Friday 22 February 2019

'Even training with Liverpool was a pleasure'

Red at heart: Dundalk’s Dan Cleary
Red at heart: Dundalk’s Dan Cleary

Liverpool FC was his home, and his life, for six years but now that's a chapter from the past and Dubliner Dan Cleary will have no regrets as watches on TV tonight as the Reds aim to get into the Champions League final.

Former Crumlin United player Cleary has had a good start to the week, keeping a clean sheet on Monday as his Dundalk outfit hammered St Patrick's Athletic 5-0, going back on top of the table.

That was his ninth clean sheet in 12 league games for Dundalk. "I like to win with a clean sheet. As a defender it's my job to keep a clean sheet, for the lads up front it's their job to score," Cleary said after the Saints win.

But this evening the 22-year-old will be glued to his TV set, with Liverpool in action in Rome in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.  Cleary had six years at the club but the closest he came to the first team was a seat on the bench for a Europa League tie against Bordeaux in September 2015, Roberto Firmino also on the bench.

No envy

He says he feels no envy towards compatriot Conor Henderson, who has made the Reds squad twice in recent weeks, or the players who will tonight try and seal a place in the final.

"I never look back in doubt, I never think 'what if'. You can't live your life like that. I look forward and I am enjoying my football at the moment," Cleary told The Herald.

"I moved there when I was 15 and in the six years there I learned so much, not just football but about life, and I still have that in my game today. I am a better player for it.

"I am loving it at Dundalk. This is the best I have felt in my career so far and I am only 22. I am getting games, playing at a good level and keeping clean sheets, I just want to keep that up and see where it takes me.

"It should be a great game tonight. They are playing unbelievable football at the moment and it's great to see. Hopefully they can keep a clean sheet in Rome and get to the final.

"They should get through this round and then you never know what'll happen in the final," added Cleary who had a stint at Birmingham City in between his time at Anfield and Dundalk.

Rated as one of the best schoolboy prospects in Ireland, he had high hopes when he joined the academy but, as happened to most of the players in his age group, the breakthrough didn't come.

"I got close, I was on the bench for a Europa League away game and I had pre-season in Malaysia but that's as far as it went," he says."

"Trent Alexander-Arnold was a year younger than me, but not many of my age group are still at the club, Lawrence Vigouroux is at Waterford.

"A few broke through: Jordan Rossiter and Jordan Williams got games for the first team, a few of them got debuts but that's all.

"It's high end football and it's very tough, it's cut-throat with managers in and out, that's just life at Liverpool, they are one of the top five clubs in the world and it's a pleasure to even train with them, never  mind breaking into the first team," adds Cleary, who admits it's a big leap for an Irish player to make the grade there.

"Liverpool are an international club, they look beyond Ireland. There were a few Irish when I was there but it's dried up now, just Conor Masterson and Glen McAuley, it's a big ask.

"I don't know if an Irish lad will play for the club again. It's a crazy game, one minute you're not involved and the next minute you are in the first team.

"You can never say it won't happen, I hope it does. There's not many Irish at Liverpool now, but I hope they do well."

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