Padraig Amond is playing fantasy football at the moment. At the time of writing, the Grimsby Town striker has scored 36 goals in all competitions, his prolific form helping fire the Mariners to an FA Trophy final and the National League play-offs. Padraig chatted recently with Stuart Howard-Cofield, editor of daily fantasy football site Fanfeud about his career so far, football abroad, and what the future holds.
It was a tongue-in- cheek, throwaway question at the end of the Weekly Fantasy Football Show podcast which had, indeed, delved deep into the realms of imagination. However, the forthright manner in which it was answered – dismissed, even – spoke volumes. “OK, you’ve won a penalty at the end of the season. You normally take the penalties. Would you give up the penalty, like Mahrez handing the ball to Vardy, because Vardy is in your (FPL) team? He’s your captain, you get double points!”
Padraig Amond brushed aside such frivolity. With all the single-mindedness of a man in his position – as the red-hot striker for National League side Grimsby Town – the Irishman could see no sense in the proposal. “Why would you give up the chance to score a goal? I may never get the chance to score in the Premier League again…”
This season, Amond has displayed a similar focus in front of goal on numerous occasions. At one point earlier this season, his stats made him the most lethal striker in Europe. Holding a better record than that of global superstars such as Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo, questions were being asked in the tabloids about whether he was “the next Jamie Vardy?” “I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the articles about me having a better goal ratio earlier this season than the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez. Each week after checking the results in our league I have looked to see if any of my ‘Rivals’ had scored that day which is a bit surreal.”
“Obviously it is very flattering for me to be labelled as the ‘next Jamie Vardy’ because of my goals this year and of course I want the same to happen for me to rise through the leagues. I still have ambitions to play as high as I can. Whatever that level is let’s wait and see.”
As with any potential rags-to-riches story, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for Amond. Rising through the schoolboy ranks at Shamrock Rovers, he was a part of the side which gained promotion to the League of Ireland Premier Division in 2006. The youngster spent three more years at Rovers – a loan spell at Kildare County included – before transferring to Sligo Rovers in 2009.
This move was just a stepping-stone to even bigger things and, until circumstances beyond his control got in the way, his future looked very bright. Amond’s performances for Sligo Rovers had caught the eye of Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira. Sligo initially resisted the admiring advances of the Primeira Liga side, but they weren’t to be denied. When he eventually made the move to Portugal’s top division in September 2010, he was in exalted company.
“Obviously the Premiera Liga in Portugal is the best league I have played in to date in my career. Some of the players that were playing for the top teams included Falcao (who was the best striker in the world at the time, prior to his knee injury) Hulk, Joao Moutinho, Nicolas Otamendi and James Rodriguez who were all at Porto. Then at Benfica you had the like David Luiz, Fabio Coentrao, Pablo Aimar, Nico Gaitan and Javier Saviola. They were all top players and obviously extremely hard to play against so that standard was very high.”
Amond found there was an enormous gulf between League of Ireland (LOI) and Primeira Liga standards. “As you can imagine the step up from the LOI was a massive one but one I was really pleased to make. But even at the lower teams there were loads of very good technically gifted players. We were one of the smaller teams in the league (even though we finished 5 th in the league and got to the cup final too). We had one player who was sold at the end of the season for €15m to Atletico Madrid.”
“The pace of the game was the biggest difference for me. Every team had players that were technically gifted and everyone passed the ball very quickly. When we trained with Pacos De Ferreira there was very few times I can remember that we were allowed more than 2 touches on the ball and that was to encourage a quick passing game.”
LIFE IN PORTUGAL
Life in Portugal was very different to that which Padraig was used to. Failure to settle is an often-cited problem when players are thrown into cultures which are alien to them. Obvious differences such as the language, the weather and being away from friends and family were hard to ignore but he attempted to embrace the lifestyle as much as possible.
“I was away from my family and friends when I joined Sligo Rovers but I knew I could deal with that – the only difference was that I didn’t get home as often. In Portugal it took me a couple of weeks to adjust to training in 35 degree heat. I was learning the language but it was tough.”
“When I joined there was an Australian player there (Jason Davidson of Huddersfield Town). Initially, he was a great help but he went out on loan soon after I joined, which was disappointing for me.” Eating was an issue, too, “I needed to eat more than normal. I was losing weight because of the heat and I had to adjust to the times that the Portuguese people ate their meals.”
