Tuesday 21 November 2017

Late bloomer David Forde in no mood to go quietly after long road to top

David Forde: 'When I look back to getting the call-up from Trapattoni, I suppose it was a game-changer for me. For him to give me a shot in a World Cup qualifier was a really big confidence boost.' Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
David Forde: 'When I look back to getting the call-up from Trapattoni, I suppose it was a game-changer for me. For him to give me a shot in a World Cup qualifier was a really big confidence boost.' Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
David Kelly

David Kelly

This Forde's journey has certainly had its twists and turns.

Not so much the searing intensity of the Capri in which your older brother used to race – rather something akin to the drive in the country on a Sunday after-noon in your grandad's old Anglia.

From his native Galway in the League of Ireland, via an odd stint at the home of Gavin & Stacey – Barry Town in Wales. Then to West Ham – no joy there – renaissance in the LOI, then resurrection in England.

Highways and byways. And then, a sudden burst of acceleration.

A career of relatively little distinction, at least beyond the amiable netminder's intimate world, was suddenly transformed when his country came knocking three years back.

Few remember the Nations Cup – the few who attended tried to forget it as quickly as humanly possible – but Forde was forever indebted to the clunky competition; he debuted against the hapless North in a 5-0 win.

Days later, as others politely declined to go on their summer holidays, Forde was wearing the No 1 jersey in Liege when Ireland, astoundingly, defeated Italy 2-0 in a friendly.

The glory days.

BECKON

Three years on, Italy beckon once more. Forde, now 34, has attended a European Championships since and yet remains rooted somewhere towards the depths of Championship football.

The trajectory of his career has been never less than captivating.

"It's been a phenomenal journey," says the Millwall custodian, fresh from escaping a relegation battle by the skin of his teeth. "When I look back to that moment, I suppose it was a game changer in my own career. For someone like Trapattoni to come along to cap me in the first place, then play me and then give me a shirt in World Cup qualifiers, it was a big, big confidence boost.

"I'd come on against Northern Ireland, that Carling Cup game, the 5-0, but that was my first start in Liege. It was a big night, big changes in the team. One of those special Irish nights.

"It's all about timing, perseverance. I've been lucky enough in stuff, kept my head down and kept going. I've been fortunate and fantastic in the three years involved in Ireland."

The relatively low status in which he plies his trade is not an uncommon trait for the Irish international footballer; hence it does not impinge too much upon his Irish hopes.

Nonetheless, leaving Millwall would seem to make sense. A German club has been mentioned; more optimistically, his agent has fielded gentle enquiries from Premier League clubs.

The need to move on must be balanced by the continued desire to play.

"I'm out of contract so I'm playing for my future here in a way," he admits. "Plus you're thinking you've got to keep yourself fit, you leave yourself open. It's all about looking after your family, that's my main focus.

"I'm in talks with Millwall, they've made me an offer, so we're back and forth, there are a few others sniffing around, so I'll just get this week out of the way now and then the big game Saturday against Italy.

"I'm planning to stay on with Ireland in the US. I've got a contract until the end of the June. You'd like to get it sorted sooner, but I'm looking to get the best possible deal for me.

"I've put myself in a good position, playing for my country and being player of the year for my club. Year on year, I've improved.

"I certainly would love another challenge. I've set goals in my career and I've achieved a lot of them.

"But the one main one is the Premier League, it would be great to get there with Millwall. If it's not to be, I wouldn't discard it."

His next contract won't be the last he signs, but it could be the most important.

Shay Given's ghost may still lurk, but his status as a top-flight player is an illusory one; he may be paid exorbitant Premier League wages, but he has little chance of playing there any time soon.

Still, he hovers uncertainly about the scene, dropping curious hints all the time, despite his supposedly steadfast retirement.

At the other end of the age scale, this week Forde has been working alongside Ian Lawlor (19), the imposing Manchester City starlet who many feel could be Joe Hart's full-time deputy next term.

Joe Murphy will arrive tomorrow, while Keiren Westwood, injured, remains on the scene and Rob Elliot debuted last weekend.

Forde has confronted tougher challenges than this in his career, though.

"I'm not letting go of my jersey, I'll give it a good fight," he stresses.

The way he sees it, he's nearer the start of the journey than the end: "I was long enough waiting for it," he muses. "I suppose I've always been a late starter, so I'll be a late finisher."

Irish Independent

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