Newport County's Padraig Amond (centre) scores against Spurs. Andrew Matthews
a true underdog story

'There was free drink for everyone in the bar' - The Carlow footballer who stunned Premier League giants

Irish striker Padraig Amond chats to The42 about the goal that almost knocked Tottenham out of the FA Cup.

PADRAIG AMOND’S TIMING isn’t always as perfect as it was when he ran to the back post in the 38th minute at Rodney Parade the Saturday before last.

In fact, the Newport County striker is running an hour late for this interview. To be fair though, he has a pretty good excuse.

“Sorry about the delay. We played Lincoln so I only got home about 4am last night,” he tells The42.

“I was conked out. I only woke a couple of minutes ago. We were expecting to get in a bit earlier, but we got caught in traffic. I tried to sleep on the bus, but it wasn’t happening.”

The admission is a small insight into the striker’s everyday existence, and one which emphasises that football is not always glamorous, particularly when it comes to life as a lower-league player.

Literally millions of people tuned in to see Amond put League Two side Newport County 1-0 up against Tottenham in the FA Cup, with the south-east-Wales-based club having already upset Leeds United in the competition’s third round. However, not many will have seen the countless hours of practice he put in to get to that stage, or the journeys across the country that occasionally keep him up until the small hours of the morning.

So for every rare moment of glory such as the Spurs goal, there is at least one unenviable slog not far off.

“We wouldn’t usually get an away game like that on a Tuesday night, but it happens the odd occasion,” he says.

“It’s just one of those things you have to get on with. It’s not too bad for me because I don’t have children or anything like that, but some of the lads have kids, they’re up early for [dropping them to] school already. Straight away, they’re not recovered properly, so it’s harder for them than it is for the likes of me.”

Amond may not have slept particularly well, but he will probably feel as if he is still dreaming. The other weekend, the Carlow native’s goal against Spurs looked set to cause a huge surprise, before Harry Kane’s 82nd-minute equaliser set up a replay between the sides.

“I’ve watched it back a few hundred times now at this stage and I’m still not tired of it,” he says of the well-executed header. “It’s an unbelievable feeling and one of the best moments for me in football.

Just when the ball hit the back of the net and you celebrate and hear the crowd scream, you’re just thinking to yourself: ‘Jesus, I’ve just scored the opening goal against Spurs, you’re winning 1-0, Harry Kane’s playing, almost all the big names were there and we’re beating them 1-0.

“It was a fantastic result and when you look back at it now, it’s still a fantastic result. We played really well, but you can’t help but be a little bit disappointed that we didn’t hold out for the victory.

“It would have been probably the biggest shock in the history of the FA Cup. From a personal view, it would have been unbelievable to tell everyone in years to come I scored the winner against Spurs. But it still is a fabulous result and fully deserved, because I think we played really well.”

The Emirates FA Cup / YouTube

1. Watching from afar

The moment was made all the more special by the fact that friends and family were watching on in awe, both at the stadium and back home in Carlow.

“It was only my brother and his girlfriend there [in the ground],” he recalls. “My mum and dad get to nearly every game, but my mum had an operation on her knee the previous Thursday, so she couldn’t fly, but at least she has a replay she can go to now.

Everyone was watching the game on TV. There was a local pub running a promotion, Tully’s Bar in Carlow, and they said ‘when’ I scored there’s a free drink, not ‘if’.

“So there was free drink for everyone in the bar and my mum and dad went in to watch it in there with a few of their friends. It cost the pub a few quid, but I think they were very happy to be giving out the free drink.

“I was in school with the manager of the bar when we were kids. I think my mum and dad didn’t have to pay for a drink all evening. There were people down for the weekend and they were bringing my mum and dad drink over as a thank you.

“So yeah, it’s very good, but to be fair, that bar, they’re great supporters of GAA and sports in Carlow in general, so it couldn’t happen to a better one.”

(SP)BRITAIN-LONDON-FOOTBALL-HOTSPUR VS MAN UNITED Tottenham have been in good form since the Newport game, comprehensively beating Man United last week. Xinhua News Agency / PA Images Xinhua News Agency / PA Images / PA Images

2. David v Goliath Part II

All eyes now will be on the replay this Wednesday at Wembley, a venue which Amond has played in twice before within the space of a couple of days for Grimsby in 2016, beating Forest Green 3-1 in the Conference play-off final, and losing 1-0 to Halifax Town in the FA Trophy final.

