SATURDAY’S GAME AGAINST Denmark wasn’t particularly memorable for the spectators in the stands, but for Enda Stevens it was an occasion he’s unlikely to forget.
Owing to an injury to Callum O’Dowda, Stevens was introduced at half-time in a goalless draw at the Aviva Stadium that put Ireland’s first point on the board in the Uefa Nations League.
A fourth cap for Stevens also represented his first appearance in a competitive international in his hometown. The left-back has taken a relatively long route to this stage, having been just a few weeks shy of his 28th birthday when he made his senior Ireland debut in a 2-1 win against USA in a friendly in June.
Stevens maintained the upward trajectory of recent years by showing up well during the 45 minutes he was afforded against the Danes. At club level, the Dubliner is a key player for a Sheffield United side who are currently sitting atop the English Championship.
“I’m loving it,” he said of his time as an international footballer so far. “Everyone who comes in realises there’s a chance to play and there’s an opportunity. It’s just up to the players to go and take it.
“Playing in the Aviva in front of 40-odd thousand was great. It’s something to build on for me. It was a great experience for me and hopefully I can look forward to many more.”
Having started his career in the League of Ireland with UCD and then St Patrick’s Athletic, Stevens rose to prominence as a member of the Shamrock Rovers side that won back-to-back Premier Division titles in 2010 and ’11, as well as becoming the first Irish club to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League.
That earned him a move to Aston Villa. While he did play a handful of first-team games for the Birmingham club, the Drimnagh native spent much of his time there on loan at the likes of Doncaster Rovers, Northampton Town and Notts County.
He was signed by Portsmouth in 2015 and impressed during two seasons with Pompey, helping them to achieve promotion to League One. Following their return to the Championship, Sheffield United signed Stevens in the summer of 2017 and he has continued to enhance his reputation since his arrival at Bramall Lane.
June’s international debut was followed by a half-hour cameo in last month’s defeat to Wales. He then made his first Ireland start in Wroclaw five days later, playing all 90 minutes of the 1-1 friendly draw with Poland.
Reflecting on the stalemate against Denmark, Stevens felt the result was a step in the right direction ahead of tomorrow’s return fixture against the Welsh: “I think it’s something to build on. A clean sheet in the Aviva and now we look to build on that on Tuesday.”
He added: “I thought we were good in spells. We started off really well in the first half, we had a couple of chances, probably should have taken the lead and then Denmark came into it. It was tough to get up the pitch. But we had chances, they had chances, so overall a draw was probably a fair result.”
With Stephen Ward currently sidelined through injury, and given that the Burnley man recently turned 33, Enda Stevens will be hoping to capitalise on this opportunity to make himself a regular member of the Ireland team. Better late than never.
Subscribe to our new podcast, Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42, here: