Newport’s Pádraig Amond relishing FA Cup visit of Man City
League Two giant-killers welcome Guardiola's side to Rodney Parade on Saturday
Pádraig Amond of Newport County celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during their FA Cup match against Middlesbrough at Rodney Parade earlier this month. Photograph: Athena Pictures/Getty Images
A self-confessed “anorak” who Newport’s management and players sometimes turn to for some quick insight when opponents spring a surprise team selection, Pádraig Amond is unlikely to have his expertise called upon in the run-up to Saturday afternoon’s 5.30pm kick-off.
It’s Monday afternoon, the League Two team have just finished training, and the demolition by Saturday’s FA Cup opposition, Manchester City, of Chelsea the previous afternoon casts a dark shadow on the particular corner of the Welsh town’s Costa Coffee in which Amond now sits.
The Irishman had, he said, rather enjoyed a bit of back-and-forth with mates about the earlier televised game, Tottenham against Leicester – the two Premier League sides he has scored against in the cup for his current club. Then came the Etihad.
“I was thinking, ‘I’ll just have a little look, just enjoy the game, but see if there is anything that I can pick up’. Twenty minutes in, I just felt like turning it off.”
Amond, though, has that particular talent possessed by so many footballers and other athletes for turning a negative into a positive.
“The other side of it is that it underlined the fact that we have nothing to lose,” he says with obvious conviction. “If they can turn Chelsea over 6-0, so what if they turn us over by six or seven; they have done it to one of the best teams in the world. You end up thinking that in one way it is better if another goal goes in . . . and another and another . . . because that takes the pressure off us.”
They’ll have a game-plan and they’ll stick to it, but we’ll have one too
This should not be mistaken for defeatism. The 30-year-old from Carlow has been at Rodney Parade barely 18 months but has already played a part – a big part – in cup defeats of Leeds, Leicester and Middlesbrough as well as taking Tottenham to a replay. He quite likes the media side of things – he writes a weekly column for his hometown paper, the Carlow Nationalist, and makes himself very accessible to journalists, quite a few of whom will be swinging by ahead of the game – but would not, he insists, be sitting here now if he did not believe Newport had a chance.
He acknowledges that he it might be a slim one but talks, pragmatically, about how it might be maximised; the need to make City’s stars uncomfortable in the opening minutes just as, he says, Newport did to Spurs.
“We need to let them know they are in a game,” he says. “They’re not going to suddenly stop passing the ball if we manage it, they’ll have a game-plan and they’ll stick to it, but we’ll have one too and we’ll show them that we are not going to roll over.”
Though naturally a striker, he has over the past few months been playing a lot as a “number 10”, and he grins when asked who he might find himself up against if that is his role against the Premier League champions. “Fernandinho,” he says, before adding “De Bruyne’s been dropping in and David Silva can drop in . . .”
Without a hint of arrogance, he makes it clear that he “backs himself” to cope and points to the fact that the goals he has scored in previous games “have not exactly been against terrible teams”.
Still, he does not feel the home side should be above taking whatever help they can get. “Within about four minutes of the game [a 1-0 defeat of Mansfield Town] finishing on Saturday they were mowing the pitch,” he says when asked about Rodney Parade, a ground shared with both Newport rugby club and Pro14 outfit Dragons, at which around 60 games have already been played this season.
There is a palpable mix of bewilderment and horror as he continues. “I was like: ‘What are you doing lads? Leave it be. MK Dons pass the ball as well [they beat Newport there on Tuesday] and we’ve to play them before City, so leave it terrible.’
“We arrived down the other day for the Middlesbrough game and there were Celtic Manor ground staff there, the greenkeepers and all of that. We were looking at this thinking: ‘What is going on here?’ We need this pitch to be a leveller and if we ever needed that, it’s on Saturday against City.”
Despite Pep Guardiola’s reputation for meticulous preparation, he observes: “I don’t think they’ll be off digging up pitches at that training ground of theirs to try to get used to it.”
