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'You’re more nervous singing in front of 30 people than you are playing football in front of 76,000'

Josh Cullen talks about the atmosphere in the Irish camp, returning to West Ham and impressing Mick McCarthy.

Josh Cullen.
Josh Cullen.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Mick McCarthy spoke of the benefit of a good atmosphere among the Irish camp.

“The better the environment, the more you want to come in. I used to love coming in, it was great.

See the lads, Big Jack was great – there was always a bit of fun with him – and if I can ever create that atmosphere, it’s great. It helps people play well.” 

McCarthy seems to have a talent for this, not that there is any peculiar alchemy to it. “You do it on a daily basis”, explained McCarthy. “There’s no one magic formula that creates a wonderful environment.”

The Irish squad relies on one age-old tradition to create it – the initiation song. 

In the March camp around qualifiers with Gibraltar and Denmark, midfielder Josh Cullen was among the new faces who had to issue a throaty welcome to their new mates. 

He picked Stand By Me

“I can’t sing!”, he tells The42.

“I can’t remember what the other lads were singing, I was so nervous going down to dinner. You do it after you eat..but you can’t really eat.

“You’re more nervous getting up and singing in front of 30 people than you are playing football in front of 76,000. It’s not ideal, but it has to be done. It shows you’re willing to go out of your comfort zone to be part of the group, that’s the point of it.

“It’s horrible, it’s in the back of your mind for the whole trip. I did it the night before the Georgia game, so we’d been to Gibraltar and back. Every meal I was thinking, ‘Is it going to be tonight?’.

“Yeah, once you’ve done it, it’s a great feeling knowing you’ve done it and don’t have to do it again.” 

Nonetheless – it’s worked. 

“I’ve loved every minute of being with the senior squad. I couldn’t wait to meet up again, so every training session I’ll be doing everything I can to impress the manager and further down the line becoming a regular.”

Cullen isn’t sure whether the tradition extends to the arrival of new managers – “I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone is brave enough to ask him!”

If anyone were to best-placed to strike up the courage, Cullen may be among those best-placed. His contribution in training was hailed unprompted by McCarthy at a press conference this week, and he played in midfield in a behind-closed-doors friendly with the Irish U21s on Thursday. 

A former captain of that Irish U21s squad, Cullen impressed McCarthy this season amid the cut and thrust of Charlton’s ultimately successful promotion push in League One. With that achieved, he will now return to his parent club West Ham. 

“My full focus at the moment is to back to West Ham, hit the ground running and try and become a regular in the first team there.

“That’s all that is in my mind at the moment. I’ll sit down with the manager and staff and see where they see me, but in my head, I’m going back to West Ham and try to impress them.” 

Aviva Soccer Sisters Dream Camp Josh Cullen at the Aviva Soccer Sisters Dream Camp. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

A more immediate aim is staking a claim in the Irish midfield for the forthcoming qualifiers against Denmark and Gibraltar. He picked a good week to impress his manager, given how threadbare midfield options were. Jeff Hendrick was given time off to attend his brother’s wedding, Alan Browne and Luca Connell were forced out through injury and their play-off final involvement means Conor Hourihane and Glenn Whelan are only linking up with the squad this weekend. 

Yet another meeting with Denmark will once again raise those peskily stubborn memories of the 5-1 World Cup play-off defeat, a game Cullen didn’t actually see. 

He was playing for the U21s against Norway at the same time, and came back to the hotel in time to catch the last few, ungainly minutes. “I didn’t bother watching the highlights! It’s a fresh start now and we’re confident we will be more than ready to go.” 

If Cullen can affect a different result this time around – then it might just be worth singing about. 

Josh Cullen was speaking at the Aviva Soccer Sisters Dream Camp at the Aviva Stadium.  See aviva.ie/soccersisters or check out #SafeToDream on social media for further details.

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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