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Dublin: 12 °C Saturday 25 May, 2019

Advice from ex-Man Utd goalkeeper helped St Pat's striker find new lease of life

Former Cork City hero Achille Campion is determined to make the most of a fresh start in Inchicore.

OPPORTUNITIES WERE LIMITED for Achille Campion during his time in Cork, but it’s unlikely that the Frenchman will ever be lacking in adoration from the locals on Leeside.

At the end of a season which he spent the vast majority of on the bench, Campion was Cork City’s hero last November when the club achieved the first double in its history.

Achille Campion celebrates with The Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup Achille Campion shows off the silverware after the 2017 FAI Cup final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Trailing Dundalk 1-0 in extra-time in the FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium, the 98th-minute introductions of Campion and Greg Bolger represented John Caulfield’s last throw of the dice as the City manager sought to supplement their Premier Division title triumph with a successful defence of the cup.

Bolger played a pivotal role in midfield, but it was Campion who was the toast of Cork for days afterwards. Three minutes after entering the field he was picked out by Karl Sheppard’s clever chip over the top, which allowed the striker to beat Gary Rogers on the half-volley. City went on to claim the honours via a penalty shootout.

His vital input in such a significant feat may have been viewed as a potential catalyst for change, but even as he savoured the celebrations, Campion knew there was a strong possibility that the FAI Cup final had been his last competitive outing for the club.

In fact, Cork City were the opponents when the 28-year-old played his next game in the Republic of Ireland. He was sent out on loan to Linfield in January. Shortly after returning to Cork following the conclusion of his stint in Belfast, Campion was released by City and joined St Patrick’s Athletic last week until the end of the season.

In his debut for his new club at Turner’s Cross on Sunday evening, Campion impressed Pat’s supporters with his contribution. His knockdown from Conan Byrne’s ball into the box set up Dean Clarke to put the Saints ahead in a game which finished 1-1 as a result of Josh O’Hanlon’s late equaliser for John Caulfield’s side.

Source: FAI TV/YouTube

“It was a very strange experience,” Campion says. “I’ve got a lot of friends in the team in Cork, so it definitely felt weird to be playing against them. The crowd too were fantastic. Going back there for the first time, I really enjoyed it. It was a good moment for me.

“The fans there were always brilliant with me, but especially since the cup final I’ve been welcomed everywhere. Cork is definitely a place that I can call home and go whenever I want.”

Prior to spending three years at university in the USA, Campion earned his footballing education with USL Dunkerque in his native France. After returning to Europe from California, there was a short stay with Swedish club Norrby. He then moved to England and played for Port Vale and Torquay United before signing for Sligo Rovers in August 2016.

Having scored as a substitute on his debut against Wexford, Campion then made his first start in a 2-1 win over Cork City at Turner’s Cross. In total he netted four times in 11 games, including a strike in a surprise victory away to Dundalk and an injury-time winner in the Connacht derby.

John Caulfield was clearly impressed by what he’d seen from Campion in the three months since he arrived in Ireland. A couple of weeks after the season ended, he penned a two-year contract at Turner’s Cross, with Caulfield insisting that the “big, strong centre-forward” could “make a big impact” down south.

Campion has no regrets about the move to Cork, particularly as he considers his FAI Cup final goal to be the highlight of his career. His year with City was the most successful in the club’s history, but the Parisian didn’t play a prominent role.

His cause certainly wasn’t helped by the incredible form of Sean Maguire — his main rival for an attacking berth — who scored 26 goals in all competitions before leaving for Preston North End. Yet even after Maguire’s departure, Campion seldom featured.

Achille Campion with Caolan Marron Campion spent four months at Linfield earlier this year. Source: Matt Mackey/INPHO

All but three of his 29 appearances last season were as a substitute. He finished the year with four competitive goals: an important equaliser away to former club Sligo Rovers in the league, an FAI Cup brace against Athlone Town, as well as that memorable leveller against Dundalk at Lansdowne Road.

Reflecting on his time as a Cork City player, Campion’s assessment is that his attributes weren’t conducive to their direct approach: “With John [Caulfield], we finished on good terms. I don’t have a point to prove or anything like that. Football is a game of opinions and you can’t have negative feelings towards anyone because of their opinion.

“Even after the cup final, I knew it was going to go this way. The way Cork play is not my style of football whatsoever. I’m more into passing and having a bit more technicality in the game. I think most people noticed that. It’s just that playing only 10 minutes here and there was frustrating.

“Maybe he [Caulfield] thought I could have played a certain way. I tried to change my game a lot there to try and fit into the picture. That’s what you try to do as a footballer. I know I did my best. I put in the hours for it to work — and it did work because we won titles. I can’t look back at it and feel sorry. It was fantastic.”

Campion scored three times in 17 appearances (11 starts) at Linfield. David Healy’s side finished fourth in the NIFL Premiership and lost in the quarter-finals of the Irish Cup, as they failed to retain the titles they won in 2017.

Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable period for Campion, who was grateful to the club’s former Manchester United goalkeeper for imparting some words of encouragement at a time when they were needed.

“That was a very good experience for me,” he says. “It went well on the pitch and I found some more love for the game which I had lost. I dropped a lot of weight too — about seven kilograms, I think. In Cork I was supposed to be a target striker so I gained weight there.

Roy Carroll Campion played alongside Roy Carroll at Linfield. Source: Stephen Hamilton/INPHO

“A really good thing for me at Linfield was speaking to Roy Carroll, who helped me to refocus towards my football career and what I want to do. He reminded me to concentrate on my game, to know where I want to go and not to worry about others. It was important advice. That’s what I’m trying to do now and I’m feeling good about it.”

Although he’s no longer playing for the holders, Campion is keen to taste FAI Cup success again this season. For St Pat’s, that process resumes tomorrow night with a second-round tie against Derry City at the Brandywell, where they’ve already lost twice this season despite producing performances which probably deserved more.

A dismal run of seven consecutive defeats between the end of May and early July wasn’t a fair reflection of the ability in the Pat’s squad, but the outlook seems more promising on the back of a comfortable win over Bray Wanderers and last weekend’s draw with the champions.

With other possibilities also in the pipeline, Campion is unsure what lies beyond the end of the season on a personal level. In the meantime, he’ll do his utmost to become as popular around Inchicore as he is down in Cork.

“There’s a tough schedule coming up but it’s something to look forward to,” he says. “If we play our cards right I think it could be a nice end to the season. I’m excited about what’s ahead.”

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Paul Dollery

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