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Markey shining as an example of the new breed of Irish footballer

Just after turning 20, the midfielder is up for the SWAI/SSE Airtricity League player of the month award.

DARRAGH MARKEY ISN’T your typical college student.

His commitments in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division mean you’re unlikely to see him in Copper Face Jacks in the early hours of a weekday morning.

And while he’s determined to ensure that his time at Maynooth University culminates with a degree in finance, the hope is that he ultimately won’t need to use it.

Darragh Markey and Sean Gannon St Patrick's Athletic's Darragh Markey under pressure from Sean Gannon on Dundalk. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

May was a challenging month for Markey, but the early indications are that he aced it — on the football front at least. The stress of his end-of-year exams clearly didn’t distract him on the pitch as the St Patrick’s Athletic youngster’s form was recognised with a nomination for the SWAI/SSE Airtricity League player of the month award. He’ll find out next week if his second-year exams were similarly successful.

“A typical day would be heading out to college for about nine in the morning, then I’m training with Pat’s late in the afternoon,” Markey explains.

“It’s hard work trying to balance it from September through to May, so I can take a little break from that now for the summer and concentrate on training and playing matches.”

At the age of 17, Markey made his debut for Pat’s as a substitute for Chris Forrester on the opening night of the 2015 season, but the attacking midfielder had to be patient in his search for a first League of Ireland start and a prolonged run in the team.

That finally came eight weeks ago, when he impressed from the outset in a 3-0 defeat to Cork City at Richmond Park, a scoreline which flattered the Premier Division leaders. To say that Markey has grasped his chance to become a regular fixture in Liam Buckley’s team doesn’t come close to summing up the impact he has had for the Saints.

It’s been a difficult season for the 2013 Premier Division champions, who are just one point off the foot of the table. But Markey’s contribution has probably been the most positive aspect of their campaign so far.

“Personally it’s going great,” says the 20-year-old, who celebrated his birthday three weeks ago. “I’m still only breaking in, it hasn’t even been two months. I couldn’t have asked for a better start for myself. Obviously it would be more enjoyable if results were going our way as well but from a personal point of view it’s been great.”

He adds: “Coming into the team, I probably didn’t expect to perform so well this quickly, and so consistently as well. I was probably expecting to struggle a bit more but thankfully it has gone well. My confidence is building all the time, the lads are helping me with that too.”

Markey has defied his inexperience by quickly becoming a key player for a Pat’s side who are fighting an uphill battle. With his desire to keep the team moving forward, he possesses the ability to identify openings and the tools execute the passes to exploit them.

Traditionally Ireland hasn’t produced many players whose game is as technically accomplished as Markey’s. The long-ball strategy of the Jack Charlton era, when guts were more valuable than guile, still colours the reputation of Irish football. However, in Markey’s experience, the landscape is beginning to change.

“Coaches are concentrating more on the technical side of the game these days. Teams are trying to play more football from underage levels,” says Markey, who excelled for the Republic of Ireland at U18 schools level.

“That’s the way it was with the schoolboy teams I was involved in and even now at Pat’s, Liam always wants us to play football out from the back and to try to create chances. In Ireland I think it’s definitely changing and for the better. Teams are more focused on playing football the way it should be played.”

Markey plans to begin his final year of studies in Maynooth in September, but football remains his priority as a prospective career. Unlike some of the players he grew up with, Markey didn’t end up at a club in the UK in his teens. But he’s grateful for how things have transpired. With his pursuit of a finance degree, he’s in the process of putting a safety net in place lest a career in football shouldn’t work out.

“This gives me more security and a bit of peace of mind while I’m playing,” says Markey, who scored against Kilmarnock last year during a trial game for Celtic. “A lot of lads I know have already come home after being away, which isn’t great for them.

Darragh Markey "I probably didn't expect to perform so well this quickly." Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“The intention is to get my degree, hopefully by the time I’m 21, and after that concentrate on football for a few years. If it works out well, great, but if not then I’ll have a back-up plan with the degree in my back pocket and hopefully I can get a career elsewhere.”

Markey has seen how the League of Ireland has provided a launchpad in recent years for so many players who have gone on to carve out successful careers for themselves across the Irish Sea. He’s hoping to follow in the footsteps of the likes of the man he replaced in his first senior appearance for Pat’s.

“Chris Forrester was there when I was coming into it,” Markey recalls. “I was still in school but I trained with the first team. Forrester was there and he was amazing. Some of the stuff he could do was incredible and he’s doing great at Peterborough United now.

“Of course you want to follow that lead and replicate that. There’s other players who are playing for Ireland now too, like Daryl Horgan and Wes Hoolahan. There’s loads of examples. It’d be great to do what they’ve done.”

In the meantime, however, Markey’s objective is to maintain his form and help to lift St Pat’s away from the relegation zone. They’ve never played in the second tier of Irish football, but with three teams being relegated this season, they’re in a precarious position.

Markey says: “I think we can get out of it, no doubt about it. With the quality of players we have, it’s ridiculous that we’re so low in the table. Looking at our performances against [Shamrock] Rovers and Bohs, we know we have the ability to produce the performances.

“But there’s no point in just saying that. We have to lift ourselves up and get it done on the pitch.”

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Paul Dollery

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