Corry's pragmatic approach to pursuing his goal is a lesson worth heeding
SOCCER ANGLES:The Dubliner’s progress at Sheffield Wednesday is reward for his patience, writes MICHAEL WALKER
Paul Corry took a whack on the head on Monday. He was playing for Sheffield Wednesday reserves at Derby County when his team-mate caught him. “I didn’t know where I was for a couple of seconds,” Corry said.
It was just about the first moment of disorientation Corry has had in his four months in England and thankfully it passed quickly. Corry is 21 going-on 22 (in February) and in professional terms is not young. In fact, even at 21, some would describe him as a late developer.
But that overlooks the Dubliner’s story, his patience that helps make Corry different. That readiness to be different, to wait, is an example every schoolboy footballer in Ireland should reflect upon.
Corry could have gone to Burnley, just promoted to the Premier League, aged 16. He had offers from Reading, too, and Nottingham Forest and Crewe. Instead he chose to finish his education, take his Leaving Cert and go to college. UCD was where he headed, to the first-team in the League of Ireland and to a business degree in Commerce.
Then, and only then, did he reconsider the offers from England. In August he took up Wednesday’s. It has gone well – he made his debut before he was meant to, in a televised match against Leeds at Hillsborough. But as Corry crossed the Irish Sea and settled in Yorkshire, some of those boys who he knew at 16 were going the other way.
“Richie Towell, he signed for Celtic and he’s unattached now,” Corry said, “David Cawley, who’s at Sligo Rovers, was over with Ipswich, John Sullivan went to Hamilton but came back to Shelbourne.”
There was no triumph in Corry’s tone, he was merely giving some names of those he knew who had gone to England young and who are now back in Ireland. It is a familiar path.
Corry’s pragmatism means he added that England can happen again for such players because the League of Ireland is again interesting English clubs. He also has a pragmatic explanation as to why it is so hard for an Irish 16-year-old to “make it” across the water.
“James McClean has made a difference,” Corry said, “what he has done at Sunderland helps us. Before him, Kevin Doyle went over from the League of Ireland, Enda Stevens is at Aston Villa. That they played in the league and then went over was reassuring for me. The League of Ireland is not as bad as is made out and that’s being shown. When lads sign for clubs in Britain at 16, they go into the youth team and I think it is hard to go from a youth team into the first team.
“At 21, I don’t have to go through that. I’ve gone straight into a first-team set-up, I’ve a better contract and I’ve got my education. At 16 you’re so young, you might not think so, but you are. In order to play your best I think you have to be settled and that’s difficult when you’re 16. At 21, I was ready, before then I wasn’t mature enough. Even now, it’s the first time I’ve lived away from home and while I wouldn’t say I’ve been homesick there’ve been difficult enough bits.”
The ability to handle disappointment is a key factor in a young player’s career. There is so much supposed glamour and expectation, there is pressure to succeed. Some of that is internal, but some comes from family and friends. Corry is grateful to his parents, Brendan and Marie, who did not push him early.
He still experienced quizzical looks over his chosen route. “When I went over to Burnley, they’d been promoted to the Premier League and I was training with the first team. Owen Coyle was excellent. Three weeks before the league began, they brought my parents over, I was offered a contract. I’d nothing to lose.
“But when I came back to Dublin I didn’t feel right about it, just the feel of it. Then the deadline for college options came along and I had to make a decision. I knew people were looking at me thinking: ‘What are you doing?’ but it just didn’t sit right with me and I had education, UCD, I had options. I’ve been lucky to have had options, I know a lot of lads don’t. Each time you turn it down, you think: ‘Is that the last time I’ll get a chance?’
“So it’s tough. But it’s easy for people to tell you to go – they’re not the ones doing it.”
Corry is now “doing it”. He is in the Championship at a massive club. He has played seven times; but Wednesday, who were promoted in May, are struggling. Corry and club are adjusting. “After all the speculation, when it does happen, it’s a shock,” he said. “It was bid, contract, gone. I wasn’t really preparing to leave and I knew nobody. But the club have been great. I was going from part-time to full-time, I was tired a lot, taking naps to recover. After about three reserve games I felt I was getting fitter and stronger, my touch was better.
“You’re playing at a different speed but having played in the League of Ireland, you’re playing against men every week, so that was not unnatural to me. And I did quite well in a reserve game against Rotherham. After that I started against Leeds.”
It was the match in which Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland was assaulted by a Leeds fan. But that’ll not be how Corry recalls it. “I was just thinking ‘get touches’. I played about five in a row after that and 80 minutes in the last one against Middlesbrough. But the next week I wasn’t even on the bench.”
Corry was perplexed but his patience meant there was no emotional reaction. What helped was Corry was informed the heart-rate monitors worn in training showed his body was tiring. But he is itching to be back. Today it’s Wednesday at home to Charlton. Family are over from Dublin. “I have to learn and I am learning,” Corry said. “I’ve to be patient.”
It has got him this far.
Others may note.
Late starters Irish players slowly make their mark
When Paul McGrath arrived in Manchester to discuss the terms on which he would join United, Ron Atkinson reportedly used the fact the player was, at 22, making a late start to life in the English league against him in contract negotiations. In recent years, though, an increasing number of Irish players have, like McGrath and Corry, been well out of their teens before making the big leap across the Irish Sea as some members of Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland squad illustrate.
Keith Fahey: the Dubliner had spells with Arsenal and Aston Villa before returning home and signing for Bluebell United. His career quickly regained its momentum with the midfielder a consistent performer for St Patrick’s Athletic and Drogheda United. Having returned to Richmond Park, he headed for Birmingham City at age 25.
Kevin Doyle:having come through the ranks at Wexford Youths, Doyle had successful stints at St Patrick’s Athletic and Cork City before Reading picked up the then 21-year-old striker and his younger friend, Shane Long.
James McClean: the winger had made his name at Derry City after arriving from Irish League side Institute. He quickly started to attract attention from English clubs and signed, aged 22, for Sunderland in August of 2011.
Stephen Ward:his versatility might have hampered his progress but after a brief trial in 2007, Wolves spotted the then 21-year-old’s potential to make the step up to top-flight English football. The Dubliner has since established himself as the club’s regular left back.
David Forde: the goalkeeper first came to prominence with hometown club Galway United but his first move to Britain, as a 21-year-old, didn’t work out and there was some rebuilding to be done back at United and Derry City before a move to Cardiff City, just short of his 27th birthday, paved the way to his current status as a Championship regular.