Daniel McDonnell: 'Timing everything as Stevens steps up'
After a period in his professional life when he's got everything right, Enda Stevens received a personal call earlier this month which threatened to ruin the good vibes.
With his partner Sinead due to deliver their first child on June 8, and all the experts saying the maiden arrival generally comes late, Stevens thought he was safe to travel with his Sheffield United team-mates to their end-of-season promotion party in Las Vegas. Indeed, the plan was that the 28-year-old would return from that long weekend, take a breather for a few days, and then travel to Portugal for a week with Mick McCarthy's squad.
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The ideal scenario involved the baby entering the world after the June 7 game with Denmark in Copenhagen and the June 10 showdown with Gibraltar in Dublin. Real life had other ideas.
Stevens had just landed back from Vegas and was en route to the ferry to Holyhead when Sinead called from Dublin, where she had travelled to stay with family, to say that things were moving quicker than anticipated. The only reason Stevens had gone home via England was to bring their dog Shilo home. "I was sitting there thinking that the dog is going to make me miss the birth of my baby," grins Stevens, who was telling the story in the Portugese sunshine on Thursday morning.
The fact that he was there suggests there was a happy ending. A slow labour lasting eight hours gave him ample time to get home and be present at the Coombe for the arrival of a daughter, Bella-Claire. The family were able to spend a couple of days together before this Portugal camp, and he will be available to Mick McCarthy for the rest of this June gathering.
That's important for McCarthy with Stevens his preferred first choice left back. He will always remember 2019 as a landmark year after taking a prominent role in Sheffield United's unlikely ascension to the Premier League. Stevens has top flight experience from his younger days following his 2011 move from Shamrock Rovers to Aston Villa, but he wasn't prepared for the step-up, both "physically and mentally". He dropped down the leagues and a heart-to-heart chat with current boss Chris Wilder when they were both at League Two level with Northampton was a turning point. Fitness was a problem.
"We'd done a running session before that and I was nowhere near where I needed to be," he explained, "I was told I had to work harder. I went to Portsmouth then and Paul Cook ran the bollox out of me."
Wilder's stock rose during that period and he identified a fitter Stevens as the right option for a left wing back role with the Blades.
Technically, Stevens was always comfortable and he's confident in his ability to cope with the rise in status with club and country. Stephen Ward's injury issues and retirement from international football created an Irish void at left back and the adjustment for Stevens has been seamless. As he now knows well, timing is everything.
Meanwhile, McCarthy has drafted in Bristol City's Max O'Leary and Bohemians' James Talbot to boost his goalkeeping options for the next two Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Sunday Indo Sport