Since the sides’ first meeting, Tottenham have beaten Manchester United comprehensively and come close to overcoming Liverpool at Anfield. By contrast, Newport have endured back-to-back losses against Lincoln and Colchester. So needless to say, the League Two side are significant underdogs once again, with an estimated 50,000 spectators set to attend the game.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “Some of the lads have not played there before, but we’ve actually got quite a bit of Wembley experience in the squad, which is good.

“Spurs in Wembley could be a completely different story, because obviously in terms of our players, the pitches and what they’re used to, we were in their face and stuff like that [at Rodney Parade]. At Wembley, the pitch is bigger. Hopefully we can do what we did, but it’ll be a lot harder I think.”

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United - Premier League - Wembley Stadium Eric Dier was among the Tottenham players to be strongly criticised in Newport's scouting report. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

3. THAT scouting report

A curious subplot arose in the aftermath of the first tie, when a Newport scouting report of Tottenham based on their recent 1-1 Premier League draw with Southampton was leaked.

The measured assessment created headlines in particular for the more negative aspects of the Spurs players under scrutiny — Dele Alli was described as “selfish,” Eric Dier was “one-paced,” Mousa Dembele gave away needless free-kicks, Michel Vorm did not come for crosses and Eric Lamela “lacks any passion”.

Yet despite these criticisms, Amond is under no illusions as to how good a team Spurs are.

“After about 15 seconds, the first ball was played into Harry Kane and first time, he just whipped it out wide. Afterwards, our players were kind of like ‘oh Jesus, this is going to be a long night,’ just from one or two passes.

At one stage, the ball came into Dembele in midfield. [Newport player] Ben Tozer said: ‘I was getting tight all night and putting pressure on him, I thought I could win this one,’ but he said he just rolled him so easily and glided away. That’s just the quality they had.”

Was the scouting report perhaps almost deliberately over critical in order to fill the Newport players with confidence ahead of the game?

“I don’t think they’re over critical,”Amond says. “I think people are looking at it the wrong way in the sense that in every team, if you do a scouting report on 20 lads, there has to be someone who’s the strongest player on the ball and there has to be someone who’s the weakest.

“Just because he’s the weakest player on the ball doesn’t mean he’s not very good.

Eric Dier, in the videos we watched, he got caught [in possession] a couple of times, so ‘not very good on the ball’ is a term you’d use for someone who’s still a very good player. It’s compared to Dembele or Dele Alli or Harry Kane. There’s nothing in that which suggests we were disrespectful towards Spurs. It’s a standard scouting report.

“We were playing Lincoln last night — it was the exact same. One of their players is not as strong on the ball [so] we can get in his face.

“The biggest thing that comes from it is the set pieces, that’s what you get the most out of.

“I can understand why someone who’s not in football might see it and think ‘that’s very disrespectful,’ but anyone that’s playing will know it’s very standard. There’s nothing major in it, there’s no groundbreaking science to it for anyone that’s seen them before

“Eric Dier is a fantastic player. He can play centre back, central midfield, he can do stuff anywhere across the pitch.

“It just happened to be that we thought we could get at him, and I think our captain got straight in his face, nicked the ball off him and we nearly scored.

“A lot has been made about it, but we were just laughing about it and I’m sure everyone at Spurs [will be laughing about it].

Usually, when a report is left behind in the dressing room, everyone gets it, has a little look at it, and they’ll start the battering other players [on their team].

“‘Look at you, you’re slow, you’re not very good on the ball, he thinks you’re crap.’ And then someone obviously gets a glowing report and is thinking: ‘I could get a move here if everything doesn’t work out [at my current club].’”

Newport County v Leeds United - Emirates FA Cup - Third Round - Rodney Parade Last season, Irish defender Mark O'Brien scored the goal that relegated Amond and Hartlepool. This year, they are teammates. David Davies David Davies

4. If you can’t beat them, join them

It has been a pretty remarkable few months for Amond. Last season, he was playing for Hartlepool and in a relegation fight with his current employers. Ultimately, a late goal on the last day of the season from another Irish player, Mark O’Brien, relegated Amond and co while keeping Newport up.

After a protracted transfer saga, the Irish attacker then switched clubs, having started the season in the National League with Hartlepool.

“People were saying to me: ‘You’re going to Newport, they only just stayed up last year, they’re going to get relegated.’ But I didn’t look at anything like that. I looked at the club’s performance from when the manager [Mike Flynn] came in last year. He took over for the last 12 games and they won seven and stayed up, so that was promotion-winning form to me, not a relegated side, without him getting a chance to build his own side.

