*Steven McGann. 

AVENUE UTD have completed one of the biggest signings in the junior soccer transfer window with the addition of Steven McGann.

Ennis native McGann returns to his former club after much speculation and brings the curtain down on his five year stint with Limerick club, Pike Rovers, a side he had captained over the past two seasons.

Timing is everything and for the twenty eight year old it is the right moment to come back to a Clare club. That said, leaving Pike was not an easy decision, he won two Munster Junior Cups, two League titles, two Lawson Cups and a Tuohy Cup with the Limerick outfit along with the pain of losing three FAI Junior Cup finals.

Speaking to The Clare Echo, Steven explained, “Everyone always says Limerick is only a stone’s throw away, it is only thirty five minutes but every Sunday is an away game, you’re getting up at 7am and heading to Limerick or you could be heading to somewhere like Nenagh and you’re not back till 3pm or 4pm, it was grand at the start but then two and a half years ago we had a little girl, my missus is currently pregnant at the moment so it is right to come home”.

He is quick to acknowledge the support of his now former Pike manager, Robbie Williams. “Robbie the manager was the first person I contacted to let him know what I was thinking, he has made moves himself when it comes to family first. We’ve a little boy on the way, the missus is heavily pregnant so the baby is weighing a little bit more than he should so she is going through a rough time so there is a lot to say if you’re going training at it finishes at 8pm and you’re home by 8:15pm rather than finishing at 8pm and home at 10pm, I’m just doing what I can to help her out. Robbie and the lads all understand when it comes to family first, you do get a few who are Pike through and through asking why I’m doing it but that is part and parcel of football”.

Steven McGann in action for Pike Rovers. Photograph: Dermot Lynch

When contemplating a move to the Clare league, nothing tempted him as much as opting for Avenue Utd. “I think I always had Avenue in my head, I only played with them for two or three years before I went into Limerick, I know most of the lads and would be friendly with them, I think it was a no-brainer for me to go in there. Everyone says the standard in Limerick is way better but I think it is just there might be six or seven teams in Limerick that are always competing whereas in Clare you only have two or three with Newmarket Celtic winning the FAI”.

Newmarket Celtic’s success in winning the FAI Junior Cup and contesting the Munster Junior Cup is a positive reflection of the current standard of the top teams in the CDSL. “The only way the Limerick League is different is you have twelve or thirteen teams in the league, you play each other once at the start and then it splits into two with a top six and a bottom six, it used to be just one league but the teams at the bottom of the league had no interest in games after Christmas because they had nothing to play for and teams were winning games 8-0 or 9-0 which was no good to anyone. They split the league so that the bottom teams had something to play for and it was competitive while the top half gives tough games every week because you’re playing the likes of Ballynanty, Regional and Fairview, then you throw an FAI game in every four or five games so the longevity of the competitiveness goes on throughout the season, there might be only two or three in the Clare league who are always competing at the top level which is probably the only difference, the standard of football wouldn’t be too far off”.

A spectator at Avenue’s Clare Cup semi-final win over Fair Green Celtic on their way to retaining the title overcoming Lifford, the personal trainer at Hustle Fitness outlined what he aims to bring to the fold. “Hopefully I can bring in my own game, I feel like I can drag a team an extra ten percent in a match if I’m playing well, there’s little things I can do to talk to people on the pitch, some people play well when they don’t talk, some people need an arm around the shoulder, some people you need to kick them up the arse, I’m hoping to find out what everyone needs and drag them on an extra five or ten percent.

“When it comes to FAIs and stuff, if you get a good draw and show up on the day then you can get to a final, I’ve played in three finals, the first one we lost to Sheriff and they were the best team I ever played against in junior soccer, they were miles ahead of us, I had no downside to losing that because we didn’t deserve to win, the other two we had North End and in the lead-up to that all our games were away we got to the final they got a goal after one of our defenders made a mistake but we came back into and lost on penalties. You need to get the luck and I don’t think Avenue are far off it at the moment, you can be the best team in the world but if you don’t show up on the day it means nothing, hopefully my experience on that side will help us to push through to where we want to be”.

Two previous stints with Avenue at U14 level and a brief spell with the first team prior to joining Pike in 2018 have seen McGann link up with Mark Roche, Dylan Casey, Gary Roche and Conor Mullen before.

Avenue Utd boss David Russell and new signing Steven McGann.

Current Avenue Utd boss, David Russell is of course a first cousin of the powerful attacking midfielder. Surprisingly, Russell wasn’t the one pestering for his cousin to put pen to paper. “To be fair he wasn’t pestering me too much, I actually went to them about this proposal, I felt it was the right time to come home, he was always letting me play my soccer and understood I was always committed to Pike Rovers, he left me alone and I went to him this time”.

Use of the club grounds in Roslevan will be extended to Steven as he sets up his own business, Steven McGann’s Coaching Academy. “I think I need to be around home when it comes to this type of stuff. Conor Mullen has helped me massively, I don’t think there is a better person to be around when it comes to running a business than him and to be beside him on the soccer pitch and to be working for him is massive for me, it was just the right time for me to come home”. An official Instagram page will be created in the coming week where interested parties that can send a direct message to make further queries.

