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'I haven't really thought about England... Playing with Shamrock Rovers is the best thing for me'

Promising Irish teenager Sean Boyd chats to The42 ahead of the new League of Ireland season.

Sean Boyd made his senior debut for Shamrock Rovers last season.
Sean Boyd made his senior debut for Shamrock Rovers last season.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

ACCORDING TO SEAN Boyd’s Twitter stream, 2016 was the “best year of my life”.

The young striker certainly experienced an astronomical rise. Having finished top scorer with the U19s the previous season, averaging nearly a goal a game, last July, just a few weeks after he had turned 18, Boyd — along with fellow youngsters Shane Hanney, James Doona and Aaron Dobbs — signed professional terms with Shamrock Rovers.

Just days later, it got even better. Boyd came off the bench to score in the Dublin Derby, as Shamrock Rovers beat rivals Bohemians 3-1 at Tallaght Stadium.

“I haven’t felt like that ever,” he says. “It was just unbelievable — the whole buzz around it.

I’d come off the bench (in previous games). I just thought I had a chance of coming off the bench again or playing.

“I said I’ll see what happens and it turned out to be a very good night.”

Boyd — who played for Rivervalley Rangers and Malahide at schoolboy level — would be forgiven for assuming at the time that top-level football was actually much easier than it looked.

Yet the Dublin-born starlet was soon brought back down to earth after suffering a painful injury that he has only just recovered from, after undergoing treatment during the off-season, playing through the pain barrier for a period until the time was right for a shoulder operation.

I dislocated it once playing a match with the U19s and then we played Sligo away last year — I just turned and it dislocated twice, and then after that, it just kept coming out. I tore something in it.”

In addition to the Bohs game, which Boyd describes as the “highlight” of his short career thus far, he continued to show signs of promise over the course of the campaign.

In 18 league appearances, the Ireland U18 international scored five goals as well as two in the cup amid a highly impressive debut campaign, just two years after originally joining the club.

His goals for this season, however, remain modest and straightforward.

“I just want to play as much football as I can,” he says. “Nothing else — just do the best I can for the team.”

Ian Morris with Sean Boyd Bohemians' Ian Morris with Sean Boyd. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

His debut came back on 13 May against Wexford Youths, before he had even completed the Leaving Cert, highlighting the opportunities the League of Ireland tends to present to young and gifted footballers.

For a 17-year-old Irish player to be given a chance in the first team in the Premier League is inconceivable, while it is extremely rare even at Championship or League One level.

Indeed, the youngest Irish player currently playing regular first-team football in England’s top flight is Burnley’s Jeff Hendrick, who turned 25 last month, and unless you’re a phenomenal talent at the level of a Gabriel Jesus or Anthony Martial, promising teenagers playing in England are destined to a succession of games for the club’s underage team or at best, a loan move to a decent Championship side.

It’s hardly a surprise, therefore, that teenagers such as Boyd increasingly see the League of Ireland as an attractive alternative — not only is senior football a realistic aim, you can remain close to family while balancing football with education in many instances.

I haven’t really thought about England much. Playing with Shamrock Rovers is the best thing for me. I’ve signed a two-year deal. I’m probably going to be here for the next two years, so I’m just concentrating on that.

“The two lads (Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle) have done well to get their move. They were all unbelievable at Dundalk. Even (Peterborough captain) Chris Forrester as well — I’ve been watching him on telly and he comes from the League of Ireland.

It’s a pathway to get over (to England), 100%. If you perform over here, you’ll get across. But I’m just concentrating on my own game at the minute.”

Rovers earlier this week were accused of failing to stay true to their previous policy of trusting in youth, with Cork boss John Caulfield saying of Stephen Bradley’s side: “This year, it’s about signing a whole new team, paying big money to go straight out and try to win a title.”

Yet regardless of these comments, Boyd believes he is at the perfect club to develop, despite a host of new faces arriving at Tallaght Stadium, including Paul Corry, Ronan Finn, Robert Lopes and Darren Meenan.

“When you come up to the first team, the managers are really helpful. Bradley’s been really good to me — I’ve known him a few years. I think it’s definitely the best place to be at for a young player. You’ll get a chance to play if you’re good enough. And that’s what’s happened (with me).”

Damien Duff Boyd has been coached by Irish footballing legend Damien Duff at Shamrock Rovers. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

There is certainly no shortage of experienced individuals at the club, should he need advice. Two former Ireland internationals, Damien Duff and Stephen McPhail, are on board as underage coach and sporting director respectively.

“He’d try to help you out as much as possible — he’s really good,” Boyd says of Duff.

It’s crazy, because he’s a superstar. When you meet him you just see he’s like a normal person. It’s hard to get over at the start, but you get used to being around him nearly every day. He’s a lovely fellow.”

And of McPhail, he adds: “He’s the same as Duffer. I’ve done a bit of shooting and stuff like that with him. Last year, him in midfield and me being a forward, we talked just about movement and stuff.

“If there was something he thought he needed to tell you, he’d tell you and he’d help you out as much as he could. He’s really good, fantastic to have around.”

And Boyd, an aggressive forward who enjoys linking up the play while being powerful in the air, is wise enough to be keeping education as a back-up option.

Having taken this year off, he plans on starting night courses in college next September.

(Shamrock Rovers defender) Luke Byrne recommended one, he’s doing one in DBS (Dublin Business School) — a business course — so I think I’m going to look into doing that or sports management or something like that just to have a fallback.”

And finally, to make us all feel old, what’s his earliest footballing memory?

“The 2006 World Cup final when Zinedine Zidane got sent off,” he says. “I remember just running in and out from the green, playing football, running in to watch it, and then going out again. That’s the first thing I properly remember.”

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Paul Fennessy

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