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'After a while I wasn't even training with Fulham's first team. I was a bit of an outcast'

Having featured regularly in the Championship for the Cottagers, Dubliner Sean Kavanagh is getting his career back on track at Shamrock Rovers.

Kavanagh celebrates scoring a goal for Fulham at Craven Cottage in 2014.
Kavanagh celebrates scoring a goal for Fulham at Craven Cottage in 2014.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

Updated Apr 13th 2018, 8:35 AM

AT 20 YEARS of age, Sean Kavanagh was being handed his chance to impress at senior level for Fulham.

Having joined the London club’s academy from Belvedere as a youngster, the left-sided full-back had worked his way through the ranks and German manager Felix Magath decided to take a punt.

A first-team debut came at home to Wolves in August 2014, and although ex-Bayern Munich boss Magath was sacked the following month after a run of 11 league games without a win, Kavanagh remained in the team under his successor, Kit Symons.

Despite sitting out several weeks through injury, the Dubliner played 23 times for the Cottagers in all competitions during that maiden campaign.

“I can’t thank him enough for what he did for me,” Kavanagh, speaking to The42, says of Magath.

“He gave me my full debut in the Championship, which was putting big trust in me as I was only 20. I look back on my time working under him fondly because he started me in a few games.

“I played a good bit under Kit as well and I knew him from the U21s. He stepped up and kept me in the team. But football is football and he went, with a new manager coming in.”

In December 2015, former Yugoslavia midfielder Slavisa Jokanovic was handed the job and Kavanagh’s chances dried up. After loan spells at Mansfield Town and Hartlepool United, it became clear that he would have to go elsewhere to play regularly.

“I just found myself out of the team, then after a while I wasn’t even training with the first team,” he recalls. “I was a bit of an outcast. It’s disheartening as you feel like you’ve done your best for the club.

Listen, that’s football and I’m not the only one it has happened to. I won’t be the last either.

“But I look back at what I’ve done and I’m happy with it. I’m proud of myself and my family are too, which is the main thing. I’ve come home and I’m looking to push on here if I can.”

Soccer - Sky Bet Championship - Nottingham Forest v Fulham - City Ground Former Bayern Munich boss Magath gave Kavanagh his opportunity in the first team. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Although his contract wasn’t due to expire until this summer, Kavanagh was eager to kickstart his career. He trained with Derry City, but a chat with former team-mate Damien Duff opened the door to a move to Shamrock Rovers in February.

And he believes it was the right decision.

“I’ve loved it since I’ve come back in,” he says. “The lads have helped, it’s a good bunch here. I had spoken to Damien a little bit and he’s involved with the club. He spoke highly of it and what he said has been true.

“They’re doing things right here and they seem to be one of the clubs who are going in the right direction with the facilities, the training ground and eating together and that. It’s what I’d expect from a professional club coming from across the way, where you’re used to all that stuff.

I’ve been impressed with the players and the standard of training has been good.”

Kavanagh, who is comfortable in a number of positions, has settled into the Rovers team almost immediately — missing just one of the 10 Premier Division matches so far due to suspension after picking up a red card against Limerick.

He has mainly operated on the left-side of midfield, but also featured in front of the back-four during the 6-0 win over Bray Wanderers.

“At the minute, I just want to play as much as I can,” he replies, when asked about his favoured role. “When I came in, the gaffer said that one of the big reasons they were looking at me was my versatility as I can play left-back, left midfield or as a holding midfielder. Anywhere I can get on, I’ll try to do a job for the team.”

Away from football, the Ringsend native has enjoyed having his girlfriend and three-year-old son Freddy as well as family and friends all close by after the lengthy spell in England.

“Only the other day, I picked my grandad up, which I wouldn’t have done in seven years or so. It’s the small things that you do miss, and you don’t realise until you come home that they are a big factor in your life. On and off the field, I’ve settled in.”

Sean Kavanagh Kavanagh has been a valuable addition to the Rovers team. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

With competition to succeed at England’s top clubs greater than ever, more and more young Irish players are looking at returning to play in the League of Ireland as a viable option and Kavanagh can see why.

“They’re probably being told the league here isn’t great, but if players are struggling in England and I was to speak to anyone over there in that situation, I’d recommend it big time.

You look at the likes of Sean Maguire, who went over and came back. Now he’s gone back over with Kevin O’Connor. I know those two lads quite well, so it’s something to look at if you want to come home and get yourself going again.”

The 24-year-old wasn’t involved when Bohemians handed Rovers a 3-1 defeat on the opening night of the season, but he’s likely to play when the Gypsies visit Tallaght Stadium for this evening’s Dublin derby.

“This last week it’s just about keeping at it as we played well at times [in the 2-1 loss to Dundalk] last Friday,” he says.

“It’s a big derby and you need to know that, but it’s just about going out and doing your thing, then the result will hopefully look after itself.”

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Ben Blake

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