Thursday 25 April 2019

Loan ranger Ronan finding his feet after Slovakia move

Ireland U-21 manager Stephen Kenny congratulates his man of the match Connor Ronan after Sunday's win over Luxembourg. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile
Ireland U-21 manager Stephen Kenny congratulates his man of the match Connor Ronan after Sunday's win over Luxembourg. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

John Fallon

Such is the congestion facing Irish youngsters to break into Premier League first-teams that creative thinking is required, not that Connor Ronan ever envisaged trekking to Slovakia to find his haven.

Wolves rate the attacker highly, evidenced by the then 18-year-old getting six games during the 2016/17 campaign, but their splurge on recruits to clinch Premier League promotion last season was always going to cause collateral damage somewhere.

Opportunities for the likes of Ronan were scarce, forcing him into loan switches. The 21-year-old's first two followed familiar patterns, stepping into the lower leagues for experience with Portsmouth and then Walsall. Only the experiences weren't to his liking.

For a player short on physical stature, the rough and tumble didn't suit. He needed a new direction and found it in the European market, a venture his new Ireland U-21 manager Stephen Kenny had long advocated for budding Irish talent during his time at Dundalk.

Settled

Ronan waited until the final day of the transfer window to pick his next destination and his research brought him to Dunajská Streda. Since joining the Slovakian top-flight club seven weeks ago, he's settled into his new surrounds both on and off the pitch.

"I'm loving it over in Slovakia at the minute," he beamed after his man-of-match display in the Ireland U-21s' 3-0 win over Luxembourg on Sunday.

"I started the last two games, played 90 minutes and I feel like I've impressed and taken my form from that into the international.

"I think it just depends on what type of player you are. Some players drop down to League One and League Two and thrive on it. It suits them but didn't suit me.

"I feel like I am thriving over there and probably playing my best football in a few years. I had a bit more time on this occasion and could see that the team would suit me. Once I knew how they played, from watching videos and chatting to Wolves staff who had been over there, my mind was made up.

"It's a small town situation about an hour into Bratislava, an hour-and-a-half into Vienna and two hours from Budapest. I brought my car over there and I'm hoping to get about and try to see a few places before I leave in the summer."

An English-born player on the rise in the Irish ranks will now always attract suspicion thanks to Declan Rice's last-minute contortions. Ronan insists he got his involvement with his homeland out of the way early and wouldn't countenance jumping ship.

"England hadn't shown any interest in me until I'd been called into my first Ireland squad at U-17 level," the Rochdale native said of his initial dilemma in 2015. "It was a funny one because when the Wolves Academy manager informed me of their interest, I wanted to try out both countries.

"I got a feel for the England set-up but I settled into the Ireland camp from the second I came in. I met up with a great set of lads and everything just went right. It was an easy decision."

Asked if England had invited him back on board since, Ronan said: "No, I'm happy with Ireland.

"On my Dad's side, my granddad is from Kilkenny and grandmother is from Galway. Every time I put that green shirt on, they're always in the back of my mind. It's because of them that I'm here."

Meanwhile, Kenny has urged defender Conor Masterson to seek a loan move from Liverpool.

"Conor is a bit of a crossroads," said the U-21 manager. "He is 20 now and needs to play games.

"Conor could look at his central defensive partner from our team, Darragh O'Shea, going to Exeter on loan. He's developed by getting 30 games and is a year younger than Conor."

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