Thursday, March 02, 2017

I’VE written before about how in the last few years the FA Cup may have lost a little bit of its sparkle and romance but this season I think a lot of people’s fate has been restored in the competition. The reason for this has been the amazing cup runs that non-league sides Sutton United and Lincoln City have had.
Lincoln had already beaten League One side Oldham Athletic and Championship sides Brighton and Hove Albion and Ipswich Town to set up a fifth round tie away to Premier League side Burnley last Saturday. They once again shocked everyone to score a last-minute winning goal to book their place in the quarter finals of this season’s competition.
Their feat was made even more impressive by the fact they did what only three other Premier League teams have been able to do this season and that is beat Burnley at home in Turf Moor. I wasn’t able to watch all the game as we were preparing for our own match on Saturday, but I did catch the first 20 minutes and they were holding their own and looked comfortable. I still expected to see that Burnley had gone through to the next round when I checked the results later, but I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, when I saw the final score.
The masterminds behind all of Lincoln success are manager Danny Cowley and his brother Nicky who is his assistant. They took over after the conference season finished last May and have done an unbelievable job there so far. Danny was manager of Braintree Town last season and he took the unfancied side all the way to the conference play-off semi-finals where they fortunately lost out to my Grimsby Town team as we won promotion back to the football league.
We played Braintree four times last season and only beat them once but it was in a game that counted and we needed an extra-time goal to settle the tie. You could tell straight away from watching the coaches on the sideline that they had serious passion for their jobs. They could squeeze every ounce of energy and ability from their players.
A few days after the play-off final last season, I travelled down to the Player of the Year awards at Stamford Bridge when I was named National League Player of the Year and Danny Cowley was named the Manager of the Year. At the awards, I got to sit down with Danny and chat football with him for a long time and he was very impressive to listen to and learn from.
There were two things that stood out for me during that conversation. The first was how he had become the Lincoln manager just a couple of days previously, but he had already planned their pre-season. He told me the players they had were good enough but they were used in the wrong way and were not fit enough. He planned on getting them back in earlier than the usual return date for pre-season training.
He was also very gracious about our win over his team the week previously. After the game, he came over to me and congratulated me and the team for reaching the final, but he also complimented me personally on the season I was having. Some of the other players mentioned the same on the journey back up to Grimsby that day too which was a lovely touch. His dream of getting his side promoted had been shattered and while he was distraught inside, he still found the time to show his sporting and personal side which shows the true value of a person.
His stock is rising massively and he is going to go on and have a brilliant management career because he is the type of manager that players dream of playing for. Anyone that I know who has worked under him has only had good things to say about him so don’t be surprised if you see Danny Cowley managing in the Championship or Premier League in the next couple of years. One thing is for sure, he will leave no stone unturned to try and realise his dream and who’d bet against him?

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