'I have been to Timbuktu and back, to be honest': Barnsley FC's Barry Cotter on his eventful career and story so far

THE LIST of players who have headed across the Irish Sea to seek fame and fortune at English clubs is an endless and venerable one.

From Giles to Brady, McGrath to Keane and Bonner to Given, Irishmen have served countless teams with distinction over many decades. Lasting affiliations have also been forged with British clubs among supporters in the Emerald Isle in the process.

The lesser known stories surround the players who return home with their footballing dreams seemingly cut short.

Barnsley’s Barry Cotter could well have been one of those.

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Barnsley's Barry Cotter. Picture: Ben Roberts/Getty ImagesBarnsley's Barry Cotter. Picture: Ben Roberts/Getty Images
Barnsley's Barry Cotter. Picture: Ben Roberts/Getty Images

After a spectacular introduction at Ipswich Town in the spring of 2018 following a £50,000 move from Limerick, Cotter’s career in Suffolk crashed and burned.

There were tough times - and years. After eventually leaving Portman Road, he had an unsuccessful trial at Leyton Orient and also spent time training with Swedish side GAIS.

He eventually returned home to League of Ireland Premier Division club Shamrock Rovers in August 2021. The following summer, he linked up with another Dublin side in St Patrick’s Athletic on loan.

The County Ennis-born player eventually earned a second chance in England at Barnsley, who he joined last January.

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His career has already represented a winding journey and who knows what is to come. But the fact he is proof that young players can get another go in England and overcome setbacks is heartening. It reflects well upon the standard football in Ireland as well.

Cotter told The Yorkshire Post: “I’d say that since my spell at St Pat’s under John Daly and Tim Clancy is probably when I really found more joy in football again.

"I enjoyed it at Rovers. Ipswich wasn’t exactly the most positive experience for myself, but really when I hear the word happiness, St Pats comes to mind.

"So I think I have just carried that happiness on.

"You hear young lads in big academies and they are thinking: ‘you want to go to a respected league’. When I was in my early days at Ipswich as a 19-year-old, Ireland wasn’t considered as a respected league and I’d just come from the league.

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"There’s great talents back home and I think the league is only progressing and getting better.

"The more people you see coming back over to England after ‘taking a break’ and going to split up their English journey and coming back (to Ireland); there’s definitely a gateway.

"You can’t dismiss the opportunity to play in Europe if you get in the top sides in Ireland. You can’t pay for those experiences."

Cotter’s time at Ipswich became infamous as opposed to famous.

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His career consisted of just 193 minutes of football across only four games, in a little over three years.

After arriving as an unknown Neymar lookalike, he made a wow on his Ipswich debut, ironically against his current club Barnsley.

In the immediate aftermath of that game, his manager - an Oakwell legend in Mick McCarthy - left Ipswich.

Criticism from fans after he subbed Cotter represented the straw that broke the camel’s back after several months of tension.

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It was the beginning of the end for Cotter, who did not feature for Ipswich’s next two permanent managers and found himself in the wilderness.

He added: "I signed for Ipswich and had a couple of options in that window. Mick McCarthy, being an Irish legend - and I am a proud Irishman – said: ‘Forget about the numbers and the bigger teams and whatever.’

"I was promised my debut by him and unfortunately, it came about on his last day.

"He gave us the speech after the game saying he’d left and I pinched myself after the game thinking: ‘I’ve just signed for three-and-a-half years under him.’ But that’s football."

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After being part of a side who came so agonisingly close to promotion last season, Cotter is understandably hoping that Barnsley can go one better.

Recent form suggests that they are going the best way about it. They are in receipt of a ten-match unbeaten run heading into Tuesday’s trip to Oxford United and have realistic designs upon breaking into the top two.

Cotter is part of something good. But if hard times did suddenly arrive, he is the sort to be prepared for anything. He’s a football survivor.

He said: “Like any young man in any area of work, you are growing up and my Irish mother says: ‘Find a way!’ That’s all I tried to do, grow up, man up and find a way.

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"I have been to Timbuktu and back, to be honest. But I never complained about it on the side of my agent and my mother. The goals never change for me,

"I just want to play football and if I have to go to Timbuktu again and come back just to play, I will go."