Paddy Madden has right profile to emerge from the shadows
IN the lower leagues of English football, the importance of a good carvery cannot be underestimated. This is a recurring feature of visiting the professional outfits that are operating in another world to the ostentatious wealth of the Premier League.
In order to function as businesses, these community clubs use their facilities to generate revenue. On-site catering is a must. That's the reason why visitors to Scunthorpe United walk in the main entrance to be greeted by fliers advertising their Sunday lunch service.
There is no segregation between the staff and the public. Last Monday, as management and players meandered around the narrow corridors after training on their way for a bite to eat, they mingled with members of the public who were also looking for food.
Just outside the 'Kevin Keegan Box', a small room named after the club's most famous product that overlooks the pitch, a woman stops to ask for directions to a wake.
This is a normal day in the life of the League One team nicknamed 'The Iron' because of the industry which is indelibly associated with the Lincolnshire town.
It is, perhaps, an unlikely backdrop for meeting a player who has a chance of being very important to Ireland in a few years.
Paddy Madden relocated to Scunthorpe from Yeovil 15 months ago after a dream year ended acrimoniously.
It seemed like 2013 would serve as his breakthrough to the big time with his inspirational role in Yeovil's charge to the Championship and a play-off goal at Wembley propelling him into the Ireland squad for a friendly in Wales.
Alas, the deterioration of his relationship with manager Gary Johnson and an injury which prevented him from answering a subsequent Irish call for Giovanni Trapattoni's final double header in charge led to the Dubliner dropping out of sight and mind.
Deprived of opportunities in the Championship, he accepted a switch to League Two that raised eyebrows and led sceptics to conclude this was a one-season wonder who would be remembered as a one-cap wonder.
Madden is halfway to proving them wrong. Scunthorpe were on their way back to League One when he joined them and a haul of 17 goals this season, despite largely being positioned on the right wing, has shown that he can score prolifically in that company.
He admits Scunthorpe made him a lucrative offer that provided valuable security.
"In football, if you pick up an injury that can be it," he stressed. "But the chairman here (Peter Swann) sold it to me, he told me about their plans to get to the Championship and move to a new stadium and I jumped at it."
The extent to which things can change quickly on these rungs of the ladder is evidenced by back-to-back relegations dropping Yeovil to League Two. Madden is sad about their plight but feels his transfer judgment has been vindicated, albeit with the caveat that 'Scunny' still have a bit of work to do to stay up.
Once they do that, they intend to push on under Mark Robins and there are firm plans to move to a swankier stadium in 18 months. When Glanford Park opened in 1988, it was the first purpose-built football venue in the UK to be constructed since the Second World War. The 'tin can ground', as some natives call it, has now served its purpose.
Madden is ready to progress to the next stage of his development too. He is proud of his contribution this season, an energy-sapping involvement in 51 games. Former Ireland international David Kelly is assistant to Robins and is impressed by the 'incredible attitude' of a hard worker.
Kelly bumped into Ireland scout Don Givens in Birmingham recently and put in a good word for Madden. Yet he believes there are areas where he can improve, saying: "He just has to become more consistent with his finishing, and not snatch at things."
Madden takes all advice on board and has regrets from his solitary Irish senior appearance in Cardiff because he should have scored. What gave him heart was his ability to creep into those positions.
"People have questioned me about scoring goals in League One and not in the Championship but I only played a few games there and I can only score against what's in front of me," he argues. "Between my two full seasons in League One, I have nearly 40 goals."
His relevance to the Irish debate is born from his age profile. Robbie Keane is a veteran and Jon Walters, Kevin Doyle and Daryl Murphy are the other side of 30. Shane Long turned 28 in January; the youngest attacker in Martin O'Neill's squad for the Poland game last month was Anthony Stokes, who turns 27 this summer.
Below that age bracket, there is a shortage of players knocking on the door. Madden knows he can propel himself back into the picture in the coming years if he can continue on an upward graph. He's part of a small contingent outside O'Neill's plans that are in scoring form.
"There's Eoin Doyle who got his move to Cardiff and Adam Rooney up in Scotland (Aberdeen) and there's not that many Irish strikers banging them in other than the three of us," he says.
"I have confidence in myself that I can score at any level; it's just about getting that opportunity."
O'Neill admitted last week that the search for a striker is high on his priority list.
The eligibility of another League One operator, Preston's Joe Garner, is being explored, so that illustrates why it would be dangerous to discount Madden based on his present status, although he recognises that he needs to be in the Championship to really contend.
Realistically, the ex-Bohs youth, who will be forever grateful to Pat Fenlon and Liam O'Brien for their guidance, could end up of greater interest to O'Neill's successor.
The absence of young poachers making any kind of impression drives that theory. Madden, a firm believer in the League of Ireland route, has confidence that his first cap was only a starter.
In time, his goalscoring instinct should give him a fighting chance of returning for his main course.