A wanderlust has seen Paddy Barrett spend only limited time in his native Waterford since he left home at 16 to join Dundee United.
But the much-travelled footballer, now 27, was so shocked by what he saw in his limited time as a player in Cambodia earlier this year that he was unable to settle and took a path back to Ireland, with a move to St Patrick’s Athletic.
Just before Christmas, Barrett ended a three-year spell in the USA and signed for Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng, a club in Cambodia managed by an Irishman, Conor Nestor. But Barrett was unsettled from the start and left without playing a competitive game, answering a call from Stephen O’Donnell, his former team-mate and housemate at Dundalk, to come and play for St Patrick’s Athletic.
The language barrier was a major problem as was the red tape involved in football there: “If you want to sub on a foreign player, you have to take off a foreign player, so they look after their local players.”
But the former Dundalk man was also unsettled by the reality of daily life for locals. “I was there just over two months and numerous things over there weren’t for me. It was tough on the eye to see so much poverty and I didn’t expect that as much as I did,” Barrett says.
“Obviously it’s a third world country. It was difficult, that side of it, away from the football side. The biggest standout for me was mostly the kids. To see so many kids with no shoes on. You see it on TV but when you see it in person, it goes deep in.
“It’s very sad to see three and four-year-old kids walking around with no clothes, no shoes and their parents walking alongside them like it’s normal.
“Going towards the football side, it was difficult with the language barrier and the different all round – around the club, the players, it was difficult to communicate with people. It’s your job, an everyday thing so you want to feel comfortable. You want to feel that happiness every day and it wasn’t there for me. This career is short and there is no point dwelling on it and hoping it gets better. I decided it wasn’t for me at that time and I wanted to come back home. I’m delighted to be back.”
One of eight new arrivals at St Pat’s, Barrett hopes to settle in easily from his knowledge of the league (spells with Waterford, Galway United and Dundalk) as well as an intimate knowledge of fellow Saints: while at Dundalk he shared a house with current team-mates Robbie Benson and John Mountney and manager O’Donnell: “The three lads being here made it easier for me to make the decision to sign.”