballymena United. His final game as a player came in a reserve fixture for Ballymena against Warrenpoint Town.
His first fixture in senior management will come against Ballymena United - and former manager David Jeffrey - next Wednesday in the League Cup quarter-finals.
“I was carrying a knee injury going into the match and scored a couple of goals but just kept thinking I was blocking the progress of a young player and it was time to hang up the boots,” said Tipton, who was confirmed as successor to Barry Gray at Warrenpoint on Saturday afternoon. “It is crazy that my first match as manager will be against Ballymena.
“I have the utmost respect for David Jeffrey and actually was on the phone a few weeks ago asking his opinion on something.
“It will be the manager with the least amount of experience in the Irish League going up against the manager with the most.
“I am sure Davy will be telling his players to make sure they give us a lesson so it turns out to be my first and last game as manager and I decide to retire after the tie!
“Ultimately, it is about the players and for us it is a chance to lay a marker as to how we stand compared to a Premiership club flying high this season.
“It is a chance to see how far away the players sit and we will go in looking forward to the challenge.”
Tipton’s backroom team at Warrenpoint features Stephen McDonnell, Chris Wright and Mark Rimmington. Barry Gray - Warrenpoint’s key driving force in the rise from Mid-Ulster football to the Irish League senior stage across the past decade - will remain a central figure.
“Stephen is a former Warrenpoint player who I was with at Dundalk and we both joined the club coaching last summer,” said Tipton. “Mark has been at the club as goalkeeper coach and I recently asked Chris to join me from Portadown.
“Barry is still the Director of Football but can now step away from the game and focus more on the commercial side and other areas of club life.
“However, it is reassuring to have Barry available for advice and help with so many parts of management that will be new to me, such as the admin.
“I have played under managers with thousands of games of football behind them, people like Neil Warnock, Joe Royle, Brian Horton, Ian Holloway, Ronnie McFall and David Jeffrey, plus no-one has a greater knowledge of Warrenpoint Town than Barry Gray.
“I feel a real sense of pride that Barry is entrusting me with the responsibility of taking his club forward and what he achieved over the past decade is just amazing.
“We clicked from day one and I have been offered jobs at other clubs over the past few years but it means a lot that Barry put his faith in me to take over after working together across the past few months.
“He removed himself as manager and appointed the next manager, which is an unusual situation in football but I consider it a real honour to have his trust.
“We both share the same beliefs when it comes to football and are on the same page about how to move the club forward.
“It will be strange for the players and everyone not to see Barry on the training pitch or giving the teamtalk, with some lads only ever having played under him as manager.
“It is a learning process but this is a great club with so many hard-working people in all areas and we have targets in place.”
Tipton is eager to embrace the transition from team environment to a position at the head of the pack.
“I have never been frightened to ask for advice and want to learn every day but also have my own ideas and views,” said Tipton. “My dad, Chris, was a manager back home in Wales so I suppose that interest started from early on and across my career I would often sit and weigh up how I would talk to a player in a certain situation.
“I have always tried to come up with solutions to problems and been a leader in the dressing room.
“I think I actually became a better player once I started coaching.
“When I put on sessions at Ballymena the feedback was positive and the lads have responded well since I came into Warrenpoint, so I am looking forward to taking that to the next stage.
“I am a players’ manager but also strict about areas such as time-keeping and how you look after yourself as that comes down to being as professional as possible.
“I am realistic about the challenges a part-time player in the Irish League will face with juggling football and work but they get well compensated and I would expect a certain professionalism.
“My training is centred around matchday as you have such a limited timeframe to work with players it must be about getting prepared for a specific game.
“I am a modern, forward-thinking coach but will not be so disrespectful to think you cannot take lessons from the past.
“Ultimately, fans pay money to watch players but I am just looking forward to making that step into management, with so much pride that it is after someone like Barry and at such a brilliant club as Warrenpoint.”