“In the summer, he was getting some very good players signed. Once I saw all that, I was very excited about the move and I knew it was going to be a good season, because I just had a really good feeling that things were going to work out.

“The other thing that makes you sign for a club is how much a manager wants you. About a year ago last weekend, I was playing for Hartlepool against Newport — so a year to the day I scored against Newport for Spurs. In that game, Graham Westley was still manager [of Newport] and Michael Flynn was on the bench as a player-coach.

I was warming up as well and he was going up beside me and asked: ‘How come you’re not playing?’ I said: ‘To be honest, I have no idea.’ It was Dave Jones’ first game [as Hartlepool manager], nobody had spoken to me and I’d played nearly every game up to then — I was just left out. He said they were delighted when they saw the team-sheet and I wasn’t playing.

“He said: ‘If I was manager, I’d be picking you every day of the week, I think you’re a brilliant striker.’ And that was someone without an agenda, because he wasn’t the manager at the time, it was just a conversation.

“All I could think of was ‘this manager really likes me, he’s not just telling me something because he’s trying to sign me, he’s told me that without any agenda, as a player’.

“That really stuck with me and made the decision [to sign] a lot easier as well. I knew straight away, I had the respect of the manager, he did like me, he wasn’t just signing me as a number. He obviously was going to play me.

I know it doesn’t happen to everybody, but some people will sign for big clubs because of the name without realising you might not play as much. It’s always just to say: ‘I play for such and such a club.’ When you get to the lower leagues, it doesn’t work like that. Things can change at the bottom of the table and maybe [the team] can get promoted the next year.

“The two best examples in the lower leagues are Notts County, who nearly got relegated and now are flying in League Two, and Shrewsbury in League One, who like Hartlepool were dead and buried and should have been relegated and were saved, and now they’re within touching distance of getting themselves promoted to the Championship.”

Padraig Amond of Carlow with Ger Fennelly of Kilkenny Padraig Amond of Carlow pictured playing against Kilkenny in the 2006 Leinster Minor Hurling Final. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

5. Dabbling in GAA

Newport may not quite be challenging for promotion, but they are doing well for a side who were on the brink of relegation last season. They are currently 11th in League Two and Amond is still optimistic they can go up this year. One factor that he believes could be crucial is the disproportionate number of home games the team have left, given that work done on Rodney Parade by the Welsh Rugby Union around the start of the season meant they had to play the majority of their opening fixtures on the road.

Not many would have been tipping them to do so well at the start of the season, but then Amond is used to playing the underdog, right from his early days at Shamrock Rovers, when he would furtively balance these commitments with a promising GAA career at minor level.

“I played with all the county teams growing up in Carlow. I was playing minor football and minor hurling. That particular year, we happened to get really far in the hurling. We were unlucky in the football, we got beaten in the second round. So I probably would have been juggling the three of them if we hadn’t got beaten.

We started playing with Carlow the November previous. I’d been training quite a long time and then in March, I just happened to make my Shamrock Rovers debut.

“It was at the round robin stages of the Leinster Championship. I remember the first game we were supposed to play, we were training on the Friday night in Dublin, I told the [Carlow] manager I couldn’t play because we had a game the next day [in the League of Ireland] against Kildare County.

“I said: ‘I just can’t do it, it’s just too much.’ He talked me around to it. They put me down on the team-sheet as my name, but every programme that was printed was printed with a different name [to mine].

I stepped out of team photos, I didn’t stand in any of them. I played three o’clock against Offaly and then played against Kildare County that evening with Shamrock Rovers as well. Looking back on it now, I don’t know how [it happened], I think it was just because I was so young and I didn’t want to let anyone down.

“I knew it was wrong but no one at Shamrock Rovers had said to me I couldn’t play. That was the only saving grace I had that I was a country person, who would have been very ‘do what I’m told’ kind of thing. If someone had told me I couldn’t, I would have just picked soccer, but no one told me I couldn’t, so I tried to please everybody.

“It went well. I think we played the semi-final, I scored a couple of goals in the last minutes for us to beat Offaly and then there was a big picture of me in The Independent celebrating, so then I got found out.

But to be fair to the club and [then-manager] Pat Scully, he understood that I was putting in a lot of effort with them. He said to me: ‘How many games are left?’ I said we’re playing Kilkenny next week.

