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Irish Seagulls Through the Ages – Paul McCarthy

Which former Albion player links one of the greatest players to have ever played for the Republic of Ireland and in the Premier League, one who very nearly could have ended up playing for the blue and white of Brighton, rather than the red of Nottingham Forest and Manchester United?

The answer is Paul McCarthy – a centre half who made over 200 appearances for the club. Born in Cork, McCarthy played alongside Roy Keane at the local Rockmount club and at under age level for the Republic of Ireland, and in an alternate world could have been team mates for more years to come.

As Keane himself says in his autobiography ”I suffered another blow when Paul McCarthy got in touch to tell me that he’d arranged a trial for me with Brighton. Everything was arranged. I would get the train to Dublin, catch a flight to London, then another train to Brighton. The night before I was due to leave, Paul called to say the trial was off. Having checked out Paul’s recommendation, Brighton backed away from the idea. They’d heard I was too small to make a pro.”

Alas it was not to be for Keane and Brighton, but this piece is not about the hot-headed midfielder, but rather the modest, unassuming defender who made a name for himself at The Goldstone Ground.

McCarthy was a talented all-round sportsman, playing hurling and Gaelic football to a high level as a youngster, but he excelled in the 11 a side version at the Rockmount football club, representing Republic of Ireland under age groups, and eventually winning 10 under 21 caps, but sadly never quite made the cut at senior international level.

He proved an astute signing for Brighton in his own right; the barrel chested defender looked like he should be more at home in the back row of his beloved Munster rather than the back line of the Albion, but his bulky presence belied a player who was an accomplished defender, comfortable with the ball at his feet and with an eye for the odd goal.

Signing for Brighton as a 17-year-old in April 1989, McCarthy established himself in the starting XI at the beginning of the 1990-91 season alongside the experience of Gary Chivers, before injury cut his season short in a Zenith Data Systems Cup defeat to Crystal Palace at The Goldstone Ground in February 1991 (the game that gave me the ‘bug’ of following the Albion!). Albion’s season went on to better things however as they reached the play off final of Division Two (what is now the Championship) before losing to Neil Warnock’s Notts County at Wembley.

The following five seasons represented some of the toughest times both on and off the pitch as an Albion fan, but McCarthy was a shining light throughout, giving his all each and every time he pulled on the shirt, going about his business in an unassuming way alongside the likes of Chivers, Nicky Bissett and Steve Foster at the heart of the defence, and captaining the club during the 1995-96 season.

As increased uncertainty loomed over the club, McCarthy left Albion in July 1996, signing for Wycombe Wanderers for £100,000, a fee that was worth its weight in gold to Albion at the time, but sadly didn’t reflect the true value of the player. But while his association with the Albion finished there, his footballing one did not and it is worth carrying on his story –  McCarthy became a firm favourite for the Chairboys, most famously remembered for being part of the team that shocked Premier League Leicester City 2-1 in the FA Cup Quarter Finals in March 2001 (Roy Essandoh anyone…?!), with McCarthy himself heading Wycombe in front.

212 appearances later, McCarthy left to have short spells at Oxford United and Hornchurch , before joining Conference National side Gravesend & Northfleet (now known as Ebbsfleet United) in November 2004. It’s not an exaggeration to say that McCarthy became a club legend in Kent, making 141 appearances – many as captain – which included lifting the FA Trophy in May 2008. McCarthy also joined the coaching staff at the now known Ebbsfleet United, before leaving in 2013, bringing to an end a 9 year association with the club.

Like many ex-Albion players, McCarthy chose to remain in the Sussex area and call it home for him and his family,  before tragically dying at the age of just 45 in February 2017.

However – statistics, dates and clubs do nothing to give an indication of the person themselves; McCarthy’s good friend Phil Taylor had this to say to Irish Seagulls:-

“He loved his rugby and was a passionate Munster fan. We watched many rugby games together but his favourite being when I took us to watch Cardiff v Munster in the European cup – Munster won, Paul was over the moon and we sank a few pints of Guinness that night.

“Paul was a very humble man and never bragged about his massive achievements during his football career. He would rather talk about other people’s interests and achievements. He was an absolute family man and loved his wife and daughters more than anything. He never forgot his roots and would always tell me about his days in Cork growing up.

“He loved Brighton and would speak about the football club and its passionate fans. He had started watching them on a regular basis and he was arranging for me to come to watch a game just before his passing. 

“To sum up Paul, when we first started talking all them years ago he never mentioned his football. I asked him what he did for a living sometime later and it was then that he informed me a was a footballer. Paul was so unbelievably modest.

“When Paul spoke everyone listened, he had a huge heart and one of the most decent blokes you will ever meet. He is missed greatly.”

Irish Player Preview – Mark O’Mahony

Signed in Jan 2023 from Cork City in the League of Ireland after a successful trial period at the Albion.

Mark has established himself as a regular member of the Irish U19 side as well as representing Ireland at U17 and U18 previously. He currently has over 20 caps and 10 Goals at International Level.

Mark is currently playing for Albion’s Academy side in the PL2 and EFL Throphy in which we recently progressed into the last 32. A very impressive season to date with 9 goals and 2 assists in all competitions.

This has caught the eye of the 1st team coaching staff and RDZ so much that Mark was in the matchday squad v Sheffield United in the Premier League.

Mark is an athletic striker with a real instinct for scoring goals, which his fellow Irishman Evan Ferguson commented on in recent interviews.  

He has settled in well at Brighton and seems to be enjoying life both off and on the field, I am sure that this is helped by being part of a 10 strong Irish contingent of players at Brighton.

Mark is most definitely a star of the very near future which could see an attacking force of Evan Ferguson, Andrew Moran and Mark in our starting 11, great news for both club and country.