Ireland U21 international Connor Ronan pictured at Enfield yesterday. Morgan Treacy/INPHO
change of scenery

The Irish youngster who rejuvenated his career in Slovakia

Connor Ronan helped DAC 1904 Dunajská Streda qualify for the Europa League after joining on loan from Wolves.

CONNOR RONAN’S CAREER appeared to be at a crossroads.

The Rochdale-born midfielder made his Wolves debut while still a teenager back in December 2016 and went on to play six times in total for the club that season, coming off the bench in a memorable FA Cup win over Liverpool.

The following campaign, he made seven appearances for the English club, featuring in their EFL Cup clash with Man City and swapping jerseys with Kevin De Bruyne at the final whistle.

A loan move to Portsmouth followed, whereby he made 16 appearances in League One. Less successful was the subsequent temporary switch to Walsall earlier this season. Ronan made 15 appearances in total, though four of these came in the Football League Trophy and the youngster returned to his parent club at the halfway point of the campaign feeling less than satisfied.

The Ireland U21 international sensed he needed something different. There were offers on the table from other English clubs, but Ronan instead chose the unlikely destination of Slovakia in an attempt to restore the self-confidence that had been lost.

Many young Irish or British footballers would be less than enthused about the prospect of joining DAC 1904 Dunajská Streda, but Ronan was happy to try out this new experience.

“I was at Walsall for the first half of the season, which didn’t really go as planned for whatever reason,” he explains. “So, I went back to Wolves, trained there for a few weeks and was just kind of waiting on them to tell me what was happening really. 

“I didn’t really know much about [Slovakian football] at the time. So, I had to have a look into it and a look into the league and how they played. And it kind of fit into what I wanted to do. When I looked into it, they were second or third in the league, looking to compete and obviously the football side of things, they were playing good football and keeping the ball on the deck, which is what I was looking for. It was something different.

“When I went back in January, I was looking for something different. I didn’t want to go back down to League One or League Two again, because it hadn’t worked out as planned. So, it was a bit of a risk going out there, but I’d like to think it paid off.”

Connor Ronan Connor Ronan was Ireland's man of the match in the win over Luxembourg last March. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Indeed, the move appears to have worked out very well for club and player alike. Ronan ultimately established himself as a regular in the starting XI, helping his team finish second and secure a Europa League spot. It helped that team-mates swiftly made him feel at home, while training sessions were conducted in English.

The first two or three games I was on the bench and kind of adjusting to the manager’s style and getting used to how the team played. And then once I got into the team, the football looked after itself really.

“When I went there, first place [in the table] was a bit too far out of reach. Second was definitely the aim, and obviously that Europa League place. We ended up securing it with about three or four games left. It was a pretty successful campaign.”

And so given his mixed fortunes with various different loan moves, would Ronan be more careful in future in choosing clubs likely to suit his style of play?

“The Portsmouth one, that was my first loan, I wouldn’t say it was unsuccessful. I played quite a bit and I did learn a lot and it was a different style of football than I was used to. And then the Walsall one was a bit less successful in terms of minutes and things like that. The style of football didn’t really suit me. And when I went back in January [to Slovakia], it was a make-or-break situation, I had to have a good loan move. Wolves gave me a new contract recently, so that was obviously a reward for how things have gone on this loan move.

“In terms of looking into it, definitely. I looked into how [DAC] played — Wolves have a bit of a link with them, so I had a chat with a lot of the staff who had been over and watched them play and they all seemed to think it would suit me. And I did think it suited me.

“I think it was just a case of, the team I went to, the manager, his style of play was just keeping the ball on the deck and that’s exactly what I was looking for. I think that is my style of football.

I wouldn’t say that I was avoiding League One football, because when I was there, I learned a lot. I’d say I added another side to my game in terms of the physicality side and I learned that it’s not all about attacking, free-flowing football, there was an ugly side to the game. No matter where you go, you can play for the best teams in the world, you’re always going to get games like that. I’d say my loans to League One, rather than say, they were unsuccessful, I’d say they were a learning curve. And then with the Slovakia one, I think it went as well as it could have done.” 

Whether Ronan stays at Wolves next season or seeks another loan move is uncertain, but for now, the 21-year-old is focused on his Ireland commitments. Having earned the man-of-the-match accolade against Luxembourg in the opening 3-0 Euros win, he is set to be part of the forthcoming Toulon Tournament. He initially represented England U17s, but has since played for Ireland at U17, U19 and U21 level, and feels very much at home with the latter.

“I think when you’re a young lad, a big part of it is… I wouldn’t say being made to feel welcome, I’d just say being integrated into the group, just feeling like you’ve been there before. I did get that feel with the Irish camp. There wasn’t any problems with going away with England, I did enjoy it. But the Irish camp, I was integrated into the team straight away and played the first two games. I just enjoyed it, it wasn’t a tough decision for me and things have gone very well ever since.”

Gavan Casey is joined by Murray Kinsella and Sean Farrell for a review of the 2018/19 season, and cast an eye forward to next year and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.:

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