Padraig Amond was left with a simple choice last year. Either he stayed in Ireland with Sligo Rovers and continued his domestic career as an already impressive striker, or he travel the short trip overseas to make the step up in grade and try his hand at a level arguably far above that of his Irish counter-parts. This ‘promotion’ in personal football terms was markedly different to that of many other League of Ireland exports, though.
For unlike Kevin Doyle, Keith Fahey, Steven Ward or Seamus Coleman - to name but a few - Amond was not heading to England. He in fact made the decision to go off to Portugal, to a club called Pacos de Ferreira, to play in a league featuring some of Europe’s most iconic sides, Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto.
Having scored 17 goals for Sligo before departing, it is not perhaps too surprising to find out foreign clubs were interested in him. But how did such a surprising move come about?
“The sporting director came to watch me against Shamrock Rovers in the League Cup semi-final when I scored twice -- the interest became concrete then. I tried to stay out of the deal as much as I could and left it to my agent to sort it out for me. When terms were agreed by all parties I was delighted and travelled over for a medical and to sign,” said Amond.
“It was a tough decision for a number of reasons but at the end of the day I want to play football at the highest level possible and this was too good an opportunity for me to turn down. My time in Sligo was brilliant and I can’t thank everybody up there enough for giving me the chance to show what I could do when I played.”
Of course, as Irish exports continue to excel (the names already mentioned in this column do enough to explain that) many eyes will be on who is next to make the jump over to the continent, with places other than Portugal also prime candidates for Irish sanctuaries.
“I think its a great learning curve playing in the League of Ireland for young players because you get great experience from it and, although when I was 14 or 15 I would have loved to have gone to England, I'm really glad I have done it the way I have. There is no substitute for first team football and I was more mature coming over here, which has helped me a lot.
“The likes of Kevin Doyle, Keith Fahey and Seamie Coleman have made more teams aware that there are some really good players that play in the league. If you do well in Ireland you can get the chance to go across the water to play and try to earn a good living.
“I think there are a good number of players in the Airtricity League who would be very comfortable on the continent -- players like Shaun Williams and Richie Ryan for example, who have great technical ability.”
Of course, playing in an environment completely alien to that of the League of Ireland will have many benefits, and experiencing a different, professional approach to the game will no doubt serve many of our exports very well.
“So far I believe I have improved a lot as a player, the training here is brilliant. We do a lot of work on technique and of course being up against really good players everyday is going to make you a better player.
“The standard of the league out here is really high and it is great to be involved so far -- hopefully I'll get to be more involved in the coming months too. Probably the hardest thing to get used to is the speed of the game. Everything is done so quickly out here that you have to be ready for anything to happen at any stage. Initially the heat was difficult for me, but I have gotten used to it at this stage.”
While Amond has been away, two of his former clubs, Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers, played out the monumental FAI Ford cup final in the Aviva Stadium, and unfortunately for Padraig he had to skip the game and turn out for Pacos instead.
“We actually had a game that day an hour before the cup final so I didn’t get to see it but my parents and my little brother were at it. I was on the phone to them for the last five minutes of extra time and the penalties but, when I got back from my game that night, I watched the match -- it was a great game to watch, the atmosphere was unbelievable too.”
Seeing his old clubs battle it out at the Aviva didn’t cause Amond to rethink his steps though, with the striker positive he has made the right decision in making the step up in Portugal.
“I want to keep improving as a player to enjoy the experience of playing in a different culture, playing a different style and do the best I can out here. I’m still learning Portuguese at the minute. It is a very hard language to get the hang of but I can understand a good bit of it. I’m getting used to it and I am enjoying everything so far.
“I just want to keep working hard out here, break into the starting 11 and take everything from there. I want to play at the highest level possible. Whatever that level is remains to be seen, but I signed a three year contract here last September and so far things have gone well -- to be honest I'm only concentrating on the present so who knows what will happen.”