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Saturday 25 November 2017

Pompey's old boys in green brigade to part ways soon

Irish striker Noel Hunt is enjoying life at Portsmouth and wants to sign a new deal with the League One club
Irish striker Noel Hunt is enjoying life at Portsmouth and wants to sign a new deal with the League One club
Portsmouth’s Irish stars Michael Doyle (l) and Enda Stevens (r) in action during an FA Cup game against Bournemouth’s Juan Iturbe
Portsmouth boss Paul Cook, who previously managed Sligo Rovers

Football is said to be a young man's game.

Tell that to the fans at Portsmouth, as they have just celebrated a title-winning season with a side backboned by a real dad's army of Irish players.

Pompey won the League Two title, and with it promotion back to England's third tier, with a strong Irish influence: manager Paul Cook learned much of his trade here, in charge of Sligo Rovers, while Enda Stevens (26) missed just one league game all year and was voted onto the division's team of the season by his fellow professionals and Stevens' fellow League of Ireland graduate Eoin Doyle (29) contributed two goals in 12 games while on loan from Preston.

But a massive contribution in the promotion success was delivered by the old fogeys David Forde (37), Michael Doyle (35) and Noel Hunt (34).

That trio made 112 league appearances, not bad for a bunch with a combined age of 106.

Science

"Us old boys still have something to offer," laughs ex-international Hunt, who joined Pompey last summer from Southend United.

"I think a few years ago it was harder for players in their mid-30s to deliver at a high level, but sports science and nutrition have given players like us a new lease of life, you can add a a couple of years to your career.

"We have quite a few old players at the club, Carl Baker and Gary Roberts are in their 30s as well, so we have a bit of experience. But it works, and lads like Doyler and Fordey were so important last season.

"Every club I have been at has had a very strong Irish presence.When I was in Scotland I had lads like Richie Byrne and Gary Dempsey, Sean Dillon, Willo Flood and Jon Daly. At Reading we had Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and of course The Brother (Stephen), at Ipswich I played with Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick, then at Southend I loved playing with Dave Mooney and Stephen McLaughlin, I love having that Irish core of team-mates and it's been good at Portsmouth."

Doyle, Hunt and Forde were all capped at senior international level and while that honour has yet to come Stevens' way, it's only a matter of time, Hunt says.

"He was our player of the year and he made it onto the PFA team of the year as well, and I know he will make the Ireland squad in time, he is that good," says Hunt. "He is good on the ball but strong defensively, he understands the game really well, he will be an international as he has it all."

For Hunt, winning the League Two title was a big deal after a series of disappointments in his career to date. "I was a runner-up in the FAI Cup with Shamrock Rovers, that was devastating for me and that set the tone," he jokes. "I had three runner-up medals in the Scottish Cup, I was runner-up in the Championship play-off final, I wondered when that run would end so it was great to win the league and win the medal with Portsmouth."

For all the success that happened at Fratton Park, Pompey's Irish colony is breaking up.

Stevens is a free agent and is almost certain to sign for Championship side Sheffield United while Doyle, frustrated at the slow pace in contract talks with Pompey, has already signed for Coventry City, and Forde, who was on loan there from Millwall, is still contracted to the London side and needs to have talks about his future.

Hunt is also out of contract but keen to stay on. "I would like to stay on so we will see what happens, there are other players ahead of me to be sorted out as well in terms of contracts," he says.

"There is no panic, I am back in Ireland for a break at the minute so I will give it a few weeks. We had a great season with Portsmouth and it's really a club on the up so if the chance was there for me to stay on as a player, and add a bit in terms of coaching, I have a lot to learn from Paul Cook, I'd love that.

"This is a massive club, in League Two our lowest crowd was 15,500, you have clubs in higher leagues who would love that level of support. We had 18,000 most weeks in the title run-in, the fans here saved the club a while back, it's a great place to be and I'd love to play a part again."

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