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'I want to prove myself in Ireland before I go back to England'

Sam Bone on battling injury and starting again at St Pat’s.

Sam Bone previously played for Waterford before joining St Pat's (file pic).
Sam Bone previously played for Waterford before joining St Pat's (file pic).
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

AFTER A FRUSTRATING few months, Sam Bone is keen to make a big impact at St Patrick’s Athletic.

The 22-year-old defender made his full league debut in the club’s recent 2-1 win over Drogheda.

It was Bone’s first competitive start in over eight months, after he suffered a serious hamstring injury last season.

The setback was the beginning of the end of the player’s time at Waterford. He subsequently announced his departure from the club last December, making his unhappiness known in a statement, saying: “A part of me wants to say a lot but I’ll keep it short. I feel incredibly let down by the club and the last week or so has been extremely stressful.”

Elaborating on the situation ahead of his new side’s match with Bohemians (kick off: Saturday 6pm), Bone said the uncertainty regarding his future at the Blues had left him frustrated.

“You’re left in the dark, to be honest. No players heard anything. Fran Rockett took over as caretaker manager. He didn’t hear anything. We haven’t got the beauty of three or four-year deals, so you need to do what’s best for you, and what’s best for your career.

“I was still obviously injured and I didn’t want it to be the case where I’m saying: ‘Right, I don’t want to stall these offers I’ve got from clubs waiting for Waterford.’ Ultimately, if I do that, they might go: ‘Right, he’s injured anyway. Just leave him off.’

“As the weeks went on, I was just like: ‘You know what? It is what it is.’ I didn’t hear anything and then I got a text to say: ‘Thanks you for everything, blah, blah, blah.’ And that was that.”

He describes the decision to subsequently link up with Stephen O’Donnell’s side as a “no brainer”.

“I saw Pat’s as a team that this year, they’d be challenging. I think that’s the next step in my career now.

“No disrespect to Waterford, but last year, you’re saying: ‘If we finish fifth or sixth, we’ve done extremely well.’ Whereas this year, we’re looking at challenging for the league, and getting as far as we can in the FAI Cup.”

Bone’s father Billy began his career at Sunderland and also had spells in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, where Sam was born. The family moved back to England when he was five, and Bone linked up with Charlton’s academy at the age of 15. After three years there, he left and stopped playing football for a period soon after, following a shock diagnosis of testicular cancer.

After making a full recovery, Bone agreed to move to Ireland just to train for three weeks with Shamrock Rovers, given that he shared an agent with Hoops boss Stephen Bradley. The intention was then to return home to England and join an academy set-up. However, four years have now passed and the youngster is still plying his trade in Ireland.

“I’ve really enjoyed being here,” he says. “There’s a part of me that wants to prove myself in the league first before I go back to England.

“The gaffer was saying there about Brexit and how you can’t leave before you’re 18. I think that’s going to be a massive plus for Irish football. As an 18-year-old, I said: ‘Right, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that and get a move back home.’ But it didn’t work like that. I learned a lot from the senior players, I learned a lot about game management, and ultimately, it’s made me a much better player, so I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

Not that staying in Ireland has been without its pitfalls, particularly during these turbulent times.

“I suppose that’s my dream, to be closer to my family. It was difficult with the injury. It was two weeks before the start of the season, I was on crutches, still wasn’t able to walk. So it was very difficult to get somewhere in England, especially with Covid at the minute. There are a lot of free agents out there, it’d be very easy for a club to get in a local player. There are not many local teams near me unfortunately, so it was difficult in that sense.

“But there’s a part of me that feels like I haven’t yet proved myself in the league. I felt like last year I was getting going and playing consistently at Waterford, and then I was obviously disrupted by the injury. This year, I want to stamp my authority and show people what I can do.”

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As he discovered first-hand with Waterford, life as a League of Ireland footballer can be a very tenuous existence, with long-term assurances a luxury that most players are not afforded, though Bone feels he can use these tricky circumstances to his benefit.

“You’re always on edge. You haven’t got that beauty of in England, where you’ve got the three or four-year deal and that little bit of stability. I suppose you can look at it both ways. If you’ve got a one-year deal, you can say ‘that keeps me on my toes and I’m making sure every day that I’m coming into training at a high standard’. You can’t afford to come in and slack off.

“I know a lot of boys that were playing in the league that don’t play in the league anymore.

“You look at the likes of Pat’s or Shamrock Rovers — I saw somewhere last week that Sean Hoare signed a four-year deal. It’s definitely getting bigger. I suppose it’s up you then. If you’re doing well, the clubs are going to give you those two or three-year deals.”

For now though, Bone is simply happy to be back playing again after a long wait.

“I felt quite emotional after that game against Drogheda the other day. It was such a long and difficult rehab phase. For the first six weeks, I wasn’t able to walk. I couldn’t do anything for myself. The boys I was living with at the time had to make my dinner, had to make my breakfast and everything, so that was really difficult.

“Normally, you come out of an operation and have your family to greet you, but it wasn’t the case this time around. A lot of sacrifices were made as well. I had to stay in Waterford on my own throughout November, because the gyms were open here and not in England, doing my rehab every day. And then when I went home in December, I did some rehab in my aunt’s gym, because the gyms were still shut.

“And in pre-season, I’ve come in, I was really excited to be back. There were a few complications that we had to get through. I played half an hour in the Cork [friendly] game and just didn’t feel right, so that was mentally challenging. I was sort of saying to myself: ‘What’s going on here? I’ve been out for five months, I’ve done everything right and I’m still breaking down.’ But we had to get that right.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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