This academy will see McGann pass on his intel on a one to one or small group basis. “It will be one to one coaching sessions with kids, group sessions or even tiny tots, I’m hoping to start that up in the next week or so. I’m not thinking about retirement because I’m only 28 but you have to think about the future too, I always wanted to stay in football and now would be the right time to pass on my knowledge and whatever I have to kids who are coming up, if I can help with the small details like even going over to England, you go over so young I was fourteen at the time and you go from playing three days a week here to full-time there, I know it’s different now with Brexit you can’t go till you’re fifteen which I personally think is the best route to go about it, look at Shamrock Rovers at the moment they have Jack Byrne and all of them who are players who didn’t make it and they are still playing at a high level with Shamrock Rovers, there are still ways and paths around it, if I can help then I’m hoping to do that with the kids”.

Despite being only 28, Steven has an abundance of experience to pass on. Until September 2020, he had been the youngest player to ever score in the League of Ireland, he was 15 years and 359 days old when he scored against Athlone Town on the final day of the 2010 season, a record that Kevin Zefi took off him when he scored for Shamrock Rovers at the age of 15 years 206 days.

Recounting his early days with Limerick FC which included being part of the squad to win promotion to the top tier for the first time in over twenty years, McGann said, “I got called up when I was fifteen, I went training on a Wednesday straight in with the first team, played a match on a Friday, came on in the last fifteen minutes and happened to score against Athlone Town”.

He continued, “I was with Limerick coming to the end of 2009 making my debut in the last game of the season, started off properly then in 2010 in pre-season under Pat Scully, we didn’t win the league in 2010 and came third so we didn’t get promoted, the year after we won the league, I played another year in the Premier Division under Stuart Taylor, I got an injury then and had to go off into the real world, I stopped playing for about four years, got a job and fell out of love with the game. Mick Shiel was the assistant coach, he took over Pike and one of the lads from town, Paddy O’Malley was going in and asked if I’d be interested. The time was right, you’d miss it when you’re out of it, I went back and was there for about seven years, I was 21 and I was there until the season just gone”.

Numerous English clubs had been keen to sign McGann when he was a teenager with Wolverhampton Wanderers particularly so. “I had a few clubs that I went over and back on trial with. Wolves was the one that linked with me, I was playing under Pat Scully when I first went over, I was playing against Longford and their assistant manager was a Wolves scout, I went over for two weeks, came back and played with Limerick for a month, went back for three weeks and one of the times I came back I played a match against Waterford when Stuart Taylor had taken over at this stage and as I said he didn’t want to know about me and didn’t play me but that is just football, they were asking why I wasn’t playing and I played one game against Waterford and sure enough snapped my ankle so everything fell apart, as a young kid then you think your world is falling apart. The wrong choice I took back then was to put it all in a nutshell and think that’s the end of it, you live and learn, hindsight is a great thing. That’s why I take my football so seriously at the moment because I feel I never gave it a proper blast, even if it is just junior soccer I want to give it everything I can, I’m expecting to do the same thing with Avenue now”.

Ironically Taylor went on to become a coach with Wolves and is currently assistant manager of Dundee Utd, the period of him succeeding Scully and sustaining a serious leg injury was the time that Steven’s love of the game dwindled.

He recalled, “I snapped my metatarsal against Waterford in Thomond Park and I was that young that I didn’t have any experience of going on loan or anything, when I broke my foot Stuart Taylor had no interest in me at all, I was left wondering what to do, I wasn’t getting paid any money because I was out of contract and had broken my foot, you go back into the real world and think it was the end of that. It’s different when you’re that young and playing with adults, the lads were always A1 to me but I didn’t click as much with them, I was sixteen and seventeen then the closest person to me was Garbhan Coughlan who was twenty at the time and even at that there is still a bit of a difference in terms of maturity levels, I didn’t enjoy it as much as what I thought I would when it turns into the business side of football. I went out and got a job, I didn’t think about it too much, I let it play out and then all of a sudden you miss it, you miss the dressing room and the craic with the lads, I’m happy I went back”.

Two of his former Limerick FC teammates will be involved with opposing teams in the CDSL Premier Division, namely Newmarket Celtic boss Paddy Purcell and Lifford FC assistant manager, Barry Ryan.

Without question, Steven’s move will create a buzz in the Premier Division, it may also prompt the half a dozen Clare soccer players lining out in the Limerick League to consider a return in the near future. “There’s three or four from town playing inside in Limerick, I’m not trying to get them to come back but there was always a stigma that Clare soccer was useless but even Newmarket last year getting to the FAI and Munster Junior Cup finals, Avenue got to the last sixteen and got knocked out in a penalty shootout, it’s the flip of a coin and a bit of a luck to get you to the last eight and then the last four. You can watch the best teams in the world in the Champions League but they don’t show up on the day and get knocked out, that’s the way club football is, I don’t think Avenue are massively far off”.

Setting up the academy is more a case of planning for the future rather than McGann setting out his stall to become a coach of a first-team. “I’m too young to go into a team now, I think you’ve to be a certain age to be respected a bit more, I couldn’t take Avenue’s first team now because they are all 28, 29 and 30 and I’m only 28 so I want to start off with the kids and if I can help them to develop certain things and even if it’s just one kid at a time to help with their body position or how to talk more on the pitch. As I get older, I’d definitely be interested in taking on a team and developing my own style on how I want them to play”.

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Subscribe for just €3 per month

If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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