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Comment & Analysis | Sport

Humble grafters seek to kickstart new era

Forde-N
David Forde

HUMILITY isn’t a word often used about the modern-day footballer. Instead, it’s easier — and lazier — to harp on about their flash cars and sheer arrogance.

Of course, plenty fit the stereotype and you know that before you even begin to argue a defence of the modern-day player, all you have to do is think of Stephen Ireland’s pink car or John Terry’s personality.

Not everything is black and white, though. Some players are overly egotistic, others remember where they came from. David Forde hangs out in the second group, having earned his stripes the hard way, overcoming rejection at West Ham before slowly climbing back up the ladder.

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A spell at Derry City resurrected his career before it really took off at Millwall. Now, at 33, he is in line to make his competitive Ireland debut against Sweden this Friday, a far cry from road trips back from Cobh, Longford and Bray in the early hours of a Saturday morning all those years back.

“If something doesn’t happen for you straight away in life, you have to keep fighting,” said Forde this week. “That’s always been my motto. And it’s the same with all the lads in this Irish squad. As kids, when we were learning the game, we’d play the odd game on pitches covered in sheep shit or broken glass. We didn’t complain, we just got on with it.

“Those experiences moulded us — and the reason why so many Irish lads make it in England is because they’re determined to face up to any challenge. As a squad, we’ve had our share of criticism but it goes in one ear and out the other because we’re a driven and passionate group of men. And we aren’t going to give up our World Cup dream without a fight.”

It’s just as well because they need to scrap to keep qualification hopes alive. If they lose to the Swedes then the game is practically up, because it is unimaginable for Ireland to go to Germany and even draw, and it is even asking a lot for Giovanni Trapattoni’s side to collect nine points from their remaining three meetings with Austria and Sweden.

What we can expect, though, is a spirit.

“Among us, there is real steel,” said Forde. “I’m not saying we’re perfect, I’m not saying we don’t have flaws but the doom and gloom after the Germany game didn’t last long. We had a team meeting the following day and pointed out the reality that it may have been a terrible night but it was still only one game.

“Sometimes, as a team, you need a hammering to sort things out. You go through the faults, eliminate the flaws and vow to work harder. That’s one thing you can be guaranteed of from this team. We’re fighters. Lots of us have had setbacks in our careers but we’ve all bounced back.”

This much is true. Right through this team lie players who have done it the hard way — Forde, Shane Long, James McClean, Wes Hoolahan, Seamus Coleman via the League of Ireland, Sean St Ledger, Glenn Whelan, Keith Andrews, Jon Walters via Leagues One and Two.

“Earning a few hundred quid a week and worrying about the medical bills grounded me for the life I have now,” said Walters. “And the conversations in the dressing rooms were a lot more interesting.”

This week the conversation will be about overcoming the odds and making a point — to themselves as much as to the general public.

Few expect a result but then few could have predicted when Forde was at Derry, Coleman at Sligo, Walters at Chester, Hoolahan at Shelbourne or Livingston, Whelan at Bury, Andrews at MK Dons and St Ledger at Peterborough that they’d end up where they have.

If nothing else, these men are determined. The question is whether bloody mindedness will be enough.

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