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The Irish underage star embarking on a new adventure in Switzerland

New Grasshopper loan signing Connor Ronan is hoping to help Jim Crawford’s side overcome Italy.

Connor Ronan (file pic).
Connor Ronan (file pic).
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

YOUNG IRISH FOOTBALLERS are sometimes accused of habitually choosing the conservative career option and being unwilling to undertake the left-field choice of a move abroad.

Ireland U21 star Connor Ronan, however, definitely does not fall into that typical category.

The 22-year-old midfielder, who was born in Rochdale but qualifies for Ireland through his grandparents, made a handful of appearances for Wolves between 2016 and 2018 while still a teenager.

Yet once Nuno Espírito Santo’s men were promoted to the Premier League, Ronan’s opportunities in the first team were increasingly limited.

A series of loan moves followed. He had a decent spell at Portsmouth, making 16 appearances, before another temporary move to Walsall. Ronan has said in the past that the latter stint was less than satisfactory, with regular game time hard to come by.

Partially in reaction to that setback, his next loan move took him to Slovakia, which ultimately rejuvenated the youngster, as he lined out 28 times for DAC Dunajská Streda.

He then went to League One outfit Blackpool last season, scoring once in 10 appearances before the Covid-19 outbreak cut short his time there.

It was then announced in August that he was set for a second adventure abroad, making the move to Swiss side Grasshopper, with a Wolves breakthrough still looking unlikely.

“I’d gone back to Wolves in pre-season and I knew that the idea for me was to go back out on loan,” he explains. “So I was training back at Wolves just waiting to see what came about off the back of the Blackpool loan last season and I had a little bit of interest in England. But with the wage cap coming in, it was just staying at interest and nothing concrete.

“My idea was to get out as early as possible and get with whichever team I was going to get to know the lads. It was Wolves who mentioned the Grasshopper thing and it was straight away a concrete offer. I spoke to the manager and knew his plans. It was the only thing I had early on, so I jumped at it. I got a little injury, which halted the progress I wanted to make, but I’m back from that now and it’s progressing nicely. 

I went over and picked up the injury in the first pre-season game without knowing about it. I had a little pain in my knee and didn’t think anything of it. It was ongoing. I decided to go for a scan and I had a slight tear in my LCL ligament, which kept me out for four-to-five weeks. But I’ve been back full training for two weeks and got 45 minutes in a league game before coming out [to the Ireland U21 camp]. It was something I was looking to do before coming out here, to have some match fitness, some minutes under my belt to put me in contention over here as well.” 

Ronan said the original move abroad to Slovakia served as somewhat of a seminal moment in his career, and encouraged him to once again try his luck away from Britain.

“I think obviously going out to Slovakia stood me in good stead for whatever is coming my way in my career. Going out there was my first experience of playing week in and week out in men’s football and obviously being away from Britain, it gave me that mindset that if I have to do it again, I’ll do it, because I had done it so young and it had gone so well.

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“I think whatever comes my way, whether it is in England or abroad, I’ll be ready off the back of it. 

“Obviously the Slovakia move, at the time, it probably didn’t look like the best move for me, that was my personal opinion of it that I had to go there and be a success and I think I did, and it opened me up to other moves abroad. Obviously not many young Irish players have taken that route. I’m not going to say everyone should look to move abroad, it is what is best for your career path. I felt in my style of football, it might suit me, but that’s not to say I’m not looking to play my career in England and play at the highest level possible.”

While he can also play out wide or as a number 8, Ronan has largely been deployed in his favoured 10 position at international level, regularly impressing in the role during the U21s campaign so far.

And of course, there are hardly a host of number 10s vying for the role in the senior team currently. So is Ronan confident he will eventually make the step up to Stephen Kenny’s side?

Yeah, definitely. I try not to think too much about it, but obviously when you see lads you’ve played with at U21 level, the likes of Aaron, Troy, Adam, Jayson, the lads who have made the step up, it does kind of creep into the back of your mind that it is possible. I think you have to be performing at club level week in, week out, just to give yourself that chance. My main focus throughout the campaign is being on the 21s and hoping that we can qualify, but I think with the way Stephen is, he’s not afraid to call up young players, I’d be surprised if it’s not in the back of everybody’s mind. If you perform well for the 21s and you’re performing for your club, it is a possibility.”

For now though, Ronan is focused on the task at hand — facing Italy in Pisa on Tuesday.

Ireland currently top Group 1 three points ahead of the second-place Italians, who have a game in hand. Victory next week, against the side they drew 0-0 with in Tallaght last year, would be a big step towards qualification.

“It would be massive. I think it would be very easy to forget how big an achievement it would be because of how well we’ve started the campaign, we’ve just been taking it game by game, but we’re in the final stretch of the last three games.

“Our mindset is to win every game, it’s not pick up a point and hope to win the next game, having that confidence to beat anyone.”

It will still be a significant challenge, particularly given that the likes of Adam Idah, Aaron Connolly and Jayson Molumby had been key players at the start of the campaign, but have since become regular fixtures in the senior set-up. Yet Ronan is confident his side won’t suffer unduly owing to the loss of these individuals.

“I think that’s the biggest difference I’ve felt with the U21s compared to the other age groups, if players do get called up or drop out, there always seems to be another player waiting to come in. The quality isn’t dropping, it’s not like you’re missing four or five of your best players and the players are coming in and the standards are dropping and things are changing. It doesn’t feel any different. The level that they’re all playing at for their clubs is there for all to see. It doesn’t feel any different from camp to camp.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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