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Leech's back on track in Norway

FORMER Ireland U21 cap Mark Leech says he's regained his hunger for football after falling out of love with the game.

Six years ago the striker - son of former international Mick Leech - was building a very promising career for himself, as he was in the same Ireland U21 side as players like Glenn Whelan and Stephen Ward and was picking up trophies with Drogheda United.

But back luck with injury and loss of form saw Leech's career tail off and he ended up on the familiar trail Down Under, spending two years in Australia playing at semi-pro level.

Leech is now back in Ireland and keen to relaunch his career, and took the first steps this week as he played for the Irish side at an indoor tournament for out-of-contract players in Norway, Pat Scully's PFAI-funded team finishing third thanks to a 2-0 win over Finland in Oslo yesterday.

Disillusioned

"I went off football for a while, I had a bad run with injury and you had all the money problems in the League of Ireland, so I lost my appetite for it. I was just disillusioned with the whole thing," Leech told the Herald. "I had two years in Australia but I had enough of it down there so I came home to Dublin a month ago, and coming to Norway with the PFAI team was a good option for me, to see what comes of it.

"The lifestyle in Oz was good but the football wasn't great. The standard of professionalism in the league I was in wasn't what I was used to, the training was poor and people didn't take it that seriously. I was playing for local sides like Southern Stars and Hume City.

"There was a load of Irish players over there, the likes of Liam Kearney and Darragh Ryan are playing, but it was time for me to come home. I'm 27 now and I'd like to make something of my career now," added Leech, who also had spells with UCD and Shelbourne.

Scouts from Scandinavian clubs attended the four-team indoor tournament in Oslo which was played yesterday. Some famous faces popped up - ex-Manchester United man Jesper Blomqvist managed the Swedish side while former Leeds star Eirik Bakke was in charge of the Norwegian outfit.

The Irish team, managed by Pat Scully and coached by Shaun Maher and Gary Rogers, certainly impressed, as they came from a goal down to draw 1-1 with Norway in their opening game, the classy Stephen Maher scoring the Irish goal, only to lose 6-5 on penalties as a kick from Peter Higgins in sudden death was saved.

Impress

In the third-place playoff, Ireland comfortably beat Finland 2-0, with Limerick lad Shane Treacy and Barry O'Mahony on the scoresheet for the Irish side.

The idea of the tournament, which is funded by FIFPro - the umbrella body for players' unions across the world - is to give out-of-work players a chance to impress scouts and managers. But the Irish-based players also use the event to get match fitness if they want to earn contracts with League of Ireland clubs.

"It was great to come out to Norway and play a couple of games, it's a brilliant experience and even if we don't end up getting a club in Denmark or Finland or wherever," added Leech.

"I was happy with how I played out here in the two games. It was good to get playing again."