Every young footballer’s dream is to become a professional but it’s a dream few manage to achieve. It’s never been harder to make the grade professionally across the Irish sea and fewer and fewer young Irish men are reaching this goal, those who do are finding out how difficult it is to survive there.
Rory Gaffney is one of the few who have realised this dream. A combination of his talent and hard work has brought Rory to Cambridge United of League two via Mervue United and Limerick in the League of Ireland.
Gaffney is an example of how pure dedication can bring you to the top level of sport, having broken through at a later age which is unusual in players who reach the top.
“I would never have been good enough in my teenage years to play over here and it wasn’t until I was 18/19 that I established myself as a first team player in the first division for Mervue Utd.”
Gaffney undertook a FAS/FAI course in Castlebar to attempt to hone the skills he would need to make it to the top in football.
One in every ten young men who attempt to forge a professional career in football would be lucky to make the cut so it’s important to have a fallback option. However those who are so dedicated to making a living in football often don’t have a back-up plan and are left with nowhere to go when their dreams are crushed.
However, the former student has brains to recognise this and worked hard to achieve a first class honours in accounting from GMIT.
A huge achievement in itself, this is made more remarkable by the fact that Gaffney completed his studies while juggling his football career with Mervue United and Limerick.
He explains that this experience showed him what it took to succeed in football while also providing some vital security.
“Yes having the degree has given me great confidence because I know in a way that I don’t have to stress too much about my future after football whenever that may be.
“I have definitely matured since I started college with the commitment needed to juggle both the college work and soccer helping me do so. By the time I signed for Limerick at 21, I had played close to 90 games for Mervue and probably played another 90 for Limerick.”
While in GMIT, Gaffney played for the college team and Limerick in the League of Ireland while also making sure he kept on top of his studies.
“At times it was stressful because I would be getting up at 7am to drive to college for a 9am start and then drive to Limerick for training in the evening before getting home 2/3 nights of the week after 11pm.
“I was committed to college so always kept on time of the college work and when the summer exams came along I would work extra hard for 3/4 weeks knowing that I’d have the summer off to focus fully on soccer.”
Gaffney has been at Cambridge three months and has enjoyed the step up to professional football.
This would not have been possible without the dedication that he showed in succeeding both in his studies and his League of Ireland career and he feels the standard in League Two is higher than that of the league of Ireland but feels there are plenty of players plying their trade at home who would fit in well to English football just as he has done.
“Overall I feel League 2 is a stronger league than the premier division in Ireland but that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of players in Ireland who would do well at League 2 level and higher again. I find that the stadiums are much better over here and the match day atmospheres have a good feel to them.”
Rory mentioned the difference in standard of stadiums to Ireland even at League Two Level. It would have been beyond his wildest dreams that he would end up in the most impressive club stadium in England football within his first season though.
“I had never been to Old Trafford before and didn’t realise how big it is was from just watching games on TV but I soon realised why its called the Theatre of Dreams.”
Cambridge United will be familiar to many as they were drawn against a club at the other scale of English football, Manchester United, in the Third round of the FA Cup. Cambridge pulled off a huge shock to hold the giants to a 0-0 draw and force a replay in Old Trafford.
Gaffney was awarded with a place in the squad for what was probably the biggest tie in Cambridge’s history and could be forgiven for being overawed being more used to much smaller grounds both in Ireland and England.
“Although I didn’t manage to play in the game, it was still a good experience and something that I will no doubt remember for the rest of my life.
“I had never been to Old Trafford before and didn’t realise how big it is was from just watching games on TV but once I stood on the pitch and had a look around, I soon realised why its called the Theatre of Dreams.”
Rory is a success story but what is unique about him is the maturity he showed in prioritising his studies as well as his football. This ensures that he will always have another option. However, things seem to be going well and we may well yet see Rory playing at an even higher level of English football.
Rory Gaffney, remember the name.