Patrick McEleney patiently waiting to make his mark again
‘I’ve no regrets, I was young when at Sunderland and it just wasn’t for me at the time’
It did not take long for Patrick McEleney’s return to form to prompt some speculation over how his recent efforts might first be recognised.
After a quiet start to the season, he has enjoyed a spectacular June and there is talk again of a move to England or even an international call up.
In the meantime, there is the rather more modest prize of a Player of the Month award and with Dundalk about to kick off another European campaign, that seems enough to be getting on with for the quietly spoken 24 year-old midfielder.
“I’ll just keep playing for Dundalk and see what happens,” says the northerner, who has been through the merry-go-round of moving away before and came away a little battered by the experience.
That was at 16 when he spent just three months at the Stadium of Light as part of a group that included Jordan Pickford, John Egan, Conor Hourihane, Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback. “Sunderland were getting to FA Youth Cup semi-finals and quarter-finals and doing well,” he recalls.
“They were very good at the time.” He had signed a three and a half year contract but couldn’t quite get to grips with life away from home.
He was, he suggests, tired of it all before his career had even got started. For seven years before that spell in the north-east of England, he had been catching the eye of clubs scouts back in the north west of Ireland and Manchester City, he remembers, had made a bid to bring his whole family over when he had been aged just 10.
“I’ve no regrets,” he says. “I was young when I was at Sunderland and it just wasn’t for me at the time. I was sick of it to be honest. I was going backwards and forwards to clubs since I was nine. I just got sick of it when it came to the crunch. I just didn’t want to stay there. The success I’ve had in Ireland has been enough for me at the moment.”
Disappointing a father who had been the manager of his hugely successful schoolboy club and an absolutely key figure in his career development was what upset him the most, but his Dad told him to do what felt right and so McEleney came home to Foyleside without giving too much thought to whatever his next move might be.
Football was always going to be central to it, he admits, because: “it’s the only thing I can do, to be honest,” but he took a while to lick his wounds before Stephen Kenny, then manager of Derry City, knocked on the door and asked him to “give it a bash”.
“It was just a matter of getting my head straightened a wee bit,” he says of the experience now. “But Stephen was a massive help towards that. He put a bit of confidence back in me and I started to enjoy playing again. Playing for my home town at that time was perfect.”
He would be happy, he says, to go again now and perhaps prove himself at a higher level but insists that he is in no great hurry. “I’m 24 now and have a family. I’m mature, I was a kid back then when I came home. My target now is to try to be the best player I can and reach for the top really.”
A run of games in Europe paved the way for Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle to go to Preston but it might be be harder to look good in a losing team and so McEleney is focussed for now on the team’s effort to survive Wednesday’s first qualifying round encounter with Rosenborg. Defeat, and there will not even be a Europa League consolation prize.
“I think there will be a bit more expectancy (after last year) but I think people still need to realise who we are and who we’re playing against,” he says.
Still, the second leg defeat of BATE was a big moment for him last year and there is a sense, he says, that this group can upset the odds again. “I think the biggest belief will be in our changing room and knowing what we’re capable of on these nights and looking back on last year. It’s going to be really interesting and we’re all looking forward to it.”