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'Everyone Is Desperate To Get There, The Whole Country Is Desperate To Get There'

'Everyone Is Desperate To Get There, The Whole Country Is Desperate To Get There'
Gary Connaughton
By Gary Connaughton
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Enda Stevens has had a remarkable journey in football. From the League of Ireland, to the Premier League, down to League Two, and now on the verge of returning to the top flight, he has experienced all of the highs and lows that sport has to offer.

While he may have taken his position in football for granted in the past, he has now turned around what looked like a dwindling career. Over the past couple of seasons he has firmly established himself as one of the best in his position in the Championship.

Sheffield United play some of the best football in the division, while also having one of the meanest defences. Stevens contributes to both, providing creativity and defensive solidity in a left wing back role. He has also spent time as part of a back three, displaying the versatility that can be so valuable to a team, especially at international level.

Considering his form at club level, it was never going to be too long before Stevens was given a chance to shine with the Republic of Ireland. His opportunity finally came in June 2018, when he was introduced as a substitute in the friendly victory over the USA. It was a significant moment for the Dubliner, another step towards where he wants to be.

Speaking exclusively to Balls.ie, Stevens says that making his bow at this level was something he had long craved.

I was delighted, it’s one I've always wanted since I was a little boy. Everyone wants to play for their country, and to get that opportunity was unbelievable. I got a chance to play in a good few of the games, it wasn't just a one off.

I was in a few squads and maintaining my spot in the squads, and got on the pitch as well. It was a great moment for me and my family.

The defender would go on to feature in three of Ireland's games during the thoroughly disappointing UEFA Nations League campaign, a period which saw the Martin O'Neill era dwindle out to a depressing conclusion.

But from failure, arrives new opportunities. With Mick McCarthy on board, there is a sense of freshness to the current squad, a chance for new beginnings.

It’s just a case that it’s a clean slate for everybody now. The manager will leave it up to the players to get into his thoughts for selection, so at the end of the day it comes down to how well you play. If the manager is good enough to play you, you've got to take that chance and take the opportunity.

That’s what each player in the squad will be thinking going into camp. It’s two qualifiers, he hasn't got the benefit of a friendly. It is an opportunity for the new lads, and the lads that have been there. It’s just a clean slate to try and push on.


For Stevens especially, this is a chance to nail down a place in the side. Left back is a spot Ireland have lacked consistency at for a number of years now. Stephen Ward played there for a period, as did Robbie Brady, but neither made the position their own. The Sheffield United man may do just that.

Equally comfortable as part of a back four or five, if given the opportunity to impress McCarthy, he plans to make the most of it.


If I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity, it comes down to me to take it. If I can perform to the best of my ability I feel I can nail down a spot in the starting XI and become a regular for the team...

Ever since I've been called up to the team the lads have been great, it’s a really enjoyable group to be around. It’s an enjoyable break from club football and all the lads help you to settle in quickly.

I don't think the manager will have any problem with lads settling in because there’s no egos there, it’s not like that. Everyone is in it together, we all care and want to do well for each other. It’s a really good squad.

While he is becoming ever more comfortable with his international teammates, there will be some familiar voices in the Ireland dressing over the next couple of weeks. Stevens is joined in the squad by Sheffield teammates John Egan and David McGoldrick, both of whom he has developed a close relationship to on and off the field of play. Scott Hogan, who just missed out on the squad on this occasion, also joined the club in January.

Despite the ongoing promotion race in the Steel City, the group still finds plenty of time to keep up to date with the international scene.

We always talk about it. The closer the break gets, the more we will be waiting to hear of the squad announcement, and we will will always be looking at what’s coming up and who’s going to be in the squad.

We’re players that are really looking forward to the qualifiers. It’s under a new manager that McGoldrick knows well, and he speaks very highly about, so we’re all just looking forward to it and we can't wait...

We’ve got good relationships on the pitch. Me, 'Eags' and 'Didzy' have been there all season, they've come here this season and settled straight in. Didzy just got his 12th goal, and Eags has been a rock at the back.

The system we play suits him down to the ground. He’s the middle man, he’s calm on the ball and he gets us playing. We have the second best defensive record in the league, so it’s all about knowing each other on the pitch...

"I know an awful lot about Eags, and he knows an awful lot about me. If we can take that form at club level into the Irish setup I think it will only benefit both of us. It’s the same with McGoldrick.

"We’re a tight knit group, we’ve got a way of playing and know each other’s strengths. If that can help us settle into the Irish team and play our best football then I’m all for it."

The upcoming Euro 2020 Qualifying campaign has the opportunity to be a momentous one. Reaching a major tournament is an incredible achievement for any Ireland side, but this one has the promise of something extra at the end of the campaign.

With the Aviva Stadium set to host a number of games during the championship, it offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Irish players to play in a major championship on home soil. Stevens knows that it would be huge for Ireland to reach this tournament, but the players can't look too far ahead.

I put it down as an added bonus for us if we do qualify, we won't treat it any different. Everyone is desperate to get there, the whole country is desperate to get there. If we get there, and get to play in the games in front of a packed out Aviva, that’s just the icing on the cake.

It would be unbelievable.

If we are to qualify, Stevens could well appreciate it more than most. For a player who dropped down to the bottom tier of English football less four years ago, it would be a remarkable rise. The opportunity to represent Ireland in a major tournament is something he only could have dreamed of not so long ago.

SEE ALSO: "I Didn't Have The Hunger Or Determination To Be A Footballer At The Highest Level."


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