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Former Spurs youngster beginning to fulfil his potential in the League of Ireland

Derry City midfielder Aaron McEneff is determined to build on the progress he made with the Candystripes last season.

IT MAY HAVE taken a little while, but Aaron McEneff has got his confidence back.

As a talented teenager at Institute, the Derry-born midfielder impressed enough to earn a two-year scholarship with Tottenham back in 2012.

Tim Sherwood, Spurs’ technical co-ordinator at the time, drew comparisons with McEneff and “a young Roy Keane” after watching him train one day and he appeared destined for greatness.

McEneff Spurs McEneff in action for Tottenham's U21s in 2014. Source: Twitter/SpursOfficial

But the cruel reality of professional football is that only a tiny percentage of the young footballers who sign for top clubs progress to the first team, while many drop out of the game altogether at a young age.

Despite coming back from a long-term knee injury to regain his place in Totenham’s U21 side, the youngster’s contract wasn’t renewed by the Premier League outfit and he was released at the end of the 2015 campaign.

A move to Derry City was on the cards and McEneff returned to his hometown club to sign an 18-month contract.

2016 was his first full season in the League of Ireland and it proved to be a successful one for the Candystripes. Under the out-spoken Kenny Shiels, Derry surprised a few by finishing third in the Premier Division behind champions Dundalk and their title rivals Cork City.

And McEneff played a pivotal role — making 29 league appearances and scoring six goals.

“I think last year I rediscovered my confidence and started playing more fluently,” McEneff told The42. “I was getting games and starting every week, which helps as you build on each performance.

“Around mid-season last year, I felt like I was beginning to play well and towards the end of it I was kicking on and getting a few goals on top of that.

Hopefully I can continue that this year. That’s something I want to do personally and then you never know what can happen.”

Being able to call upon the experience of more senior members in the team has been extremely helpful, the 21-year-old admits:

“The likes of Gerard Doherty, Rory Patterson and Ryan McBride would probably be the three most experienced in our team and they’re good with the younger players.

“Along with the manager, they look out for you on and off the pitch, which gives you the confidence to go and play.

“Also, knowing a few of the lads like Barry Molloy and Ruaidhrí Higgins, who are from up around Derry and played for the club in past years, was good for me coming back as they gave me an insight to the league.”

On his current boss Shiels, McEneff adds: “He’s a good manager. The thing is he gets to know each of his players very well individually — as people and as players — and tries get the best out you.

“There are a lot of young players in our squad but there’s some balance with a few older heads with experience. We’ve come in for pre-season and everyone is looking sharp.”

Aaron McEneff celebrates scoring McEneff scored six league goals from midfield last season. Source: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

Derry will most likely be aiming to finish as high as they can in those European spots behind the top top this season, but MeEneff — who revealed that he would like another crack at English football in the future — has his sights set on picking up some silverware.

“Every young players has to dream big and want to do best for yourself. My goal is to to play well for Derry City while hopefully winning trophies.

“You never know what can happen after that but as long as you concentrate on your own game and keep striving to be the best you can, then that move might come.”

Back in October, it was reported that the Northern Ireland U21 midfielder was switching allegiance to the Republic.

And although he admits having discussions about his future, no decision has been made and McEneff is putting his international career on hold for the time being.

“There was a load of chatting about that and meetings going on but I haven’t really commented on it and I’m just going to leave it,” he says.

“‘I’ve told both parties I don’t want to speak about it.”

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Ben Blake

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