Tuesday 25 October 2016

Elliott's enjoying his new life at Shels

Ex-Ireland man Elliott is eager for role in League

Stephen Elliott in action for Shelbourne against Bohemians in last night’s EA Sports Cup clash at Tolka Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Elliott in action for Shelbourne against Bohemians in last night’s EA Sports Cup clash at Tolka Park. Photo: Sportsfile

A full 16 years in exile across the water has not diluted the Dublin accent, as strong as the day he left while the passion for the game of football also remains as strong as ever.

Stephen Elliott, who played in the English top flight, won medals in England and Scotland, played for his country and scored in a World Cup qualifier, who jousted with names like Ibrahimovic, del Piero, van Persie and Ballack in his international career, hadn't planned for where he'd find himself at the age of 32.

A man who took his first steps in senior football as a sub for Robbie Fowler in a Premier League game didn't foresee a stint in the League of Ireland's second tier.

But the new signing for Shelbourne is anything but a reluctantly-returned emigrant. His time in England is over, Dublin is his home again and the former Sunderland and Wolves striker is just glad of the opportunity after an injury-enforced 18-month absence.

"If you'd asked me two or three years ago if I saw myself playing for Shels in the League of Ireland at the age of 32, I wouldn't have said so but I am here now and happy to give it a go. When you have been out of the game, can only watch matches, you really miss it," says 'Sleeves' Elliott, who signed for Shels last week and started in last night's League Cup game at home to Bohemians.

"I was 16 years in England, I was away a long time so coming home was a big decision, we'd talked about it for a long time before we decided to come here. It's a big change, I went away as a boy of 16 and now I'm here, a grown man with four kids to look after.

"I have missed football so much while I was out injured. I made the call to come home to Ireland, I could probably have stayed in England for another year or two but it was the right time for me to come home. For me, it's all about going out there to play and just enjoy my football again, I hope I have a few years left, I am only 32 so I plan to be around for a while."

Schooled at the Belvedere nursery in Dublin, he outlined his early potential when he made it into the Manchester City first team at the age of 20 (two Premier League appearances). He opted for a move to Sunderland where he was an instant success, scoring 15 goals to help the Black Cats win promotion to the Premier League.

International progress was swift, Elliott's debut coming in a win over Croatia (2004) and a year later he scored the winner for Brian Kerr's side away to Cyprus to keep a stuttering Ireland in the hunt for World Cup qualification.

But at club level he was regularly on the move (Wolves, Preston, Norwich, Hearts, Coventry, Carlisle) and by 2014, his career was in danger. A knee injury while on the books at Carlisle was bad, a subsequent ruptured Achilles was worse. "I was ready to quit playing. I did ask 'what am I doing here, why am I putting myself through all this?'. But when you aren't playing, you really miss it," he says.

Having moved back to Dublin for family reasons he trained with Shamrock Rovers but when no contract was on offer, Shels got in touch, signed him up and now he can't wait. "

"I just wanted to play some football and I was happy to sign. I have the chance to play on for a few more years and that's what I have opted to do," he says. "I trained with the Shels lads for the first time last Thursday and I enjoyed it, it's a young squad but they are a good bunch of lads, hopefully I can go in and play a part and if I can offer anything in terms of experience and advice to the younger players, I'll happily do that."

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