'I said to my dad I wanted to come home and maybe play football in Ireland'

As he gets set for one of the biggest games of his career, Lincoln’s Alan Power chats to The42 about his struggle to make it as a footballer.

Alan Power, left, celebrates scoring in the FA Cup fourth round against Brighton.
Alan Power, left, celebrates scoring in the FA Cup fourth round against Brighton.
Image: Mike Egerton

ON SATURDAY, ALAN Power will play in one of the biggest games of his career.

It is the first time in FA Cup history that two non-league clubs have reached the fifth round, with Sutton hosting Arsenal and Power’s Lincoln side travelling to Premier League outfit Burnley.

Yet the Irishman probably would not be in this situation were it not for the obstinance of his father.

As is the case with many Irish teenagers, the Dubliner struggled to adapt to life when he first moved over to England aged 17.

“A year and a half down the line, I got pretty homesick,” he tells The42.

I said to my dad I wanted to come home and maybe play in Ireland for a while. To be fair to him, he wouldn’t let me — he made me stick it out. I think he thought if I came back in the Dublin environment, it wouldn’t suit well for my career.

“I think he was right in the end. I’ve enjoyed my career so far and hopefully I’ve got a few years left in me.”

Not only is Power now enjoying life in England, he is thriving in his current environment. The midfielder has made 25 appearances this season for a Lincoln side currently top of the National League. Moreover, in their memorable fourth-round FA Cup win over Championship promotion hopefuls Brighton, he scored the all-important equaliser that provided the foundation for a famous win, as he nervelessly slotted home a penalty kick with the tie in the balance.

It was the second notable upset that the Imps pulled off. In a third-round replay after an initial 2-2 draw, they defeated another Championship side in Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich, with 57 places separating the two teams on the English football ladder at the time the match was played.

Owing to these recent results coupled with their terrific league form, Power understandably sounds confident about his side’s chances at Turf Moor.

I think you have to go into it trying to win the game. There’s no point us trying to contain Burnley or anything like that — it would be an unfair assessment of how we play. We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ll play our game the way we have been in the last couple of weeks and we’ll just take it from there really.”

Both Ipswich and Brighton picked understrength sides in their respective ties against Lincoln, and Burnley may follow suit. The Clarets will certainly be without Irish internationals Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady, with the former suspended and the latter cup tied. Although Power, a central midfielder, will likely come up against another notable name — Joey Barton.

Burnley v Sunderland - Emirates FA Cup - Third Round Replay - Turf Moor Power could come up against Burnley's Joey Barton this weekend. Source: EMPICS Sport

“They want to stay up in the Premier League so they might have an eye on that,” he adds.

I guess Joey Barton would be a nice one (to play against)… If they put out a weakened team, they’ve seen what we can do against the likes of Brighton and Ipswich.

“They’ve given us a ticket allocation of 3,000, I think they’re taking us a bit more seriously than the other clubs did.

Burnley playing near their strongest XI would be amazing. It would help us learn from a Premier League team.”

And while the Clarets may be their toughest FA Cup test yet, Power and co are no strangers to coming up against quality players. In the last round, the seasoned pro faced a midfield battle with fellow Crumlin native Richie Towell, who scored the opening goal in a rare start for Brighton, before the Lincoln man cancelled out the ex-Dundalk star’s effort.

“It was a lovely game to score in,” Power says. “Two Crumlin boys scoring in the same game was a bit strange. It’s something that will live long in the memory.

(Richie and I) were up alongside each other most of the time having chats here and there, slagging each other off mostly.

“But it was nice to see a familiar face — he’s done wonders to get to a club like Brighton after a good year at Dundalk. He took his goal really well.

We were at the same Sunday League team — Crumlin United. We both set off from there. He was probably a year or two younger than me. We knew each other well, grew up in the same area.”

And while Towell and Power have done well for themselves in recent years, neither can match the achievements of a certain other Crumlin-born athlete to whom the Lincoln star is often said to resemble.

I’ve watched all his fights in UFC,” Power says of Conor McGregor. “I knocked around the same friends’ circle when we were younger. It’s brilliant what he’s doing, he’s an inspiration to anybody coming up in any sport really and what you can achieve if you put your mind to something and believe in yourself.

“I don’t know whether he was a year younger or on the B team, but he was at (schoolboy club) Crumlin United, and he was a good little footballer back in the day, but I think he chose the right path.”

UFC 202 Mixed Martial Arts Power and Conor McGregor played on the same football team as youngsters, albeit at different levels. Source: Isaac Brekken

And while Power may not be able to boast of McGregor-like riches, the 29-year-old has shown admirable resilience to carve out a career for himself in the game despite times where people doubted him.

“I’d been on a lot of trials like a lot of young Irish lads do,” he says of travelling to England as a youngster. “I never really felt comfortable and never really fit in.

“But when Nottingham Forest came about, it just seemed perfect. They pretty much made their mind up for me. And I was ready to fly the nest then.”

He continues: “It just seemed like more of a family environment. Everybody got along. Everybody was welcoming. The lads in the team were welcoming as well. Sometimes when you go on trial, the boys don’t want you to be there if you’re near enough coming to take their jobs. Sometimes, people can be a bit standoffish. But when I went to Forest, everyone was welcoming.