“I didn’t think we were going to lose it, but Kilkenny had the likes of Richie Hogan playing and we knew they were a very good side. We’d be playing the winners of Munster in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, so they said I could finish out the year.

“The last two games I played of hurling were the Leinster final in Croke Park and in Nowlan Park against Tipperary, who went on to win the All-Ireland final. So it was brilliant.”

Soccer - UEFA Europa League - Group A - Shamrock Rovers v Tottenham Hotspur - Tallaght Stadium Amond struggled to earn a starting spot in Michael O'Neill's Shamrock Rovers side. PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

6. Growing up

Amond has always been a soccer man at heart though, having joined Shamrock Rovers at the age of 10. He made his senior debut while still a teenager against Athlone in 2006, helping the side win the First Division and gain promotion to the top flight that same season.

Ultimately though, Amond found regular game time hard to come by. After Michael O’Neill took over as manager, Gary Twigg and Dessie Baker were the preferred partnership in attack, and with the duo in excellent form, Amond inevitably struggled to get a look-in.

I rang Michael to tell him what was happening, that I was going to leave, [despite the fact that] they had offered me a new contract,” Amond remembers. “He told me that, while he wanted to keep me, [he said]: ‘For your own career, I think that’s the right decision to make.’”

Having spent a decade at Shamrock Rovers, Amond joined Sligo in December 2009. He enjoyed a prolific run of form at the Showgrounds, registering 17 goals in 27 league games, while he was also part of a side that won both the FAI Cup and the League of Ireland Cup.

Yet his spell with Sligo proved short-lived. Less than a year after joining, the Irish club accepted a bid from Pacos de Ferreira and Amond subsequently signed a three-year contract with the Portuguese side. It made him just the fifth Irish player to feature in the Primeira Liga and the only one who hasn’t been capped at international level — Phil Babb, Alan Mahon, Mickey Walsh and Dominic Foley are the others.

Pacos were by no means the best team in Portugal — in fact, they were renowned for flirting with relegation most years. And while Amond didn’t always play, his side happened to enjoy an incredible run of form during his time there. The Irishman also came up against some of the top players in European football. The Porto side back then featured stars such as Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Hulk and Joao Moutinho, while Benfica’s team included David Luiz, Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola and Luisao.

“Benfica probably had a better style of football, but Porto won the league that year,” Amond adds.

Pacos, the traditionally small club, somewhat improbably qualified for the Europa League in Amond’s first season and the Champions League the second year (though they were knocked out in the qualifying rounds 8-3 on aggregate by Zenit Saint Petersburg), while he also was part of a side that reached the Portuguese cup final, before losing 2-1 to Benfica, with the Irish attacker watching from the bench as an unused sub.

Rui Vitória, his first coach there, is now managing Benfica. The man who succeeded him in the hotseat, Paulo Fonseca, is currently boss at Ukrainian powerhouses Shakhtar Donetsk.

“I learned an awful lot about the tactical side there and ways to set your teams up against the bigger sides,” Amond says.

Soccer - UEFA Europa League - Quarter Final - First Leg - Benfica v Liverpool - Stadium of Light Amond was competing against players of the calibre of Pablo Aimar while playing in Portugal. EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

7. Problems in Portugal

Life off the field, however, was not without its downsides.

“I could understand [the language] a lot more than I could speak it,” he explains. “I never once got homesick but the only thing I did miss was a simple conversation with people.

“One of the reasons I did move to Sligo [previously], and there were other teams interested, it was partly [then-manager] Paul Cook, who I just thought was infectious. He could sell sand to the Arabs, that’s how good he is at selling a football club to you.

But one of the other reasons I moved to Sligo is that it was like a test run. I wouldn’t be going home every weekend, I was outside my comfort zone. I had to learn whether I could live away from home, because if I wanted to make the jump to England, it was going to have to be away from everyone.

“Obviously it’s a lot easier in England than it was in Portugal, because everyone speaks the same language, you know a lot more people and stuff like that. But yeah, it was tough. I missed out on a lot of things that I would have been able to get home for from England that were going on in Carlow with family.

“It was just a case of not being able to break into the team, because they were very good at the time, it was as simple as that. If I was playing every week, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

“It’s the same when you’re playing in England, when you’re not playing, the whole world’s against you. You’re thinking ‘jeez, all I want to do is play’.

