From Cabra to the Aviva, Matt and Enda led the way
Tucked away quietly, in a suburb of Dublin's northside, is the small cage where dozens of footballers have been given their wings.
Tonight, across the city in Dublin 4, two of them will line out in defence for Ireland in a match which will shape the short-term future of the game here.
Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens will be the full-backs, the pair with lots in common: both from the northside, both with a League of Ireland background, two men who had struggles in their club careers in England but are now Premier League footballers and internationals.
But Stevens and Doherty are also graduates of an FAI/ETB course, held in Cabra in what’s officially called John Paul Park but is only known locally as The Bogies.
The year-long course is aimed at giving young footballers, who have left school but have yet to embark on the next phase in their lives, a grounding, and a path to further education.
Of course they won’t all earn a chunky five-figure weekly wage in the Premier League and play for Ireland but the two full backs have shown the way.
“I’ll have a sense of pride now tonight when Matt and Enda play,” says Harry McCue, a former League of Ireland player who heads up the Cabra course (there are 10 nationwide).
“I worked with the two of them with the U21 team but to see them out there in such a big game as tonight, that maybe justifies the work we do. We don’t get much publicity here or on the other courses, so we’re on the outside a bit. But it’s a labour of love.”
Stevens (29) and Doherty (27) moved to England from League of Ireland clubs around the same time (2010-11) but both learned a lot in Cabra.
“Enda had left school and was playing for Cherry Orchard when he came here. He was a great kid, he’s from Oxmantown Road, just down the road from here in Cabra,” says McCue.
“He was such a nice kid but I told him that as a defender he needed to be aggressive, I never saw him get a yellow card. To be fair to him he went down the leagues and came back to where he is now.
“They come in here and they are full time, it gives them discipline. They come out of here fitter and, hopefully, better technically.
“I did think Matt and Enda they had it in them “Matt didn’t finish the Leaving Cert. I knew he had potential, I could play him in any position,” McCue says.
“But he was on trials all over the place. I told him the trials had to stop and he needed to settle down.
“His father would drop him off here in the morning, Matt’d be asleep on a bench down there, I’d have to wake him up when we came in, but that’s Matt, he’s just so easy-going. His attitude was a bit lackadaisical at times and maybe Martin O’Neill didn’t take to that but when he got on the pitch he was always fine.
“I can’t say that Matt would have been lost to the game if he hadn’t been here, but this certainly helped in his career. Matt’s dad told me he always tells Matt, if you ever do an interview, give Cabra a mention as they were good to you.”