Here, the centre-back talks toabout his career, from earning €100 per week at a Cork City incarnation nearing extinction to marking Romelu Lukaku in front of 75,000 fans at Old Trafford
Yes, I think so. We haven’t won any of our last 10 Premier League matches and, although we drew against some of the big teams over that period, our performance levels had probably dropped off lately.
There wasn’t much happening around the Manchester area last week, so it was nice to get away to the sun and clear the head.
Of course, we’re still in a good place, so it’s important that we pick up points during the final third of the season. That starts with the game against Southampton, today.
That’s the reason I’m here and, I have to say, the challenge is one I enjoy. For every game, myself, Ben Mee and James Tarwowski battle for the two central-defensive spots and I’ve played quite a lot of the games lately.
My job is to prove I’m the top man for the job and ensure I stay in that team. Since coming to Burnley (in 2009), I had to wait a long time for my first Premier League start, towards the end of last season, and that makes me appreciate the opportunity more.
I really want to keep my place.
To be honest, I’ve never felt nervous before any game in my career, not even making my competitive Ireland debut, against Austria, in June.
The way I see it is that the bigger occasions require more concentration and that’s my priority. I don’t have time to be getting worried. It is nice to play against the likes of him (Lukaku), as I consider this experience as a learning curve.
There’s no better way to learn than on the job, against the top teams and players.
Well, Sean was a centre-back himself, in his playing career, and I learned a lot from him on the training ground. I think our team probably had a soft side to it, when he arrived (in 2012) and it was an area he worked hard on.
Some managers over-complicate things, but Sean kept it simple, by focussing on the fundamentals of the game. That suited me and I think we’ve worked well together.
The worst moment came on New Year’s Day of 2015, when I suffered a serious knee injury, not long after coming on for my Premier League debut, against Newcastle.
I’d finally got my chance and then this injury ruled me out of action for a full year. There was a lot of rehabilitation required, coming in every day, spending hours in the gym, regaining my strength. That was tough-going.
Thankfully, I had a lot of support from my family, in Cork, and the people at the club. Dean Marney was recovering from a similar injury, so was Sam Vokes, and we used to bounce off each other, which helped pass the time while our teammates were out on the pitch.
I can’t thank Martin enough for the faith he showed in me, so I’m delighted he’s staying. A lot of huff was made of the Denmark game, because of the scoreline, but we did well in the campaign and there will be new players coming into the squad, over the next few months. Martin isn’t afraid to put players into the team, even if they’re young.
Growing up so close to Turner’s Cross, playing for my hometown club was my dream, so I wasn’t distracted by what went on off the pitch.
Unlike many of the other players, who had families to feed and mortgages to pay, I was still living in my parents’ house, delighted to be getting €100 per week for playing the game I loved.
That set me off to where I am today.