There is, he says, in any case, no point trying to outplay Man City. “Chelsea tried it but I don’t think it works like that.” Just trying to contain them is a tall order, though, as his friend Kevin Long, who played against them for Burnley in the last round, made clear after his side’s 5-0 defeat.
“He was saying, ‘when you are playing against them, you think things are fine; they are passing the ball around but they are going nowhere. Then bang, bang, bang and it’s 5-0. It is scary how quickly that can happen.’”
Still, he sees the whole thing as an opportunity. To prove to others what he firmly believes himself: that he can play at a higher level than League Two, to catch the eye maybe, to start a ball rolling that might end with an international appearance. He will be 31 in April but feels he has a lot left to do as a player. If and when the opportunity comes, he insists, he will be ready.
I remember seeing Rovers get relegated. My first thought was: ‘They are going to have to get rid of a lot of players . . . there’s a chance here’
Until then, he acknowledges, he is happy to be at Newport where he and his fiancee, Caoimhe, also from Carlow, live a somewhat idyllic life in the rural village of Pontyclun and pursue their separate careers.
As a footballer, he has always wanted to better himself, to achieve his potential. Certainly since he was a teenager at Shamrock Rovers, a kid striving to make a name then a living for himself in “men’s football”.
“I remember seeing Rovers get relegated [in 2005]. Obviously it wasn’t nice seeing them get relegated, but I remember my first thought was: ‘They are going to have to get rid of a lot of players . . . there’s a chance here.’ Football is ruthless. You have to be like that. I was 16 at the time but I was thinking to myself, ‘this is a fantastic opportunity’.”
He sees the other side of it now that he is coaching Newport’s Under-16 side, part of a progression, he hopes, towards management somewhere down the line.
When we meet he is working on a tablet, devising a training routine, and he speaks with passion of the enjoyment he gets both from trying to improve young players and, in the process, getting better himself by gaining insights into other positions. It is not all taking kids aside to give them tips, though, or lightbulb moments about what exactly the goalkeeper you are closing down is thinking.
Before Christmas, half of the group he is working with had to be cut because there is no room for them at the next level of the club’s academy. For most, it is probably the end of their dream of playing professional football.
“It was horrible,” he says. “Horrible. The week before Christmas. It’s a terrible time to do it but it’s the rule, we have to do it then because they are heading towards the GCSEs and it allows them to make a decision about what to do, whether they want to leave the club early, go to their local one or a Welsh league side.
“It’s not nice and this sounds terrible,” he continues, “but it is still great experience for me to be able to do that at this stage of my career because if you ultimately want to manage, then releasing players is a part of that and you’ve got to be able to do it. It’s experience that you don’t want to get but you have to do it. It’s a horrible industry sometimes. You don’t want to see people knocked back but it happens to all of us.”
There’s a bus coming over from Tully’s. They have been in the papers more over here than I have
Even well-established players like himself can be a handful of games away from it all going wrong, he says, if their luck suddenly runs out. “If you have two bad games, you might not get back into the team. If that happens when you are coming to the end of your contract, there are so many players available, so many players out of contract at the end of the season, that you can be up one moment, have a mediocre spell and the next thing you are having to go on trials to clubs and thinking ‘uh oh, I’m in trouble here’.”
This, though . . . a cup tie with City in front of a crowd of 10,000, is one of those days you dream about,” he says. And one with the potential to be, he firmly believes, a gateway to the next. At the very least, the money the club is already guaranteed from the cup run – £1 million is the figure most commonly bandied around – will be felt next year, and there will be friends and family, a lot of them, to be seen afterwards.
“There’s a bus coming over from Tully’s” (a bar in Carlow, owned by the family of a close schoolmate, that supported the club he hurled for and has attracted publicity by giving out free drinks when he scores in the FA Cup). “They have been in the papers more over here than I have,” he says with a laugh.
“I think there are 15 of them and then between family and friends, mine and Caoimhe’s, there’s about 20 so that’s 35 altogether. I think I’ve sorted enough tickets. I hope so,” he says, sounding just a little anxious for the first time all afternoon.