Exit Interview: Cotter was the Neymar lookalike whose bizarre Town career will always be linked to McCarthy's exit
- Credit: Steve Waller
Barry Cotter has left Ipswich Town by mutual consent. Andy Warren looks back at the Irishman's career at Portman Road.
Barry Cotter’s career in Ipswich Town blue consists of just 193 minutes of football across only four games, in a little over three years, but is one of the most bizarre in recent memory.
Anyone inside Portman Road to witness his surprise debut against Barnsley in April 2018 would have been truly shocked, had they been told that night he would never make another league start for the club. He was that good.
He arrived as an unknown Neymar lookalike from Limerick for £50,000 just three months prior but, within the space of an hour, he had ensured everyone was talking about his footballing ability rather than his looks (He never really looked like Neymar at Ipswich to be honest, a haircut saw to that).
The fact he saluted the North Stand like he’d just won the UEFA Cup at full-time certainly helped him stick in the memory, with the teenager branding it ‘the best day of my life so far’. He was said to have 'settled quicker than snow' during his opening few weeks with the club.
His performance that night was just what that stalling Mick McCarthy team needed – drive, skill, daring do and swagger.
He defended well but, most eye-catchingly, possessed the ability to drive forward and help out in attack. He played with abandon and the fans loved it.
To use a McCarthy-ism he was ‘goosed’ by the time he left on the hour-mark, prompting frustrated boos from the stands as supporters once again felt robbed of entertainment, making him the subject of post-match questions in the late-night media session.
Those questions, regarding the reaction of supporters, led to McCarthy walking out of Portman Road for the last time, slamming his tea cup to the desk after branding the boos as ‘disgraceful’ on his way out of the building.
It was the end of McCarthy but surely just the beginning for Cotter.
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It didn’t prove that way, though.
He played just a single minute of football under caretaker Bryan Klug and didn’t feature at all under Paul Hurst. It was the same under Paul Lambert who, in the thick of a relegation battle, opted to go with more experienced heads.
“To get in the side you have to get motoring and be really on the button,” the Scot said.
“Is he behind Bree? Yes. Is he behind Emmanuel? Yes, absolutely. Behind Spence? Yeah.
“It’s not a gift, you have to earn the right to get a game.”
There was a sense the young Irishman got ahead of himself and he reminded there was a long road ahead, even if the talent was obvious.
He didn’t feature at all in 2018/19 and was largely on the sidelines last season, too, aside from an impressive display against Peterborough in the EFL Trophy which culminated in him scoring the winning penalty at London Road on his 21st birthday.
He followed that up with another start against Coventry in the FA Cup, but he was hooked at half-time and was never seen again in an Ipswich shirt.
The fact he had turned 21 before the start of 2020 meant he needed to be registered as a senior player in Town’s 22-man squad if he was to be eligible to play at all in League One this season. He wasn’t, meaning he was restricted to Under 23 football and a mixed loan spell at Chelmsford.
The writing had been on the wall for some time, but the strangest of Ipswich Town careers is officially over.
What went well
That game with Barnsley is the lasting memory Cotter leaves behind, as he displayed all the physical attributes required to make it with the Blues.
Anyone who has seen him play Under 23 football will have come away seeing similar things. He’s quick, jumps well, is strong, can run with the ball at his feet and plays with bravery whenever he steps on the pitch. He can find the net from long-range, too, while also proving himself to be vocal on the pitch.
He operated largely as a right-back but also played some football as a centre-half, where he showed ability as well. He stood out in many Under 23 games as a result but playing against youngsters isn’t always a good barometer of where players are really at.
In many ways he outgrew youth football but never made the leap to the adult game.
Areas to improve
So, with all that ability in his locker, why didn’t Cotter make the transition to the Ipswich first-team?
He’s a confident character, that much is clear. But the earlier quotes from Lambert hinted at a player who didn’t always have his mind focussed on the job in hand, perhaps getting ahead of himself or maybe trying to run before he can walk. Maybe his debut went too well.
He didn’t handle things particularly well during the 2018/19 season when he most-likely felt his career was stalling. That was highlighted during a period where he struggled to produce his best for the Under 23s, most notably being sent off after picking up two yellow cards for dissent against Nottingham Forest.
It’s a side of his game he needs to work on. But he's still only 22 and, if he learns from his experiences in Suffolk over the last three-and-a-half years, he still has every chance of making a career for himself.
What the future holds
Cotter nearly departed Ipswich before, with Swindon making a transfer offer in January 2019, which the Irishman ultimately rejected, before an unsuccessful trial at Leyton Orient last summer as well as time training with Swedish side GAIS.
It really wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cotter turn up in English football again next season, given the skills he has, while the League of Ireland will of course be an option.
Either way, a fresh start could well do him the world of good.
His is a career many at Ipswich will follow closely from this point on.