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Thursday 15 November 2018

Happy ending on Stevens' road to redemption

New recruit: Enda Stevens
New recruit: Enda Stevens

For Enda Stevens, it was nearly the end of the road.

The player who had scaled the heights in 2011-12, playing in the group stages of the Europa League for Shamrock Rovers and the Premier League with Aston Villa was, by October 2014, struggling. He was let go by one of the worst teams in England.

"I had been rejected by a League Two club," the Dubliner says of an ill-fated loan spell away from Villa with Northampton Town, four defeats in four games for an unfit and unhappy Stevens who admits he was at a key point in a promising but now-floundering career.

The story had a happy ending. Stevens revived his career with a move to League Two side Portsmouth, moved up the leagues to his current status, in sight of the Premier League with Sheffield United and in the Ireland senior squad for Friday's friendly with Turkey.

"It's been a good two and a half years, this call-up was the icing on the cake, hopefully I can do well this week and hang around," says Stevens, one of a number of players keen to challenge incumbent Stephen Ward for the left-back slot.

"I am just trying to buy in to what these lads are doing and what they are all about, hopefully I can do that and fit in."

Stevens' story is one of redemption, a player who seemed to have it all (that run in the Premier League with Villa) but lost his way, to the extent where calling it quits in England and moving home was an option.

"It was never in my mind to come home, but it did cross my mind that I might have to come home. The phone wasn't ringing. So when I got the chance to go to Portsmouth I jumped at it," he says of that 2015 move to Paul Cook's Pompey, then in the fourth tier. "It was my last chance saloon, definitely, if it didn't work out there, I don't know where I would have been.

"It was just about regaining my form and getting back playing football. On loan at Doncaster, I didn't really feel like I was playing the way I wanted to play, my football suffered, I wasn't fit, I wasn't enjoying it, my head wasn't in the right place.

"When I went down to League Two I got that hunger back for the game, when you come away from it you see how much it's worth to you, how hard you have to work to get back to where you want to be.

"Villa was a massive step up, it wasn't that I wasn't ready, I just didn't appreciate it, I didn't work as hard as I could to become an Aston Villa player, I wasn't good enough at the end of the day, I had to come away, down the leagues, to find that out. It got to my head a bit, you think you have made it but you are nowhere near making it."

Stevens faces another battle in winning Martin O'Neill's attention but he's ready. "It's all about first impressions and hopefully I can make a good one," he says.

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