You’ve seen them on the pitch playing for Ottawa. We’ve cheered them on together in the stands. We want you to know what they’re about. Where they’re from, where they’ve been. What shapes them as a player. As a person. Everyone has a story and we want to tell theirs. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the players and ask them about how they got here and I’m excited to share their stories with you. This series will continue through the break and into the Fall Season. –Kendra Lee
Tell me a little about the town where you grew up.
It’s a very, very small place in Tipperary in Ireland called Templetuohy. A few thousand people live there, maximum. Um, it’s quite an agricultural background, everybody knows everybody…that’s where I grew up when I was a kid till I was 16 and I left home and moved to England.
When did you start playing competitive football?
We had a local team where you just played with all your mates against other local teams as well, and we started playing when we were seven, eight years of age in competitions in the underage leagues and stuff back home. But I think it’s gotten a little more intense since then. You were allowed to play and have a smile on your face then. There’s more to play for now.
How big of an influence was football in the community?
Um, not really. I think for Irish people the first two sports in Ireland are Gaelic football and hurling, which is a very intense sport. So growing up in Tipperary hurling was massive, that’s the number one sport in the county, so everybody and for all my pals back home gaelic and hurling were number one. But for me, my version of football was number one for me. [But] we played everything. We had our underage team in the gaelic and the hurling and football as well. But then it gets to that stage…you have to make a decision which one you wanna put first. For me, I always enjoyed playing football more than the Irish sports. And obviously growing up, you watch TV and you see the English Premier League and these are all the players you aspire to be like. Other people aspire to be like Tipperary hurlers. My personal opinion was that I wanted to play football so I was willing to leave the other sports and keep going with football.
What teams did you support when you were growing up?
Manchester United. That was my number one team. Everyone in Ireland has a soft spot for Celtic as well.
What is the supporter culture like in Ireland?
That’s a tough one actually ‘cause obviously gaelic and hurling, they’re really well supported and they can have 30, 40 thousand people at games. And then the domestic league in Ireland, in football, could have 1500, 2000. Thankfully now, keeping and eye on the league back home, I think the crowds are improving every week, which is good for the domestic league to keep promoting it. And I think so many teams are getting 4, 5 thousand at their home games now, which is good to have that home support instead of having football supporters go across to England to watch Premier League games. They’re starting to come out and watch the domestic league, which is good.
That’s starting to happen in Canada too. I mean obviously hockey is huge here but things are starting to happen more with soccer, especially the Fury.
That’s the difficult thing for soccer in Canada as well because you’ve got the ice hockey that’s massive here. I’ve noticed that since I’ve come! I’ve even started watching games meself! Yeah, it’s difficult to break down that barrier to get people out to watch different sports. And obviously to go watch a different variety of sports costs money for families. So that’s tough to ask and tough to get everybody to come out and watch everything.
So, do you have a hockey team you cheer for?
Yeah, Montreal, just because I’ve been rooming with Phil Davies and he’s from Montreal so he’s a big Habs fan, is that what they’re called? So he’s converted me into being one of them as well. It was a good laugh watching the playoffs!
It’s so intense!
Very intense, yeah!
So when you were a kid playing football, did you see yourself playing professional football when you grew up?
Um, I suppose it was hard to tell. It was always something that I would have liked to do, I never really thought I’d get the opportunity, but I think when you’re playin as a kid, you just play for the fun of the game and you’re playin with your buddies, you’re just enjoyin yourself, and thankfully I got the opportunity when I was 12 to leave my club in Tipperary and go play for Belvedere in Dublin, which for a young lad of 12 years of age to go play in Dublin back home, it’s a big chance because that’s where all the scouts are for underage football.
How did that come about?
I just played a pre-season friendly against Belvedere for my team back home and the manager asked me mom and dad after the game if they’d be interested in letting me go to play in Dublin. So thankfully, me mom and dad were nice to me! They sacrificed a lot for me to make sure I was able to get to Dublin every week ‘cause it was two hours from home.
So you didn’t move to Dublin.
Didn’t move to Dublin, yeah. And Belvedere were good, they let me train with me old club as well, so I just had to go for games. It was nice of them that they were understanding that I couldn’t make it up, once, twice a week to train, and just let me come play games. Thankfully that lasted for, I played for Belvedere for 4 years. So that gave me different opportunities to go to England and stuff.
And then you went to Sunderland?
Sunderland, yeah. So, I went to Sunderland when I was 16. That was tough, ‘cause obviously you’re leaving home, leaving your family, leaving your friends, at 16 years of age, its tough for any kid.
And did you find things different in England?
