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'Like a new signing' - The ex-Man City youngster starting to thrive in Irish football

Will Patching was on target as Dundalk comfortably overcame Newtown last night.

Dundalk's Will Patching celebrates scoring his side's third goal.
Dundalk's Will Patching celebrates scoring his side's third goal.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

DUNDALK PUT a fairly limited Newtown side to the sword in the Europa Conference League last night, and one man who caught the eye was Will Patching.

The 22-year-old midfielder has had an interesting career trajectory.

He joined the Man City academy at the age of six and spent over a decade at the club before leaving in 2018.

Patching was talented enough to represent England at U16, U17 and U18 level, but somewhere along the line, his stock appears to have fallen considerably.

A move to Notts County failed to work out. He made just 10 appearances for the troubled club, as they were relegated from League Two in the 2018-19 season.

Having trained with Port Vale, the Stockport-born footballer then made the move to Dundalk, as he attempted to resurrect his career, signing ahead of the 2020 season.

Yet Patching arrived as the Lilywhites were in the midst of the transitional phase, and he struggled to make an impact at Oriel Park initially.

An underwhelming first campaign resulted in the youngster being loaned to Derry City, where he began to thrive under the guidance of former Dundalk assistant boss Ruaidhri Higgins.

In fact, Patching made such a positive impression at the Brandywell that he was recalled by Dundalk and now appears to be developing into an important player for the Lilywhites.

Patching has a slightly languid demeanour on the pitch that is perhaps unfairly interpreted as lazy by some.

Yet the midfielder’s talent is clear. His range of passing and footballing intelligence was noticeable in last night’s encounter, while he capped an influential display with a superb long-distance goal from roughly 30 yards out.

It was not the first time this season that Patching has looked a cut above. He has six goals in the Premier Division alone, and will likely have plenty more by the season’s culmination if he continues at his current rate.

Dundalk boss Vinny Perth was among the many impressed by what they saw.

“He’s like having a new signing at the club when we arrived,” the Lilywhites manager said. “We brought him in, myself and Ruaidhri Higgins ironically, had done a lot of work on him. We watched a lot of his games at Notts County. We knew it would take him a while to get to the level that was needed, fitness-wise and being messed around in terms of his career after he left City. It didn’t go well for him.

“People in the League have seen there’s a real star in that player. He’s got areas to improve. But he’s well on the road to doing that. I thought his goal tonight was absolutely outstanding. It could be a battle between him and Patrick McEleney for good goals because that’s what I’ve said to Patrick. I want him to start scoring them as well.”

It was a good night too for David McMillan, as the 32-year-old headed home a Darragh Leahy cross to become the all-time leading League of Ireland goalscorer in Europe, with his 12th taking him one above Glen Crowe.

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“His record is amazing and a lot of the catalyst for what we have done here is 2016 and his goals in 2016 in Europe, particularly against FH, were great moments,” Perth added.

“I’m just delighted for him. This group of players, whether it’s him, Hoban who has his own records to break, or McEleney of Duffy, all these people have had amazing careers here.

“I said to him tonight that this is about the present and the future because the past is gone.

“We cannot change the past, the last eight years or six months. But we can affect the future. This was a real opportunity for people to make groundbreaking news in a new competition.

“I would say when you look at McEleney, Patching, Kelly, McMillan and Duffy there tonight, you’d go a long way to find a better front five in League of Ireland football. We have to make sure everything behind it is fixed. And it’s not yet. The great [former Cherry Orchard coach] John Wilkes, probably my hero in football, said to me you always try and get your best players on the pitch if you can. We did that tonight.”

And another player who could be happy with his night’s work was ex-Ireland U21 international Darragh Leahy, who chipped in with two assists, and Perth feels there could be more to come from the 23-year-old full-back.

“I’ll tell you a little secret. I’ll slag myself as a coach. On Tuesday, he wasn’t in the team. He was because of some of the issues. That’s football, it’s magical like that. You think things aren’t going your way and I was leaving him out for different reasons — to freshen him up. 

“I think the world of Darragh. There’s a real star in him. When I look at the quality of left-backs in this country that can represent it, he’s nowhere near that but I don’t think it would take a lot for him to get up to a level to be considered one of them. My challenge to Darragh is to drive him up to the next level. Between now and the end of the season, we’ll continue to do that.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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