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‘I repeated my Leaving Cert and got 270 points. So to step out as Ireland’s number one was mind-blowing’

David Forde reflects on his Ireland career, retirement, completing his Master’s degree and his father’s passing.

Former Ireland team-mates John O'Shea and David Forde pictured last summer.
Former Ireland team-mates John O'Shea and David Forde pictured last summer.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT’S BEEN AN emotional summer filled with endings for David Forde over the last few months.

A time to reflect on what has been during his 39 years on this earth — two decades of which he spent playing professional football — but also what lies ahead in the future.

Three months ago his father Patrick died. Three weeks ago, the former Ireland goalkeeper announced his retirement from football. It’s been a time to think, to meditate, to recall fond memories and, more than anything else, take stock and appreciate all he’s experienced.

“My dad passing away was a deeply traumatic experience for my family,” he says speaking to The42.

“I got the news coming back from the Indian reservations in Arizona (where he spent time meditating with Hopi Indians, the Navajos and the Apaches). When I got that news it was a difficult flight back. But the one thing I learned from my father’s passing was that sense of appreciation and enquiry. My father did his best for me and my family.

“I came back to Ireland in order to go through that experience of my father’s passing — the huge lows, the hurt, the trauma and the sense of being able to express that. But also, on the flip side, the joy and the craic and the memories and the stories and stuff. It was such a real experience — I mean a fucking real experience.

david-forde Following his retirement from football this month, David Forde will be honoured at Aviva Stadium before next week's meeting with Switzerland. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’ve never felt so aware in my life, I’ve never felt so present. I was honouring my father for what he has given me and my family to the best of his ability. That was a deeply heartfelt time and such a soulful experience.”

Forde is sitting on a chair inside a suite at the Aviva Stadium. The 39-year-old twists around and casts his eyes over the green pastures behind his shoulder. It’s a pitch he knows very well. Five years in the green shirt, 24 caps, but it feels like an awful lot more. 

The last time he played for Ireland was a friendly at Turners Cross against Belarus. Shortly afterwards Martin O’Neill took him aside and broke the news that Forde would not be travelling to Euro 2016. Kieran Westwood would be chosen as back-up to Darren Randolph instead. The Galway man wouldn’t play for Ireland again.

At the beginning of this month Forde announced his retirement from club football, posting a moving, soulful video on Twitter which has garnered over 350,000 views. Reading a poem he wrote himself, the goalkeeper paid tribute to all those who helped him on his journey from stacking shelves of Coca Cola and Cadburys to being his country’s number one shot-stopper between the sticks for the better part of half a decade.

Galway United, Barry Town, West Ham United, Derry City, Barnet, Luton Town, Cardiff City, Bournemouth, Millwall, Portsmouth and Cambridge United. He’s covered a lot of ground and will receive a fitting tribute on the field at the Aviva next week before Ireland take on Switzerland in a crucial Euro 2020 qualifier.

“Making that decision to retire — that was another ending,” he says, explaining how deep meditation has allowed him secure a sense of peace and contentment in recent years. “But as the saying goes: an ending is only another beginning.

“There have been a lot of endings over the last few months, which has been a difficult time. But the work I’ve done on myself and the level of healing I’ve done over the last eight to ten years has allowed me to step into this space — to understand and to experience this for what it is.

To come here next week [at the Aviva] and be honoured here standing out on that pitch, speaking in front of the fans is going to be mind-blowing. We’ve got a couple of tickets to sit up in the presidential box.

“I’ll probably sit up with my mother and it’s going to be such a beautiful way to honour my dad’s passing. He was such a proud Irishman, no more than I was. He had a similar journey to me. He spent a lot of time in England the UK — but his heart was in Ireland. Mine is too.”

Retirement from playing has been anything but leisurely time off and frequent trips to the golf course for Forde, who is set to complete his Master’s from the University of Portsmouth later this year.

darron-randolph-and-david-forde-celebrate-at-the-end-of-the-game Darren Randolph and David Forde after Ireland secured qualification for Euro 2016 against Estonia. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The goalkeeper started his post-graduate degree in executive coaching and personal development towards the end of his playing days, starting his academic pursuits during recent seasons at Fratton Park and Cambridge.

