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Dublin: 19 °C Tuesday 23 July, 2019
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'I got stuck in a rut at Aston Villa but now it's a new season, a new club and a fresh start'

We look ahead to the Football League season with Portsmouth’s Enda Stevens.

Stevens is hoping to prove his worth at Portsmouth this season.
Stevens is hoping to prove his worth at Portsmouth this season.
Image: John Walton

IT SEEMS STRANGE to put Enda Stevens’ career into the ‘make-or-break’ bracket but after a couple of nomadic seasons, the Dubliner acknowledges the need to grasp the opportunity the new season will bring.

Four frustrating years at Aston Villa, during which he played just nine times, officially came to an end in June and he’s dropped down the divisions in search of stability and regular game time.

For an out-of-contract player, any offer is a welcome one – particularly when you’re still learning your trade in the game – but when Portsmouth came calling, Stevens didn’t give it a second thought.

“It’s a massive club,” the 24-year-old told The42 this week. “I got that feeling from the moment I went down. They’ve a massive fan base, a great training ground and it’s got everything in terms of facilities.

“There was a few offers on the table but none of them were from a club of Portsmouth’s calibre.”

But the south coast club aren’t the force they used to be and have been in freefall since their relegation from the Premier League in 2010.

This will be Pompey’s third season in League Two but the future at Fratton Park is looking far brighter than it was when the club needed an eleventh hour deal to save it from going under two years ago.

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Portsmouth v Coventry City - Havant and Waterlooville Stevens has made a bright start to life at Portsmouth during pre-season. Source: John Walton

“You kind of forget the club is in League Two when you’re around the place,” Stevens continues. “It’s strange that the club is playing down in this division but all the players are determined to get the club moving in the right direction again.”

Stevens put pen to paper on a two-year deal with Portsmouth in June after failing to make an impression during his time at Villa Park.

The Irish U21 international, who moved to England from Shamrock Rovers in January 2011, was drafted in to make his full debut against Manchester United a year later but soon fell down the pecking order under Paul Lambert.

Loan spells at Notts County, Northampton Town and most recently Doncaster offered Stevens the opportunity to gain experience and put himself in the shop window.

“It was difficult,” he says of his time at Villa. “When you’re at such a big Premier League club, you don’t get many chances. I thought I did quite well but after that I was just sort of stuck in a rut if I’m being honest.

“I was being put out on loan and they aren’t really the best as there’s no consistency or stability for you to progress.

“Now that I’m at Portsmouth and everything’s sorted, I want to find my feel and play as well as I can and achieve a bit of success in my career.”

Stevens’ situation is not too dissimilar to that of his employer’s. Both have tasted life at the top table but find themselves trying to work their way back up the ladder after a couple of setbacks.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Aston Villa v Manchester United - Villa Park Stevens in action against Man United during the Premier League clash Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

“Playing for your future is always at the back of your head but the main worry is always the club that you’re at,” he continues. “I enjoyed my time at all the clubs I played for and learnt a lot but it’s a difficult situation when you don’t know if you’re coming or going.”

Stevens spent two seasons at Tallaght after progressing through the ranks at UCD and then impressing for St Patrick’s Atheltic. He was part of the Hoops side that became the first Irish team to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League.

And he’s linked up with a familiar face at Fratton Park after former Sligo Rovers boss Paul Cook was appointed Portsmouth manager in June.

One of Cook’s first moves was to bring Stevens and Michael Doyle, another Dubliner, to the club.

“He obviously likes the Irish,” the left-back jokes. “But I know the gaffer well from the League of Ireland and know the brand of football he likes to play – I think it will suit me down to the ground.

“But all the lads know promotion is the minimum this season. We want to win the league.”

Enda Stevens Stevens caught the eye during Rovers' Europa League campaign. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Portsmouth complete their pre-season preparations with a friendly against Gillingham this afternoon having won three and drawn two of their previous outings.

A training camp in Portugal allowed Stevens to settle into his new surroundings and get to know his team-mates but all the talking will finally stop next Saturday as the real business begins.

Dagenham and Redbridge provide the first hurdle for Portsmouth in their quest to put a turbulent couple of seasons behind them.

While Stevens insists the focus will remain on helping the team achieve their target of promotion, he’d be forgiven for placing some emphasis on getting his own career back up and running.

If he can help ignite Portsmouth’s revival, it would be a fine start.

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Ryan Bailey

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