Thursday 12 December 2019

'I still love it as much as I did when I was five or six, playing in the garden with my brothers'

Padraig Amond has been surprised by the amount of players he’s met who despise the game, but the Carlow native will always see the magic in the beautiful game

Padraig Amond and Newport County take centre stage this evening when they host Tottenham in the FA Cup. Photo: Getty Images
Padraig Amond and Newport County take centre stage this evening when they host Tottenham in the FA Cup. Photo: Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Padraig Amond turns 30 this year and he accepts that he's firmly in the senior-pro category, a long way removed from the raw Carlow youth who was driven to Dublin every weekend by his parents so he could start his football journey with Shamrock Rovers.

It was a game to him then, not the profession that it is now. "The only one I've got experience in," he says, matter of factly.

As an adult, he has racked up the miles too. The senior breakthrough with the Hoops was aided by a loan spell at the now defunct Kildare County and he then departed Dublin for his coming of age at Sligo Rovers before the novelty of a stint in Portugal with Pacos de Ferreira.

For the past seven years, he has learned about the ups and downs of the English ladder with Accrington Stanley, Morecambe, Grimsby, Hartlepool and his current employer, Newport County.

That's a lot of clubs, managers, and team-mates. And it means the front man is well versed in the ways of his trade.

It allows him to appreciate the importance of marquee opportunities such as this evening's FA Cup tie with Tottenham Hotspur, a calibre of visitor which will ensure Rodney Parade is crammed to capacity. Temporary stands have been installed to fit 10,000 in.

Naturally enough, he's dreaming of a massive upset that would rank up there with anything he's achieved.

His biggest success, however, is the ongoing ability to make a living in a punishing industry. He may not have dreamed about playing for any of his future employers as a kid, yet the bottom-line ambition has been achieved.

"When you think about it, everyone in the playground wants to be a professional footballer," he says.

"But when it comes down to it, at 3.0 every Saturday, there's only a couple of thousand players in England doing it.

"Think of the millions of people in England that wanted to do it. And the hundreds of thousands around Ireland that felt the same. There's only a select minority that get to do it, and they've worked hard to get there."

Lessons have been learned in a cut-throat business where you meet all types of characters. Amond has endured low moments; his parting from troubled Hartlepool was fraught.

Football can be selfish and fickle, but he's convinced that retaining the old childhood enthusiasm and surrounding yourself with the right type of personalities is the essential part of lasting the course.

"I'm one of the senior players here now and it's good to see things from this side now," he says.

"You see young lads coming in and the way they look at football can frustrate you. Maybe they just have the wrong idea of how it all works.

"When I was younger myself, I would have looked down my nose at the lower leagues. It's only when you get down and stuck into them that you realise how big some of the clubs are, and how competitive it is.

"You see a lot of very good players that have fallen through the system, and found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Falling down the leagues and they're only trying to find their way back.

"And you do meet players along the way who despise the game. They just play because it's a well-paid job. I wasn't surprised to meet people like that; I was just surprised to meet so many.

Everyone can't have the same outlook on life. But I still love it, I love it as much as I did when I was five or six and playing in the garden with my brothers. I think you have to keep that in you."

There are role models around him. In his own division, he sees 39-year-old Clint Hill at Carlisle still putting in the effort despite having played more than 650 games.

At Morecambe, he shared a dressing-room with Kevin Ellison who continues to turn out at 38.

"Still playing week in, week out," he says. "I know from speaking to the lads there he's still never missing from training, always at the front and one of the fittest all the time."

His good friend Kevin Long gets a mention too. At Accrington, he could see his ability and the professionalism that has helped the Corkman through some difficult days and the slog of training through weeks with no game coming at the end of it. Belatedly, he is getting the rewards.

"Some of the hardest-working and best pros you meet are the second-choice goalkeepers," Amond adds.

"They know they're probably never going to play on the Saturday. And being a striker, we can punish them and take the mickey out of them but they're always there to help us, staying out at the end of training for extra shooting.

"It takes something to stay positive in that position."

These are the things that Amond has started to think about since turning his mind to coaching. He has taken the first steps, doing his 'B' Licence in a course run by the Northern Irish FA.

Thirty current or ex-pros from a variety of levels were on it with him.

Stiliyan Petrov was the highest-profile presence and, when the Irishman was put up first to lead the group through a drill, he found himself slightly embarrassed to be coaching the Bulgarian on the runs that midfielders should make.

"That was a bit surreal," he laughs, "But we all spoke about what we had to do. And even though we'd all played at different levels, we all agreed that it doesn't mean you're going to end up in the same order as a coach."

That desire for information has led Amond to explore other codes.

After spending the bulk of his time in the UK living in Manchester, and then commuting to the clubs that were outside those environs, he made the call to move to Wales when he signed for Newport.

He actually lives in the village of Pontyclun, a rural existence that does bring the mind back to home. "It's nice to see a cow sometimes," he jokes.

The proud countyman writes a column for the 'Carlow Nationalist' that keeps his people briefed on his movements, although he quips that Saoirse Ronan has now left him in the shade.

There's a big Carlow presence in his new locality too with Bernard Jackman the head coach of the Newport-Gwent Dragons.

Rodney Parade is actually owned by the Welsh Rugby Union - the football club have a lease arrangement. Amond speaks regularly to Jackman and accepted an invitation to watch training and see how the staff interacted.

Amond is centre stage this weekend, and knows the cup run has captured imaginations back home. His father, Pat, has several Leeds-supporting friends, and they were all watching the third-round shock that gave the underdogs this chance.

"The Spurs game is going to be a different level," he admits.

The messages from old pals flow in every time he scores a goal and, with nine already this term, a promotion chase means the season does not revolve around today.

Things can change quickly in football, but he has settled in the area.

His fiancee Caoimhe, another Carlow emigrant, switched jobs from Manchester to Cardiff.

He speaks warmly about the sacrifices she has made that are part of moving in tandem with a footballer's life. Changing offices presents tougher challenges than changing dressing-rooms. But the move has ultimately worked out.

"I'm 20 minutes from the training ground," says Amond. "And it's better to be at home every evening than spending four hours in a car or being away a few nights a week. Never in a million years did I think I would end up playing with Newport, but I'm loving it."

The happy relationship would be cemented if County can defy the odds once again.

"There's still a bit of magic in the cup somewhere," he says. "So why can't it be us?

"It's a free shot; we've nothing lose. If it works out, then it works out. And if it doesn't? We'll be ready to go and play Lincoln on Tuesday."

  • Newport County v Tottenham, Live, BT Sport 2, 5.30

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