Q1 - You made your debut for the club in 1997 as a second half substitute in a league fixture at Omagh Town. What do you remember of that day?
As I was only in 5th year, I remember having to borrow a shirt, tie and a suit jacket from my Uncle Kirk!
The day itself was surreal and one I’ll never forget. I had only played 30/35 minutes for the Reserves as a second half substitute in a midweek game vs Portadown and hadn’t met or trained with any of the other players on the team before, so to say it was a surprise to get a first team call-up would be an understatement.
The players and management were great and made me feel at ease and if I’m honest, once I arrived at the ground I went into football mode and any nerves or worries were gone as I was fully focused on the game and confident in my ability. As a young player you feel you’re invincible and don’t tend to appreciate what it means to make your debut for a senior team (in my case, for my hometown club), you just get on with it.
The game was a tight affair and Omagh Town were a talented team and leading 1-0. Around 15/20 minutes were left when Phillip McAuley and myself were sent on to add energy and pace (I know, I had pace once) into our midfield and instantly we began to build pressure (down the hill). Luckily I helped assist the equalising goal scored by Phillip and the rest is history. As I was coming on I remember chants of “There’s only one Glenn Taggart” which is quite funny as no one probably knew who I was but I lapped it up and it definitely gave me my first glimpse of the Amber Army and their love for the club.
Q2- As a teenager, you spent time at Arsenal and Wimbledon on trial. What was that experience like? How close did you come to signing for a club across the water?
I have been very fortunate with my footballing experiences to date and in particular with the time I spent in England as a youth. It began when I was scouted playing in a tournament in Whitley Bay, just outside Newcastle. From that I spent a lot of time at Arsenal and then Wimbledon as well as a trial at Glasgow Rangers before deciding to sign schoolboy forms with Wimbledon. I was there for around 18 months to 2 years before being offered a two year contract, but by that stage I was traveling on my own, staying at a YCMA on my own and after the other boys had left training, sitting about the training ground on my own. I just didn’t enjoy the lifestyle or being away from my family so I declined the offer.
There were 20 odd players in my Wimbledon age group and only myself and one other were offered a contract which I was very proud of, and that was enough to massage my ego of being a “professional footballer”!
Swindon Town also came in with a late offer of a 3 year contract, but again by that stage I had made my mind up that football in England wasn’t for me and I was already playing for Carrick at that stage which was another factor.
I am very headstrong/stubborn and I have never needed other people’s approval or blessing and although I probably never fulfilled my true potential or made the most of my ability, my career at Carrick Rangers makes me realise staying was the correct decision.
Q3 - You finished your career as the most decorated player in the history of the club across a 21 year period. Despite receiving several offers from other clubs, you remained loyal to Carrick. Did you ever consider venturing to pastures new?
The honest answer is NO! From an early age and certainly from I started playing mens football at 15/16 years old all I wanted to do was to play for Carrick Rangers and after taking the decision to stay in Northern Ireland, I knew I’d finish my career at Taylor’s Avenue. It’s something I always spoke about to my family and friends and to me Carrick Rangers were/are the best club in Northern Ireland and were the most important thing in my life for 15+ years.
If I had been in football to be a professional, I would have signed a contract for Wimbledon when I was 16 and if I had been in local football just to win medals or for the money then I would have moved on from Carrick Rangers on many occasions. As sad as it probably sounds, it was always about my obsession with everything Carrick Rangers that made my decision to stay easy! The ground, the fans, the players, the club, the town etc - I belonged to it and it belonged to me.
There were always rumours of the ‘bigger’ clubs contacting me or getting in contact with people close to me, but the only clubs I ever spoke to out of pure courtesy were then Premiership teams Crusaders (twice, in the late 90’s and mid 2000’s), Loughgall and Larne and Division One team Bangor. All the managers were a credit to their clubs and I would have doubled and in some cases, tripled my expenses but they could never offer me enough, because they couldn’t offer me the chance to play for my hometown club, I was already doing it. They would have had to take over Carrick Rangers for me to sign for them!
Q4 - Which Manager had the greatest influence on your career and why?
This is a very difficult question to answer as I believe I learnt something from every coach and manager I had the pleasure of working with. Any one that knows me, knows I’m meticulous and I absorb the smallest of details so I always tried to take instructions/coaching points from management on board and into my game. I was influenced by all of them and I could honestly tell you between 5-10 things every manager has taught me, from my primary school teacher to my very last manager, but that would be extremely boring!
I was very privileged to have spent around 4 weeks working daily with Pat Rice during my time with Arsenal and I believe I learnt the most from him, as he had a big influence on how I saw and played the game. At that stage of my career I was a centre back and his positional/tactical knowledge of the game was superb and one of the reasons I feel I was able to play for as long as I did and able to play in the top league of our wee country, adjusting my game, especially as I aged. Those keys concepts and idea have lasted me my whole football life.
Locally, Alan Campbell showed me a simplicity to football. Under Alan we trained how we played and every session was geared towards match situations. This next manager may be surprising, as his spell as Carrick Rangers manager was unsuccessful, but I learnt a lot tactically from Nigel Best. Similar to Pat Rice, he broke down my position (now centre midfield) for me and made me realise how much more valuable I would be to the team if I did certain things better. At that stage I was a young captain running about like a lunatic, covering every blade of grass, getting forward to try to score goals and throwing myself into every challenge possible, which may have made me look good and gained me plaudits, but the side needed guidance and a solid spine and looking back, once I made a few adjustments, it probably helped the team, even at my own expense.
Q5 - Did the fact that you were a native of Carrickfergus, add more pressure as a Carrick Rangers player?