He has also set up his own business (on top of writing his book), a sports agency, where Forde is guiding the next generation of footballers. Imparting his knowledge, passing on lessons from his own mistakes, but doing so with informed, expert knowledge in the field of youth football — not just relying on his own isolated experiences.

It began a few years back when I realised I was coming to the twilight of my career. I wanted to explore other parts of myself, my personality and character. I was thinking: what can I use from the many great managers I had — Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill, working with the likes of Roy Keane and other great managers and heroes — how can I best interact that into my future?

“I felt that the coaching/management realm was not for me. With my strengths and attributes I was always sensitive and philosophical and a deep person, I wanted to explore that side of myself.

“That led me to go and study at the University of Portsmouth. I went on to train with the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and I am a senior practitioner there and on their governing body.

soccer-sky-bet-championship-millwall-v-brighton-and-hove-albion-the-den Forde spent nine years at Millwall between 2008 and 2017. Source: EMPICS Sport

“We are working at the Crystal Palace Academy with the players on a one to one level, in a group and in team workshops on a monthly basis. Working with the coaches, coaching masterclasses on psychological and emotional wellbeing.”

It was humble beginnings for Forde growing up in Galway in the 1980s. He repeated his Leaving Cert. Not to try and secure first choice on his CAO form for college, but instead to try and give himself another shot at making the Ireland Schoolboys team. No word of a lie.

It was pretty rough now to be honest,” he smiles. “I had done my Leaving Cert and got 275 points. My whole dream was to get onto the Irish Schoolboys side because I had never got in. We had trials on a Monday and I ended up going to a debs or a graduation party — that put a spanner in that one.

“So the following year I said I would repeat, but the whole point of me repeating was to get into the schools team. It was nothing got to do with my academia or anything like that. The following year I repeated my Leaving Cert and managed to get 270… I actually went down by five points.

“Somehow on the CAO form I managed to get into Industrial Engineering in GMIT in Galway; they managed to accept me, I don’t know how. I had never seen lathe machines before. I didn’t even know what a T-Square was.

david-forde-digital Forde pictured during an Eircom League game for Galway United. Source: Tom Honan/INPHO

“But it was a great time and while I was studying I was merchandising for Coca Cola, Cadburys, Golden Vale. I was going around with my little white doctor’s coat under my arm on the back of my bicycle. Up at 5 o’clock in the morning, going around the supermarkets and then training in the evenings. When you talk about an adventure and journey, it certainly has been that: to step out there as Ireland’s number one was absolutely mind-blowing.”

Getting up at five in the morning on his bike, Forde still harboured dreams of lining out for his country. His school results and adjustment to life at college may have dented his confidence somewhat off the pitch, but on it he remained absolutely resolute, earning a move to Barry Town United, a semi-professional outfit in Wales, which kicked off his UK ambitions.

Absolutely,” he says firmly, speaking about his dream to become an international during his days at Galway United in the League of Ireland while also stocking supermarket shelves at the same time.

“I used to be cycling my bike over the Quincentennial Bridge in Galway. I used it as training — I’d cycle to one post, sprint to the next post; I felt like something out of a Rocky movie. But when I look back at it, it was all part of the journey because it told me something about my own resilience and my own resolve.

“I got knocked down all those times, but if I got knocked down 10 times I got up 11. It is quite symbolic as a goalkeeper: you get knocked down, you do have to get back up. That’s something that has stood to me throughout my career and it is something that I can transfer to the next stage of my career — how I can help somebody [younger] in that space. It is something that I am really looking forward to.”

david-forde-celebrates-after-the-game The 39-year-old confirmed his retirement from football at the start of August. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

From Barry Town, Forde went from Wales, to England, back to Ireland, back to England, enjoying spells throughout the divisions before he finally got the call from goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly that he had been called upon to represent his country. On a bus surrounded by his Portsmouth team-mates in 2011, Forde cried and cried.

