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Anthony Scully has represented Ireland at underage level.
Anthony Scully has represented Ireland at underage level.
Image: PressinPhoto/INPHO

Leaving Premier League club after 8 years paying off for Ireland underage starlet

Anthony Scully has enjoyed a new lease of life since joining Lincoln from West Ham.
Jan 16th 2021, 7:45 AM 42,738 5

Updated Jan 16th 2021, 7:50 PM

FOOTBALL IS A highly emotional game, but Anthony Scully has long understood that the big decisions, both on and off the field, require icy veins.

The 21-year-old certainly has at least one good role model he can turn to on these matters.

His father, Tony, was born in Dublin and represented Ireland at B and U21 international. He had a decent career in England too, representing Crystal Palace, Man City, QPR and Cambridge among others, before retiring in 2007.

Scully Sr has been an important influence on his son’s development. The early hours that entail work as a postman means he could watch plenty of games in person, at least before the pandemic started.

“He’s just always been there, always watches my games, along with my ma as well,” Scully Jr tells The42.

“Obviously, he was a forward when he was playing himself, so there are little things you can pick up from him and ask him questions about. 

“There are a fair few things that he’s told me. Just a few little tips and tricks about where to be in certain areas of the pitch. Just advice about positioning and a few other things that would help my game that I’ll just keep to myself, because it helps me out and I don’t want to let the defenders know what I do think.”

Scully was born in London but grew up in Cambridge. He initially played with local sides Cambourne and Histon, before signing with West Ham around the age of 12. As a consequence, he had to grow up fast, moving away from home and acclimatising to life in the academy of a Premier League club.

“Obviously, you have dips when you go through certain things like injuries, making me think ‘this is not fair’ or certain situations, but I never once had a back-up plan, thinking about if I didn’t succeed. I always fully believed in myself that I would go on to be a footballer. I was just fully focused on that. I never thought: ‘What if I don’t.’

“I’ve no issues with other people who are staying in and doing college in the evenings, or doing any courses online and keeping themselves ticking over with something else. But for me, I was just sticking to football really. 

“But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with doing something else on the side as long as you still keep your focus on football.”

Notwithstanding his commitment to the cause, around this time last year, it was becoming apparent that Scully was not making the level of progress he had hoped for at West Ham. 

Despite some impressive displays with the U23s, first-team football felt as far off as ever. League One outfit Lincoln City came in with a bid and Scully was ultimately convinced to sign, ending an eight-year spell with the Hammers. West Ham team-mate and fellow Ireland underage international Conor Coventry helped persuade him to go, with the midfielder himself having positive things to say after a loan spell at the Imps.

“With the season that I had for the 23s team, with the goals I scored, I was never getting an opportunity for the first team, so you have to take your emotions out of it and make it a football decision. When it was a football decision, it was quite easy to make and with Lincoln, it was a great opportunity. But emotionally, it would have been tougher. So I had to separate my emotions and just make the obvious decision.”

lincoln-city-v-accrington-stanley-papa-johns-trophy-third-round-lner-stadium Scully has impressed since joining Lincoln. Source: PA

Since joining Lincoln, Scully’s career has flourished. This season, he has made 26 appearances, while his goal last Saturday against Peterborough amid a 1-1 draw was his ninth of the campaign in all competitions. 

Michael Appleton’s side, meanwhile, currently are on course for promotion to the Championship, as they sit top of League One with 21 games played. 

Given his excellent form since, does he feel West Ham might have made a mistake in letting him leave?

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“It’s obviously easy for me to say now. I was never really given the chance to play. I had never played at that level, so you’ll never know I suppose. Obviously, I believe that I am good enough, and it’s just down to me to play well and get myself back up with Lincoln.”

While focused on his club for now, if Scully can continue to impress, a senior Ireland call-up does not seem inconceivable. League One players making the cut is not unheard of, particularly with squads routinely depleted during the pandemic. Portsmouth’s Ronan Curtis already has six caps to his name and Fleetwood’s Glenn Whelan was a regular under previous boss Mick McCarthy.

“It’s the manager’s decision to see what he thinks,” Scully says when asked about Ireland. “I’ll just keep playing football and if I do get that first-team call-up, it would be the proudest moment of my life.”

He previously met Stephen Kenny during an U21 get together in 2019, and was impressed by the coach’s “good personality” and “attention to detail” in training. However, it was current U21 boss Jim Crawford who handed the attacker his first caps at that level during the team’s most recent games against Iceland and Luxembourg, as a loss to the former meant the Irish side fell short in their bid for Euros qualification.

“I was waiting a long time to get the 21s cap. Obviously, the week didn’t go to plan. We won the second match, but losing that first game didn’t help us.

“But for me, it was still a positive, making my 21s debut. It was massive for me, because it meant I’d completed all the underage caps all the way from U15s to 21s, which I’d always wanted to do. Hopefully, I can go and get a first-team cap as well.”

Yet amid all the Ireland caps, something else stands out on Scully’s CV. In 2014, he briefly represented England at underage level.

“I think I was 15. At that age, I had the opportunity to play for both,” he recalls.

“For Ireland, I was over in Turkey. For England, we had a game against France. It was an opportunity for me to play with the best players in Europe. You’re not really thinking about anything else. You’re just thinking: ‘Football.’ So I ended up playing that game, but then a few months later, I went with the Ireland 17s to the Euros, and that was my decision made.

“When you’re 15 years of age, all you think about is football. You’re looking at the opportunity, and thinking: ‘I can really test myself here against lads that are playing for Chelsea and stuff, playing against France.’

“But I’m definitely with Ireland 100%.”

This insatiable appetite for football that has helped Scully come through some dark days. His 18-month deal with Lincoln is set to elapse at the end of the current campaign, and the player will likely have plenty of suitors if he opts not to stay where he is.

Either way, Scully insists: “There’s still a lot to come from me.”

And his current success is a testament to persistence more than anything else, as he explains.

“Never lose belief in yourself just because someone in an academy might not think you’re good enough. It doesn’t necessarily mean [it's the case]. You’ll go and play first-team football, and maybe you suit that style better. Regardless of whether it’s in an academy or anywhere in football, never let anybody tell you you’re not good enough. I know myself, because I’ve experienced that and it can be very tough to not let it get to you.

“I had it for years, being told I wasn’t playing and I wasn’t good enough. You do start doubting yourself a little bit. It’s only natural you start feeling that a little bit. As long as you quickly snap out of that mindset and you get back to believing in yourself. As long as you keep performing well and working hard, there’ll be somebody there that says: ‘Yeah, he’s my type of player.’ Then you go and you play and whatever happened in the past is forgotten.”

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Paul Fennessy

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