There was an Australian fella there, Jason Davidson, he was very good. By the end of January, he went on loan to another club [Sporting Covilha] and was later sold, so he went away then and he was after helping me an awful lot in my first few months. That was my friend from there gone, so it was [difficult].

“The dressing room was quite cliquey. I spoke to everyone, but there was Portuguese players vying with the South Americans and stuff like that, so there was a little bit of a divide. But on the pitch, if [an opponent] touched someone, they’re backing them up.”

After two years in Portugal, which he calls “a brilliant opportunity” and “something I’ll never regret doing,” Amond signed for Accrington Stanley in League Two, after an initial successful loan spell there.

“When I went to Accrington, I played on the wing, just to do a job. I was a hard-working, honest player, and I’d always chip in with goals,” he says. “I wanted to play as a striker, but people didn’t think I could play as a one up-front target man, which I disagree with, because I’m actually quite good in the air for my height.

“So I played on the wing there and I played for two years. I went to Morecame and similarly, they used me in the same position and I was top scorer playing on the wing, which was something I was very proud of.”

Forest Green Rovers v Grimsby Town - Vanarama National League - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Grimsby players celebrate with the 2016 Vanarama National League play-off trophy. EMPICS Sport EMPICS Sport

8. Goals galore

Nevertheless, by the end of the 2014-15 season, Amond was released by Morecambe. Despite reported interest from Dundalk and other clubs, he chose to drop down a level and sign for Grimsby — a National League team at the time. It proved a fruitful relationship, as Amond consequently enjoyed a memorable season at Blundell Park, notching a phenomenal 37 goals in 50 matches, after being moved to his preferred position up front.

“I look back on the time at Accrington and Morecambe and kind of think what could have been if I’d played up front and been a bit younger, would I have got the bigger move? But then I would have missed out on what I had at Grimsby and that was an unbelievable year. It was an unbelievable group of lads, probably the best I’ve ever played with in football, we just all gelled together on the pitch.

“We just had a connection — we still have the group chat going, which is probably a testament to how close we all were. It was a fantastic year, we got promoted. We got beaten in the FA Trophy final, but without being disrespectful, we celebrated quite a lot after the play-off final, because that was the most important thing — the club wanted to get back in the Football League.

At the start of the year, the FA Trophy wasn’t even on the cards. The manager played a weakened side the whole way through just to get players games and to be honest, I think we nearly wanted out of the competition, because it was a distraction.

“We ended up having to catch up on games on the teams ahead of us — they got knocked out early, whether it was by design or they just happened to get knocked out and ultimately, the league title slipped away very quickly because we were four or five games behind and it always was going to be tough.

“I went to Hartlepool and I scored 14 goals [in the 2016-17 campaign], but it was still a disappointing year, because we got relegated.

“But that season at Grimsby was one of those years where everything went right.”

Newport County v Leeds United - Emirates FA Cup - Third Round - Rodney Parade Leeds United's Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (left) and Newport County's Padraig Amond battle for the ball during the Emirates FA Cup, Third Round match at Rodney Parade. David Davies David Davies

9. What next?

At 29, Amond has no intention of hanging up his boots anytime soon, but he has at least started thinking about the long-term future. He has already completed his UEFA B coaching licence and is working on an A licence. The work is with the Northern Irish FA, who run an “intensive” programme during the summer to accommodate professional footballers that generally do not have time for the longer courses, which some of the other associations oversee.

Amond’s specific course contained some notable names who he worked alongside, including former Aston Villa and Celtic star Stiliyan Petrov, Wigan defender Alex Bruce, Burnley full-back Phil Bardsley, along with Luis Jimenez and César Peixoto, who played with Inter Milan and Porto respectively around the time both were winning the Champions League (in 2004 and 2010).

The decision I have to make is whether I want to stay involved in coaching at a competitive level or I want to be involved at academies and stuff like that,” Amond reflects. “It’s a hard decision to make, because when you go in as a manager, it doesn’t really have the best longevity in the world, does it?

“You go in and if your first job isn’t very good, you might get a second job and if the second job isn’t very good, you’re not going to get a third job.

“Whereas if you go in as an academy coach, there’s more stability in it, so that’s the decision you have to make. That’s the one thing they [emphasised] on the course: ‘We can teach you how to coach, do this, that or the other.’ But the one thing they can’t tell us is what you want to be.”

He may be set for another dream moment on Wednesday, but like the rest of us, more practical concerns await Amond thereafter.

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