Thursday 19 April 2018

Forde focused on road ahead

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

DAVID FORDE is chatting away on the phone when his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Ella takes a tumble in the background. That's what happens when a safe pair of hands goes missing.

It's no wonder Millwall don't want to let the Galway man go, with Sunderland and Wigan both monitoring the form of the 31-year-old goalkeeper who has waited a long time for his talents to be truly recognised.

This afternoon, he prepares for the visit of Premier League opposition to the Den, with Birmingham City handed the challenge of unlocking the most in-form rearguard in the Championship. The statistics speak for themselves. With Forde as the last line of defence, Millwall have been breached just twice in their last eight games.

Over the course of the campaign, the team placed ninth in the table have conceded fewer goals than every other team in the division, with the exception of leaders and clear promotion favourites QPR.

"I set a target of 20 clean sheets for myself over the season," says Forde, "and we've got 12 so far."

They are convincing figures, and it's no wonder that his pals are beginning to wonder when those feats will be recognised by his country.

Forde is aware that Irish goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly has attended a few of his games and, in a year where the Carling Nations Cup and other friendlies are on the agenda, he is optimistic that the call might come from Giovanni Trapattoni.

"I'm hoping that I might get an opportunity," he muses. "I don't think I'm too far away at the moment. It must help that we've got the second-best defensive record in the division, so that might give me a shout."

Deep down, he knew that he needed to get to play regularly at Championship level to make a strong case to Trapattoni for inclusion. He has taken a slightly circuitous route to get there.

Having started his career with Galway in the late '90s, Forde moved to Welsh club Barry Town, then an outfit with ambitious plans and closer to the shop window.

West Ham swooped but that move didn't work out, and he ended up back at Galway before a significant switch to join Stephen Kenny in Derry.

A successful period there in a talented team was wrapped up with FAI Cup glory in 2006. Kenny went to Dunfermline, Forde to Cardiff.

Alas, his second stint in Wales was laced with frustration. Rather than being the main man between the sticks, he was the stand-in, never afforded enough time, in his opinion, to make a real impact.

"I never felt like I was going to be the No 1, even when I got a chance in the team," he recalls. "With a goalkeeper you need a run of games to get into it. Sometimes even five or 10 games. Everything is magnified, and with one mistake it can all go wrong."

Loan stints with Luton and Bournemouth followed before he reached a crossroads in the summer of 2008.

There were options on the table, from Scotland and elsewhere in the lower leagues. Then came a call from Millwall manager Kenny Jackett. He was offering more than the No 1 jersey.

"The potential of the club really struck me," Forde recalls. "I really thought that it was a Championship club stuck in League One.

"I also saw the club as having an Irish background, with Mick McCarthy and Kenny Cunningham and Mark Kennedy and Richie Sadlier and a few others having been there. That kind of gave me a nudge as well."


Forde was also struck by the togetherness created by Jackett in the dressing-room, an attribute that stood to the team when they experienced play-off final heartbreak at Wembley in his first season.

Twelve months after that disappointment against Scunthorpe, they returned to the same stage and saw off Swindon 1-0. A preferred score for a victorious netminder.

After passing the century of successive appearances earlier this season, he is an established part of the furniture. UK sources say that the interest from two Premier League clubs is genuine, but Forde is level-headed and doesn't wish to be distracted by such talk. "I'm contracted to Millwall," he says.

"These things happen. They're part of the game. I guess the speculation shows that you're playing well. If you're not playing, then nobody is talking about you."

Back in Galway, they are proud of his exploits. Indeed, the family goalkeeping dynasty is growing. His brother lined out in the position and his nephew, Ronan, was between the sticks for Salthill Devon as they made their baby steps into League of Ireland football last year.

For the younger Forde, 2011 is the next step of the education. For his uncle, it could lead to the high point of an illuminating journey.

Irish Independent

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