One Dublin footballer will fulfill a childhood dream when Plymouth run out at Anfield on Sunday
It was humble beginnings for Graham Carey growing up in Blanchardstown. The pitch where the 27-year-old Plymouth attacker plied his trade as a young child playing for Mountview Boys and Girls Football Club is still as tight and muddy as it was two decades ago.
Now though, there is a community centre and the most humble of astro pitches attached, where young children come to train on an all weather pitch, as the harsh conditions of winter transcend the slight grass pitch to a hallowed and frozen piece of turf.
It was here that he set the cogs in motion in what would be a career of fascination, highs, lows and success in Scotland and England. Beginning in Dublin, Shelbourne was his first major club where combining two nights a week training in Mountview with two nights in Tolka Park meant his technique was well and truly honed by the weekend’s set of games.
It was no surprise when Celtic came calling, but four years in Glasgow saw a return to Dublin when Pat Fenlon’s Bohemians took the 19-year-old on board; the player in desperate search for first-team football, acknowledging himself that the cruciate ligament injury he suffered would not be aided by mere training sessions with the Hoops reserves.
Fenlon was keen to extend Carey’s stay in Dalymount Park. Despite missing the side’s UEFA Champions League meetings with Red Bull Salzburg in the summer of 2009 he still picked up a league winners’ medal. But a trip around the Scottish Premier League followed with stays at St. Mirren and Ross County mixed between a stint at Huddersfield, which totalled in bringing him a Scottish League Cup medal plus the Scottish Premier League goal of the season for 2012-13 with St. Mirren.
Carey tends to make a habit of such wonder-goals. This instance came from 35 yards against Hearts in a 2-0 victory. Receiving the ball just past the halfway line he manages three touches without a defender vying to jostle possession from his boots. Noticing this, Carey launches an astonishing 35 yard looping shot flying into the top corner of goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald’s net — the ball hanging in the air mid-flight for the guts of three seconds.
“I’ve always been given the licence to express myself from a young age”, says Carey. “I’ve always been that type of off-the-cuff player and I feel more relaxed when I can express myself when I do have the ball. Obviously when you don’t have it you need to work hard for the team.
“But when I do get the opportunity to shoot or to try something different in the final third, I’ll always try and do it. It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed doing and I’ve carried it with me throughout my entire career.”
Come Sunday lunchtime he will be living a childhood dream of stepping out to the roar of the Kop and onto the immaculate Anfield playing surface, having scored the winning goal in extra time for Plymouth Argyle against Newport County in the second round of the FA Cup.
“When I was younger I played as a central midfielder and Steven Gerrard was one of the players who I modeled myself on in that dynamic style of always running forward. Playing there is going to be a great achievement for me, but at the end of the day we have a job to do and that’s what we are focused on.”
He is in the midst of his most prolific season to date. Nine goals and eight assists in 24 games saw Plymouth top of League Two up until this week’s slip-up in a 1-0 loss away to Barnet. Carey puts his own individual run of form down to others — yet another assist.
“I think it’s down to the system we play and the players we have. Playing in that position behind the striker gives me license to get forward and contribute with goals. I think as a team we have gelled a lot quicker than people thought we would with the amount of players we brought in during the summer. We have done really well and I’m glad I could keep up my form from last year.”
Carey grew up a Liverpool supporter with wide-eyes to the exploits of Gerrard and Michael Owen. And while Sunday brings a dream into reality for the player, completing his passage from sloppy Mountview pitches, to Tolka Park, to the irreverent Anfield, he maintains that it is just another game and that promotion to League One maintains the number one priority for Plymouth this season.
“Going to Liverpool games [as a fan] is different, but getting the chance to play there is one of the things I’ve always wanted to do. Growing up as a player you want to play in the best stadiums, and for me that’s one of the stadiums that I have always wanted to play at.
“To get the chance to do that is amazing, and especially for my family as well who are going to be there. They are all mainly Liverpool fans as well. It will be a real high point in my career, but to be fair it’s just another game as well.
“We need to go and try to put on a performance for our fans. It will be a novelty to have, but at the end of the day the game itself is going to be a tough one and we have to be ready for it.”