He reflects happily on his 24 caps for Ireland, acknowledging that his international career did come to an abrupt end after not being called upon to go to Euro 2016 despite being first-choice in qualification. A contemplative thinker, he has made his peace with missing the tournament.

He is optimistic about the future, too, with young stars like Mark Travers at Bournemouth, Caoimhin Kelleher at Liverpool, Kieran O’Hara on the books at Man United and Gavin Bazunu at Man City all promising talents currently emerging.

Forde is well-acquainted with their U21 manager, Stephen Kenny, who convinced the Galway man against chucking it all in after being let go by West Ham. Forde made the bench for the Hammers on a number of occasions throughout the 2003/04 Premier League campaign, but was released after the club were relegated.

Still only 24-years-old, he planned to do an arts degree at NUI Galway, intending to leave football behind completely before an intervention from Kenny at Derry City reignited Forde’s goalkeeping career. From being prepared to leave the sport behind in 2004, Forde would be Ireland’s number-one seven years later. 

peter-hutton David Forde (far right) won the FAI Cup and League Cup under Stephen Kenny at Derry City. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“I had left West Ham, packed my bags. Jesus, I had a little Ford Puma, I was like a little hairdresser in this Ford Puma driving over the road, coming home through Holyhead,” he laughs.

“I got home to Galway to figure out what I was going to do, so I decided to go and see my schoolteacher, Jim Brennan, and ask him about the pathway of going back as a mature student to NUIG in Galway and going to be a teacher.

I was doing Geography, History, Sociology, Politics and Philosophy. I was cracking away when next thing I had a phone call from Stephen and he asked me if I was interested in coming up and playing a few games for Derry.

“I told him about my studies and he said, well just come up, get back in, there was only 10/11 games left in that season and then, I suppose the rest was history.

“That just goes to show you the space that I was in, the sense of disillusionment, the sense of hurt and out of that hurt, the making of irrational decisions. I needed to come back to Ireland, back to the motherland, to get that sense of nurture, that sense of care.

david-forde-dejected He was not chosen in Martin O'Neill's squad for the European Championships in 2016. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It was only when I built up that strength again that I could actually go on to paint a new picture for myself, because we always have that choice, we can always erase one picture and paint a new one. That’s certainly something that I did.”

Forde has ruled out linking up with his old boss Kenny as he prepares to take the reigns as senior Ireland boss next summer. Forde has no motivation of going into coaching at all. With a Master’s degree to submit, a book to complete and a brand new business guiding the next generation at Palace to oversee, he has more than enough on his plate.

He says he would have been content to simply make the Irish Schoolboys team once upon a time and even repeated his Leaving Cert to do so. Crying on the phone after being called up by Giovanni Trapattoni in 2011, he said one senior cap would have satisfied the dreams he harboured lugging his bike across the Quincentennial Bridge in Galway at five in the morning.

He ended on 24 caps and spent almost half a decade as Ireland’s number-one. Next Thursday night as Ireland hope to take a big step towards another potential European Championships at the Aviva against Switzerland, David Forde will take to the field and receive his due recognition.

david-forde-after-the-game The Galway man made 24 appearances for Ireland between 2011 and 2016. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

It will be a fitting tribute for a man who had to fight for everything he got, always getting up after he was knocked down. With his mother Sheila staring down from the presidential box and his late father Patrick looking down from above, too, their son can be filled with a sense of serenity that he did them both proud as he marks the end of another chapter.

“I always had such a drive but it always seemed as though it was beyond my reach,” he surmises. “Every time I’d break through one ceiling, then it was onto the next one. I never really appreciated what I had just done.

Whether it was getting promotions or winning Ireland caps — I realised that it wasn’t really about the destination, it is about the journey through it. Getting honoured here next week, it will be such an absolute capstone on a marvellous adventure.

“It’s been absolutely epic; an absolute odyssey. To come and stand here next week in front of all of those Irish fans… I could be in tears, you know? I can feel it already.”

David Forde will be honoured at Aviva Stadium at Ireland v Switzerland on Thursday, September 5. Secure your seat via www.fai.ie/tickets

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Aaron Gallagher

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