Former Norwich defender planning to follow Seamus Coleman's path

Kyle Callan-McFadden of Sligo Rovers believes the League of Ireland can be a launchpad for his career.

Kyle Callan-McFadden spent four years at Norwich City.
Kyle Callan-McFadden spent four years at Norwich City.
Image: EMPICS Sport

A FEBRUARY AFTERNOON in Sligo might lack the kind of sunshine he grew fond of in Orlando, but Kyle Callan-McFadden is in no doubt about his return to Ireland being the best move for his football career.

After spending a year in Florida, Callan-McFadden has opted to come home. The central defender, who has represented the Republic of Ireland at U21 level, is in line to make his Sligo Rovers debut when the Bit O’ Red kick off their 2017 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division campaign away to Limerick on Friday night.

“It’s a bit different back here alright,” he laughs. “I was getting used to the 40-degree heat every day in Orlando. But there’s no place like home.

“It’s a big season ahead,” he adds. “I’ve been very impressed with everything so far: the training ground, stadium, players, management, the lot. There’s a great bunch of lads here who will fight for each other. Everyone has helped me to settle in so we’re looking forward to getting the season cracking on Friday.”

Callan-McFadden spent four years at Norwich City, a club he joined at the age of 16. He made good progress with the Canaries, playing in a side that won the FA Youth Cup in 2013 at the expense of Chelsea. He debuted for the first team in an EFL Cup tie against Crawley Town in August 2014, but his time at Carrow Road came to an abrupt halt at the end of that season.

“The first few months after I left Norwich were quite difficult,” Callan-McFadden explains. “I actually had an offer of a new contract from the manager at the time, Neil Adams. But he was then let go by Norwich and the new manager [Alex Neil] had his own plans.

“He said the young lads who were getting the new contracts weren’t going to get the club promoted back to the Premier League, so I was one of the ones who was let go. There were other English clubs interested in me but in different positions which I wasn’t familiar with, so there was nothing there that was suitable for me.

“Then Orlando City came in. They were starting up a second team and they gave me a contract with a view to playing for the second team for a year and then going onto the first team in the MLS. It sounded great.”

Kyle McFadden McFadden winning a header for Ireland U19s against Turkey in May 2014. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Rubbing shoulders on the training ground with the likes of Kaka and sampling a very different lifestyle, Callan-McFadden enjoyed his time west of the Atlantic. However, he soon realised that in spite of what it has to offer, the MLS isn’t the place to be for a 21-year-old with ambitions of playing in the Premier League and representing Ireland at senior level.

“The first six or seven months there were great. I loved it,” Callan-McFadden admits. “But then I started to realise that the highest you can get to in America is the MLS, whereas I was watching what was going on back home.

“You had the likes of Dundalk winning matches in the Champions League and the Europa League. That made me feel like I wanted to come back to Ireland and make a name for myself.

“You see [Steven] Gerrard, [Frank] Lampard and those boys, they went out there to finish their careers. I don’t meant to criticise the MLS at all because it’s a great league in a lot of ways. The atmosphere at the games is second to none.

“But for me, from a development point of view, I really wanted to come back home, make a name for myself and then go from there. This will be a much better stepping stone for me than being in America.”

Callan-McFadden had options when he surveyed the League of Ireland landscape, but Sligo Rovers seemed like the perfect fit. When he spoke to assistant manager Declan McIntyre, a fellow Donegal native, the central defender was impressed by the ambitions that boss Dave Robertson has set out for the club, who finished fifth in the Premier Division last season.

Having grown up in the town of Ramelton, just 120 kilometres away from the Showgrounds, Callan-McFadden has been based in Donegal with his wife since returning to Ireland. They’re due to move to Sligo next week and are expecting their first child in July.

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Soccer - FA Youth Cup - Final - Second Leg - Chelsea v Norwich City - Stamford Bridge McFadden, third from right and draped in a Donegal flag, with the Norwich City squad that won the 2013 FA Youth Cup against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Source: Nigel French

“I feel like this is my chance to make an impression in competitive first-team football,” he says. “There’s more of an edge to it when you’re fighting for your place in the team and fighting for points, whether you’re trying to get into Europe, trying to avoid relegation or whatever it may be.

“At Norwich, right up to U21s, it was all about development and being taught how to play a certain way. At Sligo we need to get points on the board every time we go out. This is the first time I’ve been in that climate but I feel like I’m adjusting very well to it.”

Being back in Ireland by the age of 21 wasn’t what Kyle Callan-McFadden planned when he left for Norwich in 2011. However, he’s now grateful for the opportunity to use the League of Ireland as a launchpad for his career. He needs to look no further than another former Sligo Rovers defender from Donegal for inspiration.

Callan-McFadden says: “You see Seamus Coleman, another Donegal man who played with Sligo, he’s now at Everton and the captain of the national team. Even looking at Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Richie Towell, they’ve proven how great the League of Ireland can be.

“It’s brilliant that young lads like myself can look at them and know what opportunities there are. Before that you had Seamus, James McClean, Shane Long and plenty of others. The League of Ireland is definitely a great place to kickstart your career. Hopefully it can be the same for me.”

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