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Dublin: 8°C Monday 8 March 2021

Derry youngster set to return to Premier League club 'a completely different player'

20-year-old forward David Parkhouse has been among the standouts in this year’s League of Ireland.

David Parkhouse has scored 11 league goals for Derry this season.
David Parkhouse has scored 11 league goals for Derry this season.
Image: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

A YEAR AGO, David Parkhouse was not in a good place.

The youngster, who turned 20 yesterday, had become disillusioned with football.

Aged 14, just as he was starting his GSCEs, he moved to Sheffield United, having previously played for Derry and Maiden City at underage level.

Coming from a close-knit family, the move to England was “a big sacrifice” for the Derry native. At such a young age, leaving behind his mum and dad, as well as his aunts and uncles with whom he was also very close, was not easy. However, Parkhouse remained confident he had the ability to succeed across the water and homesickness was never a big issue.

“I adapted quickly,” he tells The42. “Playing international football at a young age helped me with that, because at U13s, U14s, U15s, U16s, you were going away for 10 days or so, playing three matches. So I was spending time away from my family as well in another part of the world. For example, I went to Estonia. If you’re to choose a country to go to, it wouldn’t be your first choice anyway.

“To be living in a different culture and a different environment at a young age, it’s a scary thing. But I wanted it that much — I didn’t need to think about everything, I was that focused on trying to do the right thing, whatever I could to ensure I become a professional footballer.”

As the years went by and the Sheffield United first team still appeared some way off, Parkhouse became determined to escape the safe confines of underage football and try his luck at senior level.

Two loan stints followed, at non-league clubs Boston United and then Tamworth. On reflection, he concedes they were “bad moves”.

Then again, you’re going to experience that in football,” he adds. “You’re never going to know what you’re going to get until you try it. Looking back now, it just wasn’t the best outcome for me. It was a setback.

“I was ‘guaranteed’ to play for both teams and that wasn’t how it worked out. I barely got any minutes. But as a loanee league player, that’s the risk you sometimes have to take.”

When he first heard from Derry boss Declan Devine, Parkhouse was at a very low ebb. 

“Before I came home to Derry, I just lost my granddad. So my head was still all over the place then. In terms of football, things weren’t going right for me at the time, so this time last year, it was a very good decision that I made and one that I’ll always look back on and say ‘it gave me a kickstart on to hopefully something good’.

“I was glad when Deccie gave me the call, because I needed something different. I needed different scenery, to be around different people and thankfully, it was where I’m from as well.

“Everyone would look at it and say: he’s not good enough, he can’t make the cut, he’s going home. But that was never the case in my eyes, it was never the case with Sheffield United either, I knew I wasn’t going home just because I couldn’t do it anymore. I was just lucky enough to be playing for my hometown club. But I always thought: ‘I’m coming back here to try to get games under my belt, get experience with senior players against good opposition and put myself on a better platform to progress then over in England.”

leicester-city-v-afc-bournemouth-premier-league-king-power-stadium Parkhouse played alongside Bournemouth star David Brooks in underage teams at Sheffield United. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

In Sheffield, he played alongside some exceptionally talented youngsters, such as Aaron Ramsdale, David Brooks and Regan Slater, who have all progressed considerably since.

For the most part though, Parkhouse was not overly enamoured with the prospect of playing reserve or underage football.

“It’s a massive difference [compared with the League of Ireland]. The U23s is not a great league and it’s a development league, but the best thing for your development is actually going out and doing what I’m doing, playing first-team football.

“In the 23s, you’re playing with boys that are coming back from injury, you’re playing with first-team players that can’t get in the first-team squad and there are people that don’t really care, they don’t want to be there, whereas wherever I’ve been playing, because I’m an emotional player, I’m 100% — I hate losing and I love winning.

To a lot of the boys, it doesn’t mean anything, and U23s doesn’t mean a great deal. It’s just so that the people above you can get a look at you and at the same time, get minutes under your belt and to a certain extent, you are showcasing yourself, but there’s no better showcase than going out there and playing first-team football.

“With the League of Ireland, I obviously had a fair idea what it’s about, because I grew up around it, but actually playing in it as well — to go from the start of the season, I feel like I’m a completely different player from the game against UCD right up to now. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve had to deal with a lot, but it’s all been for my benefit. It’s been brilliant, an amazing year.” 

The move has worked out well for player and club alike. Parkhouse is two behind current league top scorer Pat Hoban, having registered 11 goals. Alongside Ireland international Jack Byrne and Bohs’ Daniel Mandroiu, he has been nominated for the PFAI Young Player of the Year award, in addition to making the Team of the Year. Highlights have included a goal-of-the-season contender amid a 2-0 win over Waterford (see below) and a remarkable four-goal haul against the same opposition in the EA Sports Cup semi-final on a night that the youngster described as “the best” of his career so far.

Derry, meanwhile, have exceeded the expectations of many. Having lost a number of important players in recent seasons and been considered a team in transition, they are currently on course to finish fourth. Moreover, a point at home to Finn Harps tonight will guarantee Europa League football for the club next season.

