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Dublin: 10 °C Tuesday 11 December, 2018

'Sometimes you have to go down the minor road to get back on the main road'

Irish goalkeeper Aaron McCarey explains the ‘calculated decision’ behind his latest career move.

IT’S OFTEN SAID that in life there are times when it’s necessary to take one step back before you can move two steps forward.

That’s a mantra Aaron McCarey put his faith in earlier this year.

The Monaghan-born goalkeeper was still a Wolverhampton Wanderers player in 2016. As recently as last March he was summoned by Republic of Ireland senior manager Martin O’Neill for the friendly against Turkey.

inpho_01346103 Aaron McCarey training with the Republic of Ireland squad in Turkey. Source: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Aware of how his latest career move was likely to be interpreted, McCarey wasn’t bothered by the assumption that he was throwing in the towel by joining the bottom club in Northern Ireland’s Premiership, despite interest from elsewhere. The decision was taken for the benefit of his long-term career prospects, but also his happiness.

Placing status and reputation at the top of his list of priorities wouldn’t keep a smile on his face. McCarey had spent long enough in the rat race of cross-channel football to appreciate how difficult it can be to stand out from the crowd. After over eight years on the other side of the Irish Sea, a new approach was needed.

Following the conclusion of his two-year spell with Ross County in the Scottish Premiership in May, McCarey joined Warrenpoint Town, a club located just over an hour from where he grew up. The move has provided him with an opportunity to take stock and appraise a career which has so far been shaped by loans and injury setbacks.

McCarey’s final game for Ross County was against Celtic, which attracted an attendance of just shy of 60,000 to Parkhead. Four months later, he made his debut for Warrenpoint — a part-time outfit — against Linfield in front of 721 spectators. Nevertheless, his life in football has seldom been more enjoyable than it currently is on the Co. Down coast.

“Joining Warrenpoint was a calculated decision. I had offers to remain over in the UK but they weren’t whetting my appetite,” explains McCarey, who’s a former team-mate of Warrenpoint Town’s 26-year-old manager Stephen McDonnell.

One of McCarey’s colleagues in the Ireland set-up for the trip to Turkey this year was Sean Maguire. After struggling when he first moved to the UK, Maguire returned home and used the League of Ireland as a platform to reignite his career. His own path has originated north of the border, but McCarey has backed himself to reach a similar destination.

Soccer - Johnstones Paint Trophy - Wolverhampton Wanderers v Walsall - Molineux McCarey celebrates with Matt Doherty after saving a penalty for Wolves. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

“First and foremost, I needed to be playing regular football because I hadn’t been enjoying it for a while,” he says. “I knew if I went to Warrenpoint that I’d enjoy it and I’d play games. I was also going in to work with a manager who I’m familiar with.

“I’ve known Stevie for a very long time. We played underage schoolboy football together, both for the Republic of Ireland and in the Dundalk District Schoolboys League, so our relationship goes back quite far.

“He has high aspirations to go further in the game. I still have those myself, and I felt that a move to Warrenpoint would open up avenues for me. I felt I was getting a bit lost in the system over in the UK. You end up just becoming a number.”

Shortly after making his League of Ireland debut as a 17-year-old for Monaghan United, McCarey joined Wolves in 2010. In six and a half years at Molineux, he played seven first-team games. He was sent out on loan to five different clubs — including Portsmouth and Walsall — and clocked up a further 26 appearances.

His two seasons in Scotland brought him up to a total of 54 senior outings since he left Monaghan nearly a decade earlier. While he accepts that it’s often necessary for goalkeepers to be more patient than their outfield counterparts in the pursuit of guaranteed game-time, McCarey felt it was time to take matters into his own hands.

“Maybe it’s only football people, people involved in the game, who would understand my decision to come here,” he says. “When I joined this club, a lot of people probably felt my career was over, signing for little old Warrenpoint, but for me it made complete sense.”

Ross County v Rangers - Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership - Global Energy Stadium McCarey spent two seasons at Ross County. Source: Jeff Holmes

When McCarey arrived, Warrenpoint were rooted to the foot of the table after losing all five of their Danske Bank Premiership games. A red card in a 5-0 defeat to Linfield got him off to an inauspicious start, but as McCarey began to receive rave reviews for his performances, fortunes also improved dramatically for his team.

‘The Point’ have since moved up three places in the table, thanks in no small part to the contribution of their goalkeeper. Most recently, McCarey produced several vital saves — one of them from a penalty — as they earned a 1-1 draw away to league leaders Glenavon.

“The last few weeks have been great. The team have really stepped up to the plate and I’ve been happy enough with my own performances as well. I certainly wouldn’t be taking all the credit for the improvement,” he laughs, “but I suppose I have helped.

“I just can’t stress enough how happy I am to be back playing every week. People can say that it’s only the Northern Irish League, but the goals are the same size and the ball is the same weight, so nothing really changes in that regard.

“There might be raised eyebrows about where I am now because I was called up by Ireland not too long ago, but it’s because I want to experience things like that again that I decided to take this step. It’s important to understand that. 

“It was an absolute privilege and an honour to be called up to the Ireland squad, albeit because of injuries. I have ambitions to be back in the full-time game and back in the Ireland squad as well, whether it’s a few years down the line or whatever.

“I’ve taken a different route to get back to where I want to be. Life brings you to different roads, and sometimes you have to go down the minor road to get back on the main road.”

Andrew Waterworth and Aaron McCarey Warrenpoint Town's Aaron McCarey collides with Andrew Waterworth of Linfield. Source: Brian Little/INPHO

McCarey’s form for Warrenpoint Town has already grabbed the attention of a club 30 kilometres down the road, according to recent speculation. His short-term contract is due to expire in January, and manager Stephen McDonnell doesn’t expect “the best keeper in the league” to stick around.

Dundalk, the FAI Cup and League of Ireland Premier Division winners for 2018, have been linked with McCarey, but the former Monaghan minor footballer says he hasn’t made any commitments yet.

“There has been interest from north and south of the border, as well as a bit from the UK, but at the minute I’m just really enjoying my football. Who knows what January holds? I’m really thankful to Stevie and Warrenpoint for giving me that platform. 

“If I am to move on, I know Stevie will have no qualms. I came in to give him a helping hand and he was giving me a helping hand in return. There’s interest from clubs but nothing has been decided just yet.”

The main road is still some way off in the distance, but it might not be long before Aaron McCarey takes that first step in the right direction.

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Paul Dollery

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