Sheffield United: Enda Stevens says his club and his country have plenty in common
Having taken a moment to consider the question, Enda Stevens concedes no, perhaps it isn't quite as stupid as he first thought.
“I suppose there are similarities,” the defender admits. “The spirit, the camaraderie and giving everything for the badge no matter what the circumstances. So when you put it in those terms, when you think about it like that, there is plenty in common between this club and the Republic of Ireland.”
Stevens, the Sheffield United wing-back, will be able to investigate further early next week having been named in Martin O’Neill’s provisional squad for the friendly against Turkey. Winning his first senior cap would be a proud moment for the defender, who dreamed of wearing the emerald green jersey as a youngster in Dublin. But first, before he discovers if supposedly unfashionable players really do make more effective teams, there is the small matter of a crucial Championship fixture to consider. Chris Wilder’s side, of which Stevens is an integral member, could climb back into the play-off positions if they beat Nottingham Forest at Bramall Lane tomorrow.
“We’re not shying away from the fact this is a huge time for the club. We’re accepting the challenge. What makes me confident about being in the mix is performances, the performances by and large have always been there. Obviously there will be individual dips at times but, as a group, it’s been there. We all want the same thing and it’s all about just getting that final push.”
Stevens is in obliging mood as, sat inside the office which doubles as the Steelphalt Academy’s media suite, he discusses his youth, caps, promotion challenges and pretty much everything else in between. It is hardly surprising given the events of the past week which, after being recognised by O’Neill, culminated in his first United goal.
“The one thing you would never get here is a player downing tools,” Stevens, who opened the scoring during Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Burton Albion, grins. “It would never be allowed. It would never, ever happen. There’s real quality in the team. But that ethic allows them to produce.
Earlier this season, soon after his arrival following a successful spell with Portsmouth, Stevens was asked about his international ambitions. He eventually acknowledged, despite repeated attempts to change the subject, that representing his country would be a “dream come true” before insisting only by performing consistently for United would it ever be realised. Having fulfilled his side of the bargain, Stevens discovered before last weekend’s trip to Ipswich that O’Neill’s interest had been piqued. The news, relayed without fanfare, provides him with an excuse to relive some childhood memories.
“My first memory was going to Lansdowne Road,” Stevens continues. “My dad used to take me to all the games. It was an unbelievable atmosphere because it was an old style stadium. I always remember it raining or being freezing but, in the stands, it was an amazing atmosphere.”
“I grew-up wearing my Ireland shirt because that’s what you dreamed of doing,” he adds. “The 2002 World Cup, I used to get off school to watch the matches. That’s how big a deal it was.
“So when I got told by the manager here they wanted me to join up, it was brilliant. I didn’t get told myself. They phoned the gaffer and the message was passed on.”
Stevens has come a long way since the days he used to enjoy impromptu kickabouts with his mates on the backstreets of the Irish capital. A former youth team player with Cherry Orchard, the club responsible for producing the likes of Andy Reid and Anthony Stokes, he joined Aston Villa following spells with UCD and Shamrock Rovers before helping deliver the League Two title to Fratton Park last term.
“I come from a sporting family, we follow all sorts, so it was never a problem getting to the games. Even my aunties and uncles are big on sport. When Dublin played the Gaelic, we’d all get together and watch. When it was the football, we’d all get together for that.
“Back home, we’d always meet up in a pub or whatever and watch the Gaelic and the hurling. It was a family tradition. Dublin is my county so that’s who I follow.”
Although Wilder welcomed O’Neill’s decision to select Stevens, the United manager will hope he returns from Antalya unscathed given the balance, in tandem with George Baldock, the 27-year-old brings to his team. Indeed, the former MK Dons defender provided the assist which saw Stevens open his United account three days ago. Much, he laughs, to Baldock’s annoyance.
“George has got one and he’s been going at me for ages about it. So I’m going to have to make sure I get more and beat him on that.”