Thursday, April 18, 2013

Youngster Desmond looks to kick-start career following Newcastle release

Every summer, hundreds of Irish youngsters from various age groups make their way across the Irish Sea with stars in their eyes to take up contract offers from professional clubs all over England - and every year, making the return journey, are a slightly older group, their bright eyes dimmed by the rash realisation that their dreams have been dashed.

For some, the end of their odyssey with England's top clubs effectively spells the end of their careers in professional football. They return and play amateur football, ditching post-match analysis for post-match pints over which they can regale their teammates with tales of their time in England.

But for others, this set-back is anything but and it results in a liberation which sees them carve out decent careers at a lower level of the game; or, in some cases, they even return to the highest stage years later and prove wrong the club who chose to let them go. Irish hopeful Lee Desmond hopes to be in the latter category.

Desmond, a pacey left-back, joined Newcastle United from Cherry Orchard in August 2011 when he was 16 and has spent the last two seasons playing for both the u18 and u21 sides. While his first year on Tyneside was interrupted by injury, he overcame that last season to establish himself in the youth set-up, making 20 appearances for the u18s a further five for the u21s.

"At first when I moved over it was hard to settle in but only because I was injured in my first few months at the club. When I eventually got myself fit I began to enjoy every minute of the experience," says Desmond.

With his injury problems behind him, the Donaghmede man captained the Toon on their run to the 2012 Milk Cup final which saw them dispose of Co. Fermanagh (4-0), CF Pachuca of Mexico (6-0) and CSKA Moscow (3-1) with relative ease in the group stage.

A semi-final victory over Bolton Wanderers (2-0) looked like it would set up a dream final with Desmond's former club Cherry Orchard - but Desportivo Brazil put paid to that with a crushing 3-0 win over the Irish side.
And sadly for Desmond and Newcastle, the Brazilians would repeat the trick in the final, scoring three without reply to deny the Donaghmede man the opportunity to lift some silverware.

The 18 year old has marked Hatem Ben Arfa in training and faced the experienced Ivory Coast international Aruna Dindane of Crystal Palace in an u21 game at St. James' Park, one which Desmond personally regards as his best for Newcastle to date (it ended 4-0 in Newcastle's favour thanks largely to a hat-trick from the enigmatic Gabriel Obertan).

Also, a long wait for international recognition was ended in May when Desmond was called up by u19 manager Paul Doolin for a training camp in Birmingham, which culminated in a game against Birmingham City's u18 side in St. Andrews - a 2-0 defeat for the Boys in Green. And before the get together, Doolin actually name-checked Desmond as a player he was looking forward to working with.

And that will be all she wrote about Desmond's time at Newcastle.

"I was waiting to find out for the last few weeks of the season if Newcastle were to keep me on for another year and in April the club came to a decision that they were not going to renew my contract," explains Desmond.

"At first you feel like your chance as a professional footballer is gone but after a couple of days you get your head around it and then realise this can actually be the beginning of a big chance somewhere else."

This is the reality which faces many young players in the game and it is one that will either make or break their careers. Desmond is honest in his assessment of what is required to make it at the highest level.

"Well, I can't answer that properly because I haven't made it as a footballer yet, but I know that you have to be technically and physically excellent. In the modern game you need to be at a high level in the work you do in the gym as well. All the strength and speed work you  do with the fitness coaches help a lot, too."

"The thing that separates them [the first team] from us [the youth team] is fitness and the pace that they move the ball," adds Desmond. "There's no stopping the ball or having a look for a better pass - the first thing they see they play it and then they are on the move straight away looking for the ball again. It's definitely a massive step up but it is possible to get to that level."

Desmond has now begun the arduous process of looking for a new club. While ideally he would have found one before the end of last season, he is happy with the support Newcastle gave him in the endeavour and is confident of securing employment before the start of pre-season training in July.

"The club [Newcastle] is very good in helping players further their careers in football somewhere else. They will send the players’ details out to other clubs and hopefully someone sees something they're looking for," he said.

I'm hoping to get sorted with a new club as soon as possible and get ready for next season. I don't think I'll be worried about leaving home again because I'm used to it now so maybe that's an advantage for me in a way. "

Another Irish full-back who played for Newcastle is of course Stephen Carr. Incidentally, Carr is also from Donaghmede and while Desmond has never met him, he admits that the current Birmingham City captain is somebody he can take inspiration from.

And when asked if he would consider returning home to play in the League of Ireland, Desmond answered philosophically.

"Players like Seamus Coleman and Keith Fahey are a great example to young players who feel their chances are gone as a footballer just because they didn't get over to England or Scotland at the age of 16 or got released and couldn't find a club immediately."

"If you stick in and work hard opportunities will open up. I suppose that goes for anything you want to do in life."

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