Not particularly, no. One of the reasons I signed for Sunderland was it reminded me a lot of home and there was quite a lot of, there was a lot of Irish boys there as well. So when I went on trial and stuff, they made me feel really welcome and I knew I’d fit in there.
And of course there was a difference in intensity.
Oh, yes, that’s when it all changed! ‘Cause as I said, you’re going from enjoying football with your mates to a professional club where it’s all about winning and developing as well as a young player. But that was the dream I wanted from the start so I was lucky enough that it came up.
And then after Sunderland?
I had a couple of years, I sort of petered down the leagues in England. I went to Scunthorpe United in League 1. Had a year there. Left Scunthorpe, went to Boston United in League 2 in England and then Boston went into administration trouble and got relegated from two divisions because of money problems, so that freed me up. I actually had a two-year contract at the club, but that freed me up to leave, because of the trouble at the club, so everybody was free to leave. So then I ended up moving to Belgium then, which was a fairly good experience. Yeah, it was nice just to see a different culture and a different way of life, a different way of football. It was enjoyable in Antwerp. I was living in Antwerp so it was a lovely city to see as well.
Why did you decide to move back to Ireland after that?
To be honest, I didn’t really have much options. The manager in Belgium left. He went back be a reserve team coach at Man United, which was the partner club at Royal Antwerp where I was. So, he left and I was sort of stranded in no-man’s land! Yeah, I was like “bring me with ya!” But, um, yeah, I was just stranded and a few different things had sort of popped up about going on trials to clubs and stuff like that. But I didn’t want to turn into that player that was just going for a week here and a week there. I was at a stage in me career where I just wanted to settle somewhere and play. So I just wanted to get somewhere and get settled a little bit and just try and get playing every week and enjoy it again.
So how long were you back in Ireland again when you decided to come to Canada?
I was back, I went to Sligo for three and a half years. Spent three and a half years there, then went to Scotland for a year and a half. And then last summer I left Scotland, went back to Ireland for three months because I sort of knew that this [Ottawa Fury] was in the pipeline at the time so. So I went back and played for Shamrock Rovers in Ireland for three months and then I knew I was going to be coming here in the New Year so, that was it.
Was it difficult decision to make to come? I mean, knowing that football is so popular in Europe and then that’s not the way it’s developed in Canada?
Yeah, these are all things that me and me partner looked at before coming over. But I think as an opportunity, it was hard to turn down. Me and me girlfriend Nikki are quite easy going people, open to different opportunities and it’s a great chance for us to come and experience life somewhere else. The fact that being in a brand new club, it was good to have a chance to come and be a part of making history in the city. When we looked at everything and weighed everything up it was hard to turn down. I’d played in Ireland for three and a half four years over my career and I’ve seen the league inside out and I just fancied a new challenge in my career and playing for Marc [Dos Santos]. Marc was interested in me and gave me a chance to come.
What’s your impression of the game in North America?
For me, like I speak to people back home quite a lot so, and everybody says “What’s it like? What’s the standard like? What’s it like to home?” and for me it’s very similar, fairly similar to the style of play in Ireland. Some teams try to play a little bit more possession and then some teams want to have a little more direct play so you just have to work along side that. I think Marc has a style of play that suits the way I want to play as well. And that was a big reason for me coming to the club.
How do you feel about the support of the game from fans?
Yeah, as I said, it’s hard for fans here. Obviously we have home games here and we’ve got 2 and a half, 3 thousand people that we appreciate coming out to watch us. And they’re obviously football lovers. And it’s hard to break that barrier of the bigger sports. So for us to come out at Carleton and play in front of a pretty intense atmosphere with drums and everybody singing and stuff, which is great for any player to walk out in front of, that’s really good for us to feel. And hopefully, the better we do as a team, the more people will start talking about us.
And TD Place is going to be huge.
Yeah, it’s gonna be tough. We’re not expecting to go from 2 and a half thousand to 24, 000 obviously, but the more people that come out to watch us, the better for everyone. The better for the club, the better for supporters, and better for the players to play in front of bigger crowds…you hear the atmosphere, which is good because they get you pumped up for the game as well, the adrenaline kicks in!
So where do you see yourself in the future?
…God only knows, hopefully still in football. I’m 29 now so, I don’t know how many years I’ve got in me but, hopefully I can play for as long as me legs let me. Hopefully people will still want me to play for as long as possible. And then after I stop playing hopefully I can go into coaching or maybe if not coaching definitely something to do with football, whether it be agency work or something that involves me in…games of football because it’s all I’ve ever known so it would be life changing if I’m not involved in the game, so I’m not too sure I want that life change. We’re open to opportunities over here and if that means we settle in some part of North America and we stay here for a number of years then we’ll be more than happy to do so.