Waterford's Padraig Amond in action against Sligo's Oliver Denham. Ken Sutton/INPHO

‘I didn't think I'd ever come back… But kids come along and things change’

Waterford’s Pádraig Amond on returning to Irish football after 14 years away.

AFTER 14 years away, Pádraig Amond finally returned home to Ireland in January, signing a two-year contract with Waterford.

The Irish club had been interested in signing the Carlow native the previous year.

However, Amond was a key player for Woking and the club were reluctant to let him leave, particularly as they were challenging for promotion from the National League.

But the more the 36-year-old thought about returning to the League of Ireland, the greater the appeal seemed.

“Especially with having kids and being back in time for the kids to start school here,” Amond tells The 42.

Relatives would be close too, while the experienced striker was attracted to the Waterford project. He would be the older head of a young squad.

“I loved the thought of being back and how important my input might be in that dressing room,” he says.

Previously, his time away encompassed two seasons in Portugal while playing for Paços de Ferreira, and several years spent in Manchester and Wales representing clubs including Accrington Stanley, Hartlepool United and Newport County.

“When Waterford became interested, it wasn’t like what normally would happen when one team are interested,” he explains. “You’d look and see what else is there and try to push the price up and I genuinely never even tried.

“I had no interest in doing that because I was happy to be coming back for that project in Waterford and equally as happy going back because our home base in Carlow is 40 minutes away.”

Equally, though, Amond can understand why some Irish players choose never to come home.

There is “naivety” in how Irish people sometimes view the prospect of playing at lower-league English clubs and don’t realise the depth of their resources.

“There is no chance certain clubs, even the top clubs over here, would be able to compete [financially] with some clubs in the National League, League Two or League One.

“The financial strength in the UK is scary. But the support bases of a lot of clubs are huge as well. We played a game in the National League with Woking in my first year and there were 16,000 I think at Notts County

“You look at the fourth tier in League Two at Bradford City, they sell 10-12,000 season tickets before anyone pays on the day, so they could have games where there’s 18,000 [fans].

“There’s so much strength in the league — a Wrexham or a Salford have been bought by big owners, multi-millionaires.”

Amond himself admits he was not always sure he would return.

“I didn’t think I’d ever come back. If you’d asked five years ago, I would have said we would have stayed over there purely because of the coaching side — there are probably 120 to 130 full-time clubs with full-time jobs.

“But kids come along and things change and your perspective changes.”

padraig-amond Amond pictured playing for Sligo Rovers in 2010. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

One notable difference to when Amond left Sligo Rovers in 2010 is the feel-good factor surrounding the league.

Attendances are steadily increasing, media coverage is more extensive, longer contracts are being offered and the average age of teams has decreased dramatically.

However, there is also an acknowledgement that there is a long way to go. Football is not an industry in Ireland as it is across the water.

Amond echoes the views of many in suggesting that further progress will depend on “government funding for the academies and for the clubs to build those academies”.

He continues: “Whether we like it or not, in the next 20 years, the backbone of the national team will come from building those players in the academies in Ireland and developing those. Maybe the Brexit rules will help the clubs with that and the [Irish] clubs will have more power.”

18-year-old Sam Curtis has already made his Premier League debut with Sheffield United, having regularly represented St Patrick’s Athletic as recently as last year. Nonetheless, not everyone who moves across can make such a swift transition.

“And that’s where we need to make this into an industry in Ireland as well as is in the UK,” Amond says. “But it didn’t happen overnight in the UK and it won’t happen overnight here.” 

While much closer to the end than the beginning of his playing career, Amond would love to be part of an Irish footballing revolution.

He has completed his coaching badges and is studying for a Sports Fitness and Coaching degree.

Of all the managers Amond worked with abroad, he wants to take elements from them all, but two during his Portugal stint stand out.

Rui Vitoria, most recently Egypt manager, as well as having stints at Benfica, Al Nassr and Spartak Moscow, and Paulo Fonseca, currently head coach at Lille, who previously was in charge of Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Roma.

“They were just very, very good the way they broke the game down,” he says. “The way they were able to set the team up.

“You start to see it all happening now — our goalkeepers would train with us, the outfield players if we were ever doing possession or doing anything and then they would go to [play] goalkeeper towards the end.

“But even if we were doing 11 v 11, we had 22 players in the squad, the goalkeeper would play as a midfield player. So they all had to be comfortable on the ball.

“And it’s not a coincidence that you now see [all] goalkeepers doing all that stuff. Nearly the first attribute they need to have now is to be good on the ball — not to be a goalkeeper. So they were kind of ahead of the game in that sense.”

lille-france-18th-apr-2024-head-coach-paulo-fonseca-of-lille-pictured-during-the-post-match-press-conference-after-the-uefa-conference-league-quarter-final-round-second-leg-game-in-the-2023-2024 Amond cites Paulo Fonseca as one of the most impressive coaches he worked under. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Similarly, Amond has learned from some of the mistakes of coaches he has worked under and believes management involves a substantial degree of amateur psychology.

“I know certain teammates from throughout my career, they need you to have a go at them to get them going. And they need to go almost: ‘I’ll show you.’ 

“You know what you’re doing, you’re kind of poking the bear to get them going and then afterwards they’re laughing at you: ‘I knew exactly what you were doing but you wound me up so much that I had to prove you wrong,’ whereas other people will be the complete opposite.”

Amond’s primary focus at the moment, however, is continuing to perform on the pitch. He has had an encouraging start at his new club with eight goals from 17 appearances putting him among the Premier Division’s top scorers – only Derry City’s Pat Hoban has been more prolific.

Waterford, meanwhile, have had a better-than-expected beginning to the season. They are three points off reigning champions Shamrock Rovers with two games in hand.

“Keith Long is doing a brilliant job with a team that has just been promoted,” Amond adds.

“And we’ve got a very young side and he’s putting his stamp on it now and as a team, we’re growing with every game. We’re by no means the finished article.

“But you can see in the last few weeks, our performance has been very, very good. And that’s down to the management and staff for doing unbelievable work with us.”

Amond is sometimes jokingly reminded that certain Waterford teammates weren’t even born when he made his senior debut for Shamrock Rovers in 2006.

But he is certainly a good role model and worth listening to as someone who has scored over 200 goals and made 700-plus appearances in senior football.

“You want clubs who want you and that are willing to spend the money on you because if they spend the money on you, they’ll put the effort into developing you as a player whereas it might be a little bit different going over on a free transfer at 18,” he says of those Irish youngsters hoping to make the move abroad.

“Playing as many games as you can in Ireland before you go is huge and playing in men’s football where results matter [is important]. I understand everyone wants to go to England or wherever it might be, but you don’t want to get caught in a situation where you’re going two or three years without playing football.

“You might end up in a U21 team in the UK, one of the top teams. But you don’t leave quick enough and suddenly, you’re 23 and you’ve not played.

“The best example of anyone’s career I can give is Seamus Coleman who played so many games for Sligo. He was a man when he was leaving, he wasn’t a boy going over to England and his career has been unbelievable since — he’s one of the best players if not the best Irish player of the last 15-20 years.”

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