“A lot of people underestimated us and never thought we were going to be in the situation that we’re in. We still haven’t succeeded in what we want to achieve yet. 

“We’re in a good position overall — from a transition year to being in the situation we’re in now, I think we’re in a very good place and the club’s in a very good place going forward. 

“Come November time [last year], I was at the stage where I was ready for men’s football. I was past the stage of playing reserves football, stepping a level up was the next challenge.

“This will be a year that I always remember. Especially for it to be such a big year and a very successful year for me — to have my family, my partner and all my friends around me at the same time, for them to enjoy the success that I’ve had as well, it’s been a massive help. But I needed that change of scenery, because I had a bad year and a half.

And you never understand it until you go out and play first-team football, the level between reserves and actually going out and doing it on a platform where you’ve got the ability to showcase your talent in front of a big crowd, trying to make people enjoy your style of play, to be able to feel like you can give something to somebody else. Although whenever I go out to play, I’m playing for the club, I’m trying to impress the manager and keep the fans happy as well, because they’re paying good money to go and watch you, you don’t want to disappoint them.”

Parkhouse has also continued to keep a close eye on events across the water. His parent club have enjoyed an encouraging start to life in the Premier League, having earned promotion from the Championship last season. Monday’s 1-0 win at home to Arsenal saw them move up to ninth in the table.

“I never had a doubt in my mind, [thinking] that they weren’t going to do well, because I’ve been in the system for a couple of years now. I know the players, I know the manager, I know what they’re like, and again, that’s another team that would have been underestimated. Then again, you’re always underestimated coming up from the Championship. But because I’ve been in the system and I sort of know what’s going on behind the scenes, I was confident they were going to come up [and do well].

“To a certain extent, I can compare them to Derry, they’re a hard-working team and they don’t lie down to nobody. They try to make their home ground a fortress and a place where it’s horrible for teams to come. And they’ve done that — they beat Arsenal the other night. The one thing thing they have in that team is smart, experienced players that know how to see out games, and they know how to cope with everything that’s going on in the game. They’ve had a brilliant start now and hopefully they can kick on.”

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republic-of-ireland-v-bulgaria-international-friendly Ireland international John Egan has provided guidance for Parkhouse at Sheffield United. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Parkhouse is far from the only Irish player at the club. Senior internationals Enda Stevens, John Egan, David McGoldrick and Callum Robinson are all on the books at the Blades.

I would have been close with John Egan when I was over there. Whenever I was up with the first team, training with them, on the bench, you would have had players that were there for you and players that just focused on themselves. Some players would be good like that and others would be like: ‘I need to focus on the game ahead.’ But John Egan was very good with me, I spoke with David McGoldrick as well a couple of times and they’re all very nice boys. Johnny always helped me out with any advice I had to ask of him or just in general, being open and keeping me right.”

However, it is with the North rather than the Republic of Ireland that Parkhouse’s future would appear to lie, having represented the former at underage level. His excellent recent form has seen him tipped for a senior international call-up sooner rather than later.

“I know I’m not too far off. I have spoken with Michael O’Neill, but it’s just a matter of timing. In football, you have to be patient. You can’t rush things. You just have to let them take their course. You look at it, those times I was out on loan, it wasn’t going really bad for me, but I wasn’t as happy as I could be, but look at me now, I’m as happy as I could be.

“The next step is making sure things are right in the off-season. Come January, I think I’ve put myself in good stead to potentially get a senior call-up, because I’ve been doing my job, I’ve done what I can and I’ve definitely been knocking on the right doors.”

firo-09-09-2019-football-football-euro-euro-qualification-northern-ireland-germany Parkhouse has been tipped for a call-up to Michael O'Neill's Northern Ireland squad. Source: DPA/PA Images

Parkhouse’s current Sheffield United contract runs out in the summer, while he was recently linked with a move to Celtic.

Having already experienced the lows of football though, the in-form youngster is wise enough not to get carried away with his recent success as he faces an uncertain future.

“The goal is to make sure that I have the best chance of becoming a professional footballer and having a career in the game, but at the minute, to be honest, I don’t know what’s happening. I know what I want to happen, I know I want to be a footballer and wherever’s going to get me the best opportunity, that’s where I want to be.

I don’t know where it’s going to be. I’ve been playing on loan, my focus has been on Derry and I just want to get the season finished. Between the end of this week and January, there’s a lot of talking to be done, a lot of negotiating. It’s going to take a few months to figure out what the best plan is — it’s not going to happen overnight. Ultimately, I want to be where I’m going to get games, number one, and where it’s going to [have an effect] like Deccie had on me this year, whether it’s being back here or somewhere [else], I just want to be where gives me the best opportunity.

“I came to Derry to get in this position, and that was something Deccie told me as well. Deccie never spoke to me and said: ‘Look, I want you as a long-term player.’ Yes, there was talk about contractual stuff, but one thing Deccie said to me was that he wanted me back at Derry, obviously to help him out and do a bit for the team, but he also wanted me to come back to the area to put myself in a better position to go back to England.”

Premier Division fixtures:


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On the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly, Andy Dunne tells Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey about where it all went wrong for Joe Schmidt’s Ireland

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Paul Fennessy

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