As we approach the end of our Player of the Year interview series in celebration of the club’s recent 5,000th league game, we bring you our chat with cult hero Brian Mooney.
Known as ‘King of the Plastic’ at Deepdale, Brian was and still remains a favourite of the PNE faithful thanks to his impressive performances for the club between 1987 and 1991.
Brian told PNE.Com: “It was a huge honour playing for Preston first of all but playing in a team that did well and sort of getting that recognition from the fans was a great honour and I’m still very proud of that.
“It was the best period of my career over in England; I look back on it very fondly. I’ve still got very good connections with the club.
“I was over at a game just before lockdown so I still have a great relationship with the club and the people down in Preston so it was my fondest time in football.”
The Republic of Ireland international was an exciting signing for PNE, originally on loan but then permanently, as he joined from the best team in Europe at the time: Liverpool.
He said: “I moved over to Liverpool from Ireland when I was 17 and I spent about four seasons there and I think I only played one game in the first team, a couple of friendlies as well but it was a tough team to break into at the time.
“They were winning everything, the old First Division, the old European Cup so it was tough to break into it. I went out on loan to Wrexham for a few months at one stage in the old Fourth Division, did quite well there then came back and tried to break into the team again.
“I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere then I went on loan to Preston, fitted in well down there, enjoyed the atmosphere around the club and then eventually the move came through so it was a good move for me in the end.
“I suppose when you’re playing with players of the calibre of Dalglish, Souness, Ronnie Whelan, Ian Rush, you’re going to pick things up. They were unbelievable players at the time.
“Like I said they were winning everything so it was a good atmosphere to be around and I learned a lot in my time there but I sort of got to a stage when I was 21 that it was time to move on and I’m glad I made the move to Preston then.”
PNE finished 16th in Brian’s first season at the club and were beaten in the Sherpa Van Trophy northern final by Burnley, a defeat which Brian described as “very disappointing”.
North End were much improved in the next season, though, as the club pushed on and made it into the Play-Offs.
Brian said: “I think John McGrath made a few signings which sort of added to the squad. We’d been doing quite well, we were very familiar with each other and playing the style of football John wanted.
“I think the plastic pitch suited the style of football and back in the day there were very few plastic pitches in the country so home advantage sort of worked in our favour because we trained on that pitch everyday so other clubs wouldn’t have been as familiar with it.
“We had a good squad and there was a good team spirit in the camp so I suppose that’s what pushed us on to the Play-Offs.”
It was Port Vale that McGrath’s side came up against and after drawing 1-1 at Deepdale in the first leg, the Valiants took the game away from PNE in the away fixture as they won 3-1.
“That season Port Vale would have been one of our biggest rivals. We’d had a good few battles during the season with them and we tried to prepare as best we could as we knew it was going to be a tough game because there was very little between both sides.
“In the end they won which was very disappointing because I think we felt we had a really good chance of beating them.
“You think you’ve got a great chance of being promoted and then unfortunately slip up at the last hurdle and it’s happened too many times with Preston so I’m really hoping that they’ll get in this year and eventually get up to the Premier League.”
After finishing sixth in that campaign, the Lilywhites struggled to reach the same heights the next season as they hovered around at the wrong end of the division.
It wasn’t until their eighth game that PNE got their first win of the season as a Mooney hat-trick helped the side thump Chester 5-0 just before going on to beat fierce rivals Blackpool 2-1.
Brian said: “It was a big shock because we’d done so well the previous season and it was pretty much the same squad so to get off to such a bad start was a shocker.
“I remember the game getting a hat-trick against Chester because the goalkeeper for Chester on the day Billy Stewart was at Liverpool at the time when I was there so it was nice to score a hat-trick against him.
“But derby games like that as you know there’s no love lost between Preston and Blackpool when it comes to football so it was always nice to beat them.”
Things went on to change behind the scenes in the second half of the campaign as John McGrath left the club with Les Chapman the man taking over.
“It was bittersweet because obviously he was the manager who signed me and let me play the style of football I liked,” Brian reminisced.
“The previous season he’d done so well getting us to the Play-Offs and the season before getting us to the northern final of the cup. But Les was involved with John McGrath, he was the assistant manager so we were all familiar with him, so when John left we knew we were struggling in a tough position. It was nice to have a familiar face taking over with Les.
“He brought in his own ideas. He was a real bubbly character and he’d sort of been the in-between between John McGrath and the players so he was really familiar with the squad.
“I think he did turn it around in the end because he sort of got the best out of some of the players who probably hadn’t been performing at their best that season.”
After the serious threat of relegation lingered for the majority of that season, PNE did manage to avoid the drop but it wasn’t until the last day that safety was secured and Brian almost sacrificed his international future for the good of the team.
He said: “It was a big relief and at the time I’d just been called into the Irish squad under Jack Charlton just before the 1990 World Cup and I could have gone over to play a friendly just before the World Cup against Russia in Dublin.
“Les asked me would I stay because obviously the game was so important to the club and I did stay and fortunately we managed just about to stay up.”
Brian then found himself out on loan with Sheffield Wednesday, but injury difficulties saw him return to PR1 for rehab and he was eventually back on the pitch playing as he scored twice on his final game for the club in a 4-1 win over Scunthorpe United before leaving for Sunderland.
“There were a few clubs sniffing around but I wasn’t sure it was going to be my last game. I was just glad to be back playing back fit.
“Moving into the old First Division which is the Premier League now was a good move for me but again unfortunately that didn’t work out for me.
“I picked up a couple of injuries up there. I ended up breaking my foot and missing nearly a whole season so I got a bit disillusioned with the whole game then.”
North End certainly still plays a big part in Brian’s life, though, and he sent his best wishes to the current side as they fight for a Play-Off place.
Brian smiled: “I’m a big fan now, I’m always looking out for the results. There’s been a bad couple of results recently with the games on TV I watched but we’re not too far off.
“They just need to get back on a winning streak. There’s six games left so if they go on a bit of a winning run hopefully they get into a Play-Off spot and do a little bit better and get through the Play-Offs this time.
“The club’s big enough for the Premier League and they’re really the only Lancashire club who haven’t been up there. I think the ground would be full if they got up there so, hopefully they’ll do it soon.”
Brian is the penultimate of our player of the year interviews, with the last to come of all those living winners who we have managed to locate or who have agreed to speak to us. To check out all the other interviewees, click here now.
The 2020 winner will be selected by you! Check out the voting details on PNE.Com later today to select your winner of the 2020 Sir Tom Finney Player of the Year award, as well as the goal of the season.