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Newport’s Pádraig Amond: ‘I’m the Weirdest League Two Footballer Ever’

Newport’s Pádraig Amond: ‘I’m the Weirdest League Two Footballer Ever’

Saturday, 16 February, 2019 - 07:00
Pádraig Amond, right, celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during the FA Cup fourth-round replay against Middlesbrough. Photograph: Athena Pictures/Getty Images
London- Stuart James
It is approaching 7.30pm on Monday and Pádraig Amond has just finished taking a training session with Newport County’s under-15 and under-16 teams. “Emergency defending” was the theme of the evening and as Amond worked through various drills, focusing on being outnumbered and “how to deal with the overload”, it was hard to escape the feeling that the Irishman will soon have a chance to practise what he preaches. “There’s going to be loads of that against Manchester City, isn’t there?” Amond says, smiling.

Pep Guardiola’s side visit Rodney Parade in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday and it seems safe to assume none of City’s players will have prepared for the tie by coaching in their academy. “I’m doing nothing else on an evening, so why not?” says Amond, who has been training the youngsters every Monday and Thursday since August. “I want to be one step ahead of everyone and that’s why I started my badges when I did. I’ve no interest in finishing playing anytime soon, though.”

Amond, who is the League Two club’s top scorer with 18 goals, laughs when it is put to him that what he is doing with Newport is the equivalent of Sergio Agüero coaching City’s schoolboys on an evening. “Yeah,” says Amond, pausing for a moment as he tries to picture that scene. “He’s probably not doing that, is he? I wish I had his bank balance!”

Agüero would no doubt have been impressed with the goal Amond scored to double Newport’s lead against Middlesbrough in last week’s FA Cup replay. In a move straight off the training ground, Amond darted to the near post to sweep home a glorious first-time shot, on the half volley, from a short corner. It was so good that it is tempting to wonder how many times he has watched it back. “A few,” Amond says. “A few hundred!

“I’ve never hit a ball as sweet in my life. But I’ll be honest with you, I specifically went through that technique the night before here, coaching with one of the young strikers. It wasn’t a set piece we were working on, it was just the timing of your run across the near post, so when the ball is coming back, and what way to hit it.

“With that goal against Middlesbrough, there’s a split second where I’m the only person either in the ground, or watching the game on TV, who knows where that’s going and it’s like time slows down. The moment it came off my foot, I knew it was in the top corner. And for that split second it’s the best feeling in the world. If you could bottle that feeling and sell it, you would be a multimillionaire.”

Manchester City have plenty of those within their star-studded squad and it will be fascinating to see how they cope with the humble surroundings of Rodney Parade, in particular a playing surface that has been battered by the combination of rugby, football and poor weather. “I think the pitch looks a lot worse than it is,” Amond says. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if City rocked up with their own ground staff to work on it before the game.”

Amond is talking in a dugout next to the pitch where he has been coaching for more than two hours. Gregarious and generous with his time, he is an instantly likable character and has quite a CV. “I’m the weirdest League Two footballer ever,” Amond says, laughing.

The 30-year-old is referring to the fact Cristiano Ronaldo made his Real Madrid debut against him and that he had a spell in the top flight in Portugal with Paços de Ferreira early in his career. Nicolás Otamendi marked him on one occasion, as a substitute in a 3-0 defeat to Porto in 2010 – “I remember but I don’t think he will” – and in the corresponding game, later in the season, Amond came off the bench to set up the equalising goal in a 3-3 draw in which Radamel Falcao and James Rodríguez played. “That was my last touch in Portuguese football, away to Porto,” Amond says. “They got the trophy [for being champions] before the game. Pizzi scored a hat-trick for us and got a £15m move to Atlético Madrid afterwards.”

Amond, in contrast, joined Accrington Stanley. He later moved on to Morecambe, Grimsby and Hartlepool, where he suffered relegation from the Football League on the final day of the 2016-17 campaign to the benefit of Newport, the club he would sign for three months later and where he has helped to create some wonderful FA Cup memories over the last two seasons with his goals against Tottenham, Leicester and Middlesbrough. “It’s amazing how things work out,” Amond says. “The gaffer [Michael Flynn] keeps saying he saved my career. I keep telling him that I’m going to make his career.”

With a prolific record in the lower leagues, and some hugely impressive performances in the FA Cup this season and last, Amond is entitled to wonder whether he is capable of making that step up. “I still believe I can play at a high level,” he says. “I still believe I can play for Ireland. And maybe the last couple of months have given me more belief and determination than ever.”

Amond has had a few brushes with the big time, none more so than in July 2009 when he was in the Shamrock Rovers side that hosted Real Madrid in a pre-season friendly. Ronaldo had not long completed his then world-record £80m transfer from Manchester United, meaning the 10,000 fans shoehorned into the Tallaght Stadium were treated to the sight of the Portugal international making his first Real Madrid appearance.

Shamrock lost 1-0, courtesy of a late Karim Benzema goal, but Amond came away with a prized possession. “The half-time whistle was approaching and everyone was shuffling towards Ronaldo to try to get his shirt. I saw Raúl loosening his top and asked if I could have his. He said I could and then gestured for me to swap mine. I said: ‘I think I’m playing the second half.’”

Amond breaks into laughter as he tells that story but his expression quickly changes when asked whether he plans to get a City shirt. “It doesn’t cross my mind. This is a game I want to win – as stupid as that might sound.There’s no point in me doing an interview like this with you if I trivialise it by saying it will be a great day for the club. I want to make it a great day for us. I want to enjoy the day the right way, like I did against Leeds, Spurs, Leicester and Middlesbrough. Whether it’s blind faith or not, I don’t know. But I still believe we can do something.”

(The Guardian)

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