College life can be a tiring experience. Add in the extra challenge of travelling to the opposite side of the country for training four times a week and for the common man you’re looking at mission impossible. That gruelling routine is what soccer talisman Michael Lee of Longford Town FC was faced with last year but for the NUIG student it wasn’t a difficult sacrifice to make.
His unwavering loyalty to his club is best typified by his recent acquisition of the longest serving player at Longford Town title. Any remaining reservations regarding his genuine passion for the game can be easily quashed with a mention of his ‘Player of the year award which Michael was humbled to receive. “I looked at the list of names who won it like Vinny Perth and Sean Prunty and then there’s my name so I was shocked to get it and I couldn’t believe it”.
These accolades didn’t befall him out of a miraculous turn of luck, so what is it that fuels Michael’s engine for success? “We train in Dublin so you’re in there about fifteen to twenty minutes beforehand and training is tough enough but I’ve started doing yoga recently to strengthen my muscles. Young kids might ask what they should focus on and I always say the basic skills are crucial. Master them first and when you get older you can work on expanding your creative style of play”, the 21 year old uttered with confidence.
This season Michael reflected on the club’s most valued weapon – its youthful stealth. “The average age of the players is about 23 which is a great asset to have. The only obstacle preventing the squad from utilising this advantage to its full power is the crux of injuries. Many of the players have been targeted by such an inconvenience and unfortunately for Michael, he has also been rendered temporarily incapacitated. “I was struck with a gilmore’s groin a while ago and I underwent surgery with it. I’m about two weeks away from being match fit again but it was so frustrating watching the games from the sideline while I was injured. If I was watching even a close range pass, it looked like the ball was never gonna reach the target. That’s how much I wanted to get back out there”. His focus to sustain the recovery period was asserted by a fellow player Gary Cronin who reminded him that his youth would see him through to rebuild his strength.
He has aspirations to travel across the water to an English club but disconnecting himself from Longford would be an upsetting concession to make. “I played in Carlisle for a while and it was such a professional set-up. When training was on, all you had to do was turn up. All your gear was waiting for you and I was staying in a really nice house that was well kept but to do that full time and leave Longford would be hard to do. You meet the supporters around the town and everyone is so encouraging of the team. Having said that I’d still love to take a chance and go to England. Even if it didn’t work out I’d always think what if?”
Michael pleases the crowd with his workrate, controlled skill and blistering pace, but where is the personal fulfilment for him. “There’s a buzz that the crowd gives you when they get behind the team. How can you play bad when you walk out of the tunnel and the enthusiastic supporters are there to watch your team play. The feeling is brilliant.”