Despite Pacos de Ferraira’s dogged pursuit of him, Amond found actually breaking into the first team wasn’t so simple. He soon discovered the downside of the culture of the Sporting
DIRECTOR IN PORTUGAL
“My manager never saw me playing before my first training session,” he lamented, “it is always a tough situation when it’s almost like another trial for you. If it had been the Sporting Director who was in charge I would have played more but then who’s to say it would have been the right call? We might not have qualified for the Europa League.”
In a trait that has been echoed throughout his career – and even recently when rested for Grimsby Town – Amond refuses to criticise his manager for making tough decisions. Although frustrated by the regular grind of working hard all week in training and then sitting on the bench, he cites footballing reasons, and not personality clashes, as the catalyst for his departure: “I got on with all the coaches there. Rui Vitoria was my manager. He’s now the Benfica manager, so maybe he was right not to pick me more often. I learned an awful lot from him that I can take with me from my time there but, as a footballer, you don’t enjoy not being involved at the weekend. Anyone who says anything other than that is a liar or they don’t deserve to be in the game.”
And, despite his experience in Portugal, Amond clearly believes that his fellow countrymen ought to follow his lead and look further than England to broaden their horizons and enhance their career. Finding the best fit for your own style of play is paramount.
“I think that a lot of Irish players see the English leagues as the pinnacle of football but I still stand by my statement that more players should try and play in Europe if they ever get the chance to. The football might suit the players better.”
“I have heard stories of players in the UK that have been told they are technically good players but too small, then highly regarded players get lost in the lower leagues, teams are afraid to pass the ball around the pitch – whereas in Spain or Portugal the team is nearly built around them.”
And yet, it is England where Padraig Amond’s trajectory is beginning to rise again. Arriving at Grimsby via Accrington Stanley and Morecambe, this season, he has been a revelation. “I had a couple of offers to go abroad but I weighed up everything and just thought that Grimsby would be a good fit for me. I spoke to the manager and assistant and heard their plans for the season. I think if you were to look at my season so far it was the right decision.”
At the age of 28, Amond is at the stage in his career thought of as a striker’s peak. Is there a tinge of regret as to the route he has taken? “I’m delighted I came through the way I did and not through an academy over in England. I got a real football education playing against men and proper footballer at an early age and it made me appreciate it a bit more I think. LOI to England is another step up.”
“I was a little bit ignorant until I came over and always thought that the LOI was better than League One or League Two. It wasn’t until I saw what talent was here I realised the difference but the best Irish players can definitely make the step up.”
Jamie Vardy’s recent rise has shown what talent can be found plying their trade in the lower leagues. Given the right breaks, the right team and the right manager – coupled with a player’s determination and application – it is possible for the feat to be repeated. And, taking into consideration Amond’s form this season, there must be many clubs keeping an eye on him.
Level-headed as always, Amond takes nothing for granted and has made some preparation for life after his playing career. “I have started my coaching badges because I would like to stay involved in football and give something back.” Writing and football media also holds an interest – he writes a regular column for his hometown newspaper and for sports websites, and even tried his hand at co- commentating.
“The media side of football always interested me and I would always put my name forward for interviews or if someone from the club had to go into the radio station for the chat. I have done some commentary on games as a second commentator at Accrington Stanley when I was out injured for a couple of weeks.”
Football plays a big part in his down-time, too. Amond is a keen fantasy football manager, hence his appearance on the Weekly Fantasy Football Show recently, and him writing a column for the website which accompanies the Fanfeud FPL game.
“I think there have been more and more footballers joining the fantasy football ranks in the last couple of years. It’s a bit of fun, trying to win bragging rights and prove you know more about football than your mates do.”
But it is on the pitch where Amond’s feats are deserving of bragging rights. His goals have been a major factor in Grimsby’s bid to return to league football. Just a few days ago, he scored a hat-trick, edging them even closer to securing a spot in the Vanarama National League play-offs.
With a place in England’s League Two at stake, Amond has tempered the usual selfish streak that strikers possess – a trait shown so perfectly in the quote from the podcast earlier. Speaking to the Grimsby Telegraph following a short break on the sub’s bench, he stated: “The team comes before any personal interest. If I don’t kick another ball between now and the end of the season but we got promoted, I’ll happily sit out – I genuinely mean that.”
After all, this time, he’s not talking about a fantasy.