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Out of work Leahy among a host of players searching for a club as the new season looms

The harsh realities of life in the League of Ireland are accentuated at this time of year.

The defender spent five seasons at Belfield.
The defender spent five seasons at Belfield.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

MICK LEAHY IS not your stereotypical footballer.

With an array of qualifications behind him, his CV is so well furnished he’ll have no difficulty in realising a new trade and, indeed, finding an employer when the time comes to enter another line of work.

A Bachelors Degree in Politics and Economics, a Masters of Science in Management Consultancy and a Masters of Common Law, all from UCD, have opened up a variety of potential routes for Leahy to go down – he has ensured his future is mapped out. It is, however, the 25-year-old’s immediate future that is far from certain.

Just a handful of weeks out from the start of the new Airtricity League season and Leahy, along with a host of other players, remains without a club.

“I’ve always been signed up before Christmas so it’s a bit strange,” he told The42. ”I’ve had a couple of injuries over the last few years so if you’ve not played week in, week out you can’t really expect to be snapped up instantly.”

A spate of debilitating injuries curbed the marked progress he was making under the tutelage of Martin Russell at UCD and after seeking pastures new at Limerick at the start of last year – a move which was seen as a next career step – he’s searching for another stepping stone to set him back in the right direction.

Leahy was part of the 16-man squad that travelled to the annual FIFPro tournament in Norway last week. The one-day event is designed to give unemployed footballers the platform to showcase themselves to prospective clubs.

10416577_10154827844110162_3136877078197825174_n Appearances were few and far between for Leahy at Limerick

“It was a really good experience and the quality of the other teams was really good,” he explained. “The manager made it clear that it wasn’t about getting results or getting to the final but performances is what mattered – that element of it was strange.”

As it happened, Ireland, collectively anyway, made quite an impression. They defeated a much-fancied Finland side in their opening game on penalties before narrowly losing out to Sweden in the tournament decider.

While interest from the onlooking scouts from Scandinavian clubs is encouraging for a group of out-of-work players, many have no intention of leaving home.

Leahy was among the travelling party with several offers from Airtricity League clubs on the table but with his mind not yet made up, the Norwegian exercise was as much about easing his way back to full fitness than a last chance saloon.

“I didn’t speak to anyone over there directly because the scouts speak with the PFAI and then they relay it on but I haven’t heard anything yet. The increased media attention back here is just as significant though as it reminds clubs of which players are available.

“I talked to a couple of clubs before Christmas but nothing jumped out at me. I got the call from the PFAI and saw it as the perfect year to go because the training beforehand was intense and the FAI coaches were excellent.”

Leahy has had no shortage of tutoring, both on and off the field. The defender is a graduate of the acclaimed UCD scholarship programme that offers young players the chance to combine a rich footballing education with academic studies.

After making his Airtricity League debut in 2009, the former Belvedere schoolboy matured into a senior member – and the captain – of Russell’s fledging side that consistently punched above their weight.

Michael Leahy Leahy thrived under Russell at UCD as he captained the Students Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But, for any player who learns their trade on campus, there comes a time when the natural progression is to seek a new challenge. For Leahy, the next step on his career path was a move south.

“It was frustrating,” Leahy said of his year at Limerick, during which he played just 540 minutes. “I did a lot of work on my own during pre-season to ensure I was ready to go. I was in a good position fitness wise and was up there among the best in testing but I then picked up an injury that kept me out for two months.

“When I did return, the team was pretty established and it was tough to get into the side.”

Following the departure of Stuart Taylor midway through last term, it was, incidentally, Leahy’s former manager that assumed the reigns at Thomond Park.

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Although he would love to work under Russell again, the 25-year-old can understand why Limerick weren’t determined to keep hold of him.

Naturally, there’s an element of regret when the former Student speaks about his time in Munster. What had promised to be a breakthrough year transpired into a regressive one but given his current position, he would be open to a return to The Blues.

Michael Leahy The Dubliner wants to make a decision on his future this weekend Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“I spoke with the club about the possibility of coming back but there is a couple of things going on there at the moment and the budget has been reduced. We couldn’t come to an agreement.

“I would definitely welcome the opportunity of returning as I worked under Martin [Russell] for nearly six years and he’s a very good coach,” he remarked, although not overly convincingly.

As the start of the season draws ever closer – the opening fixtures take place on 6 March – time is ticking for Leahy. There is still the possibility of something arising from his trip to Scandinavia and while he wouldn’t turn down a move abroad if the offer was right, you get the feeling Leahy is holding out for something closer to home.

“You don’t want to wait too long before deciding on what to do because most clubs have started pre-season this week and you don’t want to fall behind. There are a couple of things in the pipeline but I don’t have any ties at the moment so I’d be happy to move anywhere to play football for the year.”

But, as his career craves a kick-start after a a disheartening couple of injury-plagued seasons, Leahy is determined to do more than secure a new employer for the next nine months.

“I just want to get to a club, play the majority of games and show everyone I’m fit again.”

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Ryan Bailey

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