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Dublin: 2°C Monday 12 April 2021

'I told my mam and dad that I didn't want to play football anymore'

Ireland U19 international Conor Grant on how he overcame homesickness to progress in his career.

Conor Grant is set to represent Ireland at the U19 Euros.
Conor Grant is set to represent Ireland at the U19 Euros.
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

Updated at 14.28

CONOR GRANT IS currently in Armenia, preparing to represent Ireland at the U19 European Championships

It could be so different, however, if he had stuck with his initial instincts in Christmas 2017.

Grant grew up in Donabate near Swords in Dublin and excelled at underage level with Malahide United.

English football beckoned. He spent a couple of days on trial at Sheffield Wednesday and ultimately opted to sign for the Owls, despite interest from other British clubs.

Grant needed to stay in Ireland to complete his Junior Cert though, and consequently agreed a short-term six-month deal with Shamrock Rovers prior to joining the Championship outfit.

The youngster linked up with the U17s side managed by former Rovers player Stephen Rice, who also managed him in a DDSL team in the Kennedy Cup, and the coach helped convince Grant to join the Hoops on a short-term basis.

And then, in July 2017 — the same month he turned 16 — Grant made the switch across the water. As with many talented Irish youngsters though, homesickness quickly became an issue.

“I definitely struggled with that,” he tells The42. “I moved over in July and the following Christmas, I told my mam and dad that I didn’t want to play football anymore. I just missed home, missed my family and my mates. I just wanted to quit really. But after that, my mam and dad said: ‘Just stick it out until the end of the season, we’ll see how it goes.’ By the time Christmas went, I wasn’t feeling homesick anymore and I really enjoyed it..”

And was there anything in particular that persuaded him to stay?

Not really. Just the fact that my mam and dad said ‘stick it out until the end of the season, you’ll be home in no time’. That’s what I kind of thought about. You’re going home in a month [for the summer] and you’ll be fine. Before you know it, you’re home, so I don’t struggle with it at all now thank God.”

He continues: “All the staff knew I wanted to leave, but they encouraged me to stay, they had me with sports psychologists and stuff. They really helped me out and I’m glad that I stayed.”

With training taking up relatively few hours in the day, coping with the boredom and loneliness of his downtime was one of Grant’s biggest obstacles.

“When you go back to digs… You’re not used to just just lying in your bed all day. You’re used to doing stuff with your family and friends. It’s much different to what I would have been used to at the time. But you get used to it.”

What’s helped matters is that Grant, who turns 18 later this month, has been making good progress on the pitch. Back in December, he signed his first professional contract. Having started the season with the U18s, he joined up with the U23s quite often in the latter half of the campaign. He even got to travel with the first team on more than one occasion, ahead of games with Bolton and Nottingham Forest.

Steve Bruce has been happy to chat with Grant about his background and ambitions, and while the manager has been strongly linked with a move to Newcastle of late, Grant would ideally like him to stay.

“[Bruce leaving] might impact me, because he takes an interest in young lads and the odd time we go up and train with them. But I’m not sure.”

But regardless of what happens, Grant is keen to test himself at senior level next season.

The target is Sheffield Wednesday’s first team, whether I have to go out on loan first and get some experience or straight in, I’m not sure yet,” he says.

As Grant has already discovered, the path to the top level is far from straightforward, but the most resilient youngsters can ultimately benefit from the setbacks they will inevitably encounter along the way.

“You just have to work hard really and believe in yourself. Have self confidence. That was definitely my issue as well when I went over and now I’m much more confident. You just enjoy it more and it’s better.”

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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