I never allowed myself to get nervous or let pressure affect me so I would describe it more as a responsibility rather than a pressure. At 15/16 I knew I’d spend my whole career at Carrick Rangers. As a player I tried to be a leader, leading by example in training and on the pitch. Off the pitch, I tried to be an ambassador, going to functions, coaching younger players and trying to show anyone connected to the club what it means to be involved with a great club with great history like Carrick Rangers. It was something I enjoyed.
This may sound ridiculous to people and of course isn’t realistic, but my mindset was that I always went into a game believing Carrick were better than our opponents, that we were always going to win and that I was better than the player I was playing against so I always used my connection to Carrick Rangers and the town of Carrickfergus as a driving force to achieve that! My soul purpose in my football career was to make Carrick Rangers successful, by any means necessary, whatever sacrifices were needed and although it took many years for this to happen, we got there in the end!
Q6 - As you look back on your career, what was your biggest highlight and also what was your greatest disappointment?
Luckily I’ve had many highlights playing for the mighty CRFC and my biggest highlight probably changes with how my mood is at the time of the question.
Reminiscing about my debut still gives me goosebumps and is probably the biggest ‘moment’ of my footballing career because it’s where it all started for me, but scoring my first competitive goal for Carrick vs Larne and captaining Carrick Rangers follow closely.
My greatest disappointment was probably not giving more on the pitch. I always felt guilt or held myself responsible when Carrick Rangers lost or if the club was at a low point and I'm still the same. It’s just the weird relationship I had/have with Carrick Rangers!
I feel that no matter how hard you work, how many sacrifices you make, how many runs you make, how many tackles you hit you can always do more, so it’s a bit of a strange answer. Carrick Rangers have been my club and I’ve been their fan/player for 3/4’s of my life.
Q7 - If you could change the result of one game in your career. Which game would it be?
Again, this is very difficult to answer.
As a club, I feel the defeat in the quarter final of the Irish Cup at home to Cliftonville in 1999 in front of a packed Taylor’s Avenue, losing 2-1, having missed a penalty was very hard to deal with. Our squad that year was fantastic and very strong but we didn’t fulfil our potential and let ourselves down in that game. I’m not taking anything away from Cliftonville as they had a great side with superb individuals but I felt we were good enough to have beaten them, but we didn’t!
Another sucker punch for the club was the injury time defeat to Ards in the 2008 Steel and Son Cup Final. Again, I felt we didn’t play well on the big stage but we lost our two centre backs at the same moment in a head collision which wasn’t helpful. Having matched Ards for the remainder of the game, I felt the least we deserved was extra time or penalties. That ruined Christmas 2008!
As a player, I will NEVER get over the 2-0 League Cup Final defeat to Ballymena. There’s no doubt Ballymena were the better team and fully deserved their victory, but that was my first ‘senior’ final for Carrick Rangers and as I had been a influence in the quarter final win vs Dungannon and the semi-final win vs Glenavon, I felt I could have added something to our inexperienced team in the final. I believed it was my destiny to help Carrick Rangers win that final on my 20th anniversary and to not play a single minute and to have no influence on the result was soul destroying! It was in that very moment I knew my Carrick Rangers career was over and it still churns my stomach today if I think about it too much.
Q8 - What do you believe was the biggest change in the game from when your career started in 1997 to when it concluded over two decades later?
I would probably say the fitness side of the game. The modern player is very trim and probably does 3-5 sessions a week. I do believe the individual quality of players was better in the mid to late 90s, but how players look after themselves now regarding diet and targeting specific muscle groups/areas compared to then has changed dramatically. The understanding of the game from a tactical and psychological point of view has also improved and the majority of coaches do try to play the right way. There is always an exception to the rule but the top players at the top teams have always been very dedicated and deserve the success their sacrifices bring them.
Q9 - You have now entered the world of management by recently taking the role of manager of PSNI. Had you always held an ambition to enter management when your playing career ended?
I began coaching around the same time I started playing for Carrick Rangers and had always believed I would play for around 20 years, then go into coaching/managing at Carrick Rangers. However, once family came along towards the end of my career I had no ambition whatsoever to go into coaching. I felt I had given everything I possibly could to football, making countless sacrifices in my personal and professional life for football. I felt I had earned time to myself and time with my family away from that environment and I became a footballing recluse. I had a couple of opportunities to speak with other clubs from East Antrim regarding coaching roles but to be honest at that stage I would say I was struggling mentally from my retirement and I just couldn’t see myself in a different tracksuit from my Carrick Rangers. Even though I wasn’t involved in the 2017/2018 season I did feel responsible due to leaving as a player and then not staying on in a coaching capacity.
However, sometimes in life opportunities come around that you need to take, especially if the people you trust convince you to take them. I went for the Carrick Rangers job after Davy McAlinden resigned because I believed I could help lift the club and the community and drive them forwards but I was unsuccessful and rightly so as Niall was 100% the right man for the job and the club are doing fantastically well on and off the pitch. Massive credit to all!
Similar to the other opportunities I mentioned, when I first spoke with PSNI officials I dismissed it straight away because for me it was always Carrick Rangers or nothing. After a couple of days of discussions with Nikki, my family and a few close friends I decided to take the job because I believed I could help improve them and also keep them up. The back room staff of Chris Wright, Phil Lewis and Marty Angus were also a big factor as they’re a talented bunch of coaches.
Q10 - What are your thoughts on the impact of the current crisis and football. Do you feel the season can be completed in full?
It’s a heartbreaking situation. In an ideal scenario we would get a grip of the crisis over the next couple of months and this season would be completed in full and championships, European places, relegation, league positions etc would be decided on merit, but in truth NONE of that is important when lives have been lost and people continue to fight for their lives. If I was making the decision it would be to end the season right now. Whether that means declaring it null and void and starting again next season, or using current positions to finalise standings is for a panel to decide, but human life is paramount and regardless of any argument, football should be low down on the list of priorities.