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'Just As The Lockdown Happened, I Came Up The Road. We're Living Out Of Our Suitcases'

'Just As The Lockdown Happened, I Came Up The Road. We're Living Out Of Our Suitcases'
By PJ Browne
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On Friday night, Aaron McEneff meets a familiar opponent, one he's faced on both a real and virtual football pitch.

With the League of Ireland still on a Covid-19 enforced hiatus, the Shamrock Rovers midfielder will face Bohs' Keith Ward in FIFA 2020 as the Dublin Derby goes digital, all in aid of Pieta House. The encounter will be streamed live on the Balls.ie Facebook page at 8pm tomorrow. You can make a donation to the charity here.

McEneff and Ward know each other well from their mutual time at Derry City.

"I would have played a lot against him when he was at Derry," McEneff tells Balls.

"He's absolutely buzzing about this game. He would have beaten me whenever we played.

"He's one of the funniest people I've ever played with. You'd come in in the mornings and you might be a bit tired but he'd come in like this livewire every single morning - always smiling, always making jokes and taking the piss out of people.

"We have someone like that in our changing room at the minute. He'd be similar to Jack Byrne. Jack's a character as well. They'd remind me of each other - they have the same personalities. They bring life to the changing room and it's good to have that within a squad.


"He's the enemy now, so I can't really see him that much!"

McEneff will be in his native Derry when he takes on Ward. Just as the lockdown hit Ireland, restricting travel, the 24-year-old and his girlfriend packed their bags, left their Dublin apartment and hit the N2.

"We were supposed to play Finn Harps on the Friday and we were told that wasn't happening," he says.


"I came up on the Sunday of that weekend. I just thought this was going to be for a few days or whatever.

"Then that week, we were told it was going to be much more serious. I had barely anything up with me so I had to drive back down, grab some stuff and then come back up again.

"Just as the lockdown was happening, I came up the road; me and my girlfriend we came up that weekend. We're living out of our suitcases because you can't take everything. I didn't know how long this was going to last.


"It's a much better situation to have family around you. For the two of us, if we were stuck in the apartment in Dublin by ourselves, you would be looking to speak with your family. To be around your family at a time like this is important, just to keep each other going."

McEneff is continuing to train. It undoubtedly helps that there's another professional footballer in the house with whom he can do so: his younger brother Jordan who is currently with Arsenal.  Along with another brother, Nathan, who is studying in Liverpool, Jordan flew home to spend the lockdown with his family.

"To be able to train with my brothers has helped keep me sane," he says.


"If you're doing something yourself, it gets a bit tedious. It takes a lot of self-motivation to get yourself going when you're doing it by yourself."

He's training Monday to Friday with odd Saturday morning session thrown in. There are also Zoom sessions with teammates, currently being led by centre-back Roberto Lopes. Though, Rovers S&C coach Darren Dillon is due to take them over soon.

On Wednesday, the FAI outlined out a number of scenarios for the return of league action with June 19th still the tentative date set. Games being played behind closed doors is a possibility. McEneff can't help but feel that removes the soul of the game.


You obviously want to get back playing as soon as you can. If you take fans out of football, it would never be the same. The enjoyment factor that fans get out of football and the atmosphere they create, it brings an extra spark for players and makes you strive to get up for games. With that missing, the games wouldn't be played in the same manner.

When the league does return, Shamrock Rovers will still be sitting on top of the Premier Division. They've notched five wins from five, including victories over Bohs and Dundalk. McEneff believes that start was built on a collective focus he thought could not be improved upon, one which saw Rovers finish last season with victory in the FAI Cup final.

Through the past five weeks and whatever is to come, McEneff says the hardest thing to do is stay motivated amid the uncertainty.


"As a player, you have to work towards that June date," he says.

"You have to be ready. In the off-season, you know you're going back on a certain date. So you'll get yourself ready physically to go in the best shape that you can.

"At the minute, that date for us is June 19th; if in the coming days or weeks that gets changed, it obviously does affect your mind and you think, 'Ah, what is the point here?'

"If the case is that you have a year taken off your football career, then fair enough. There's people out there who are ill and dying. There's a much bigger problem than football. I actually haven't thought about it in that way because there are people in much more difficult circumstances than me."

Bohemian FC’s Keith Ward will face Aaron McEneff of Shamrock Rovers in FIFA 2020 for the first-ever virtual #DublinDerby at 8pm on Friday April 24th. The event, produced by Teneo, will be streamed live on Balls.ie's Facebook page. You can make a donation to Pieta House here.

Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

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