“(Current Aberdeen striker) Adam Rooney was on trial at the same time. They just brought us into the group and it felt right.”

And does he have any advice for young Irish players who find themselves in a similar situation to that which he faced as a teenager?

If it’s a 13 or 14-year-old boy, he may already be thinking of signing a contract and playing academy football and all that, but in my opinion, I’d wait and enjoy my football (in Ireland) until the time is right for them.

“Sometimes, when you look at academy teams nowadays, it’s intense from day one. Even at that age, they’re thinking: ‘Am I going to get kept on for the next year?’ Not just enjoying their football with their friends.

As for homesickness, I think Irish lads are sort of home birds anyway, so it’s tough. But if you can stick it out, I think you can get over it in two or three weeks — get some good friends at the club and try to make that place your home.”

Yet for all the positive aspects of life at Nottingham Forest, the experience ultimately ended in disappointing fashion.

Power appeared just once for the club — a 3-2 defeat by Peterborough in the Football League Trophy, with his time on the field ending after 74 minutes when he was replaced by ex-Celtic star Neil Lennon, then a veteran who was coming towards the end of his career.

The youngster then went on to join Grays Athletic on a three-month loan spell, making five Conference National appearances for the side.

After returning to Forest, a first-team chance still seemed possible — under manager Colin Calderwood, he had made the bench a couple of times.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League One - Nottingham Forest Photocall 2007/08 - City Ground Power made just one senior appearance for Nottingham Forest. Source: EMPICS Sport

But after the team gained promotion to the Championship in 2008, the Dubliner was deemed surplus to requirements and released, forcing Power to leave the club that helped form him as a footballer and person amid an invaluable three-year stint.

When I got released by Forest I felt hard done by,” he recalls. “I thought I was doing well enough to get another year. I’d made my debut in that season, had a good year for the reserves.

“But obviously, managers have their way and your face sometimes doesn’t fit. But it’s about how you react and what you do from there. I signed for Hartlepool a couple of weeks later, so there’s always a silver lining if you keep your head down and work hard.

But as a youngster, Nottingham Forest was perfect. I learned everything mentally, physically and technically how to deal with football at that one club for three years.”

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Power subsequently found life at Hartlepool similarly tough. Working under Danny Wilson, who had previously managed at Premier League level with Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley, the former Ireland U21 international seldom got a chance to shine. In two seasons with the League One side, Power’s only two starts came in the League Cup and Football League Trophy. His other six appearances were all off the bench.

It was therefore no surprise when, at the end of the 2009-10 season, Power was released by Chris Turner, who had by then replaced Wilson as manager.

At this point, many players would have let their heads drop and quit the game completely, or at least returned to Ireland. Power, however, lived up to his surname and doggedly persevered. In June 2010, aged 22, he made the decision to drop down two divisions to sign for Rushden and Diamonds of the Blue Square Premier (now the National League). In doing so, he linked up with Justin Edinburgh, the ex-Tottenham defender and the man who had previously managed him during Power’s brief loan spell at Grays.

I know he’s more than capable of performing at this level and the fans will warm to him,” Edinburgh said after signing him.

“I think he feels from the two years of football after he signed at Hartlepool he hasn’t really had his break.

“So there’s hunger and desire to get going and he’s another fantastic addition to our squad.”

Finally playing under a manager who seemed to fully trust him, Power flourished. In the 2010-11 season, he made 41 appearances for the team, scoring three goals and helping them to a 13th-place finish, in addition to being named the players’ player of the season.

Unfortunately, matters off the pitch conspired against him. Rushden’s unstable financial position ultimately led to their dissolution and Power was again left without a club until Lincoln came calling.

Source: FATV/YouTube

The club were in need of rejuvenation, having just been relegated to the conference, and manager Steve Tilson opted to take a punt on Power following a recommendation by Edinburgh.

“I moved over straight away and never looked back really,” he says.

I’ve played a lot of football, I’ve been in good form and I am just happy to be here. Enjoying football is the biggest part of the game, and playing week in week out will help them with that. I’m now in my sixth season, I’m playing quite regularly and I’m enjoying my time still.

“It’s a lovely city. It’s got a massive cathedral. It has two sides to it — the down side of Lincoln, which is where the uni is and where all the nightlife is, and there’s a place called the Bailgate up near the cathedral where there are quiet bars and restaurants for the more mature crowd. I like a bit of both and you mix that in with the club performing well, everybody’s buzzing at the minute, you can see a real lift in the city.”

And life in football has seemingly never been better for Power. In the campaigns since he joined Lincoln, the club have finished (in chronological order): 17th, 16th, 14th, 15th and 13th. Yet this season, everything seems to have suddenly clicked for the Imps, who are three points clear at the top with a game in hand on nearest rivals Dagenham and Redbridge.

“It’s hard to put it down to one thing,” he says, of their sudden upturn in fortune. “We started building last year and started getting the club back in touch with the community. Obviously, the gaffer (Danny Cowley) and (assistant coach) Nicky Cowley have come in and it’s gone on even further than that.

I think performances and the cup run we’ve been on has helped bind the team together, but to be getting 7,000 (in attendance) at National League level is pretty spectacular and we’re selling out for the FA Cup games.

“And long may it go on. The FA Cup run is lovely but the league, which we want to get out of, is our priority.”

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Paul Fennessy

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