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Forde has foot on the gas

THE inter-county hurlers and Gaelic footballers of Limerick have given local fans little to cheer about in recent years.

But a teenager from the county is making waves in another code as Anthony Forde celebrated his Premier League debut with Wolves last weekend.

A 3-0 loss away to Chelsea isn't much to celebrate, but winger Forde is celebrating on the double as he turned 18 and then made his first appearance in England's top flight, all in the space of a few days.

The man from the hurling hotspot of Ballingarry made history by becoming only the third man from his native county to play in the English Premier League -- Steve Finnan and Aston Villa's John McGrath were the others -- and he's still taking it all in.

"To play in a league game at Stamford Bridge against all those world-class players at the age of 18, it's the stuff you dream about as a kid," Forde told the Herald today.

"I know I can't rest on my laurels now. I need to keep doing the right things to try and stay in the squad and get more experiences like that one on Saturday.

"It's a big deal for me but, from what I'm told, it's even bigger news back home. It's a small place where I come from, probably the biggest star to come out of Ballingarry in the last while was Donal O'Grady, who's with the Limerick hurlers, so it's good for the place to have someone from a small village, like my home place, playing in the Premier League in England.

"It's been an amazing few weeks. It was such a great feeling to play in a league game at a place like Stamford Bridge. It all happened so quickly. I only found out just before the game that I was going to be on the bench so my family didn't have time to get over.

"Even to be on the bench was a brilliant feeling for me but when Mick (McCarthy) told me to get warmed up and get ready to go on my heart was pounding. And then to come on for the last 15 minutes was just the best feeling ever.

"We were 3-0 down when I came on so the game was over, but I still got on the ball a few times.


"I suppose it was mixed emotions for me -- the high of getting my league debut and the low of the defeat, but I was still pleased with the day. It could only have been topped if we had got a result," he added.

There were signs earlier this year that Forde was a player capable of making real progress.

He impressed for Ireland's U19s as they went all the way to the semi-finals of the European Championship finals in Romania, even though Forde was the youngest member of the squad.

A good display in a pre-season friendly against Real Zaragoza gave Wolves fans a glimpse of his talent and McCarthy saw enough in the kid -- then only 17 -- to add him to the Carling Cup squad, so Forde made his debut as a substitute against Northampton.

"I only got eight minutes that night but it was great to play, especially as my dad and granddad were over for the game," he said.

"Since then, I have been in the squad for a couple of Premier League games but didn't make the bench. I have been in and around the first team for a bit now and I just want to keep going."

Forde's progress is helped by the large Irish presence at the club, with a former boss and captain of the national team (McCarthy) as manager and five Irish players in the squad (Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt, Stephen Ward, Kevin Foley and fellow teenager Matt Doherty).

"The lads have all been brilliant," he said. "I can't expect too much as I'm only young but I know that with a manager like Mick, if I work hard enough, I will get a chance if I deserve it."