By Jamie Moore
Ex Belvedere centre-half Pierce Sweeney won the Ireland U19 Player of the year award at the FAI International Football Awards in Dublin last night.
The 19 year old plays for Reading having signed from Bray Wanderers. Pierce spent five years at Belvedere, winning numerous titles including the U15 SFAI Cup and U16 double, with a Premier League title and the League Cup.
It’s been a great 2014 for Sweeney so far, having made the bench for Reading’s first team in The Championship and been called up for the first time by the Ireland U21s for the European Championship qualifier this week.
Pierce spoke to belvederefc.com the morning after accepting his U19 Player Of The Year award.
“This week has been one the best weeks so far in my career. Last year I was nominated for the Irish Schools Player Of The Year, but I’m delighted to have won the U19s player of the year this year. It means a lot to me to be recognised for the hard work, not only me but the whole U19s squad last year. It's great for me personally, my family, my home town and Reading FC.”
Ireland senior team manager Martin O’Neill and assistant Roy Keane were at the awards night, and Pierce wants to follow in the footsteps of the former Man United captain, who himself played in the League of Ireland before moving away.
“It was good to be in the presence of such legends and heroes of football, especially Roy Keane. Some of my coaches have said to me about maybe playing like him in midfield.”
He played under John Moore and Jimmy Jackson from U14 to U16 and John is delighted that one of his former players is doing so well:
“It’s great to see Pierce taking another step towards realising his dream of making it as a professional footballer.”
“We put a huge amount of work into helping him improve during his time at Belvo. A special word of praise for his mum, Tracey. I’m sure Pierce would be the first to agree that he would still be playing in Bray if wasn’t for all she has done for him so I hope he got her a big bunch of flowers!”
“Pierce has all the attributes to reach the very top once he keeps working hard and keeps his feet on the ground. He’s quick, good in the air, can tackle and also pass the ball out from the back. He might even make the short list for my all-time best Belvo 11.”
Pierce was brought to the club at U12 by Simon Kelly. He shared his first memories of Fortress Fairview.
“I joined Belvo when I was 12. My first memory of the club was my first training session in Fairview on a Wednesday night. I was thinking that I wasn't going to be able to play for a club like Belvo and that I'd fail, but I guess the rest is history!”
Like every Belvo Boy, Pierce has great memories of his time with the club.
“I have so many memories from Belvo that I couldn't mention them all, but I think the best one was winning the All Ireland against Cherry Orchard! It was the best feeling ever dancing around the dressing room with all the lads with the cup. We had such a highly rated team and three or four of us are still in England and Scotland playing now! I owe a lot to Belvo for teaching me nearly all I know about football.”
After that U15 final against Cherry Orchard, some of Pierce’s team-mates moved away to English clubs. Kealan Dillon signed for Derby and Adam Evans went to Burnley. He spent another season with Belvo and did the league and league cup double at U16. After that season two more players moved away, Darragh Lenihan to Blackburn and Sean Kavanagh to Fulham. Despite offers, Pierce didn’t go away. So did he feel he had missed the opportunity to move away?
“A few of the boys went over at 16 and 17 but I stayed in Ireland. I could have went away at 16 but I decided to stay and play in the League of Ireland with Bray. I highly recommend to anyone young player if they haven't gone away at 16 to get involved with a League of Ireland club. It was the best decision of my career I think to sign for Bray, because I always had a chance of playing first team football and that’s how I got my move.”
After a great first half to the 2012 Airtricity League season with Bray, Pierce signed for Reading and hasn’t looked back, making the bench for the first team in two recent games.
“I’m playing regularly with Reading U21s and I’m playing well so everything is going great at the moment and can't really complain. Reading is a good club with great people. I was on the bench against Nottingham Forrest at home and then Brighton away in the FA cup, that gave me a confidence boost and made me realise how close I am to living the dream.”
And what about living away from home?
“It's the best thing ever for me being away from home, playing football for a professional club and doing what I love to do. It makes you grow up so much quicker living away from family and friends but at the end of the day it's worth it.”
Last week he received a phone call from the FAI to tell him he was called up the U21s for their European Championships qualifier against Montenegro this Wednesday at Tallaght Stadium.
“I found out that I was called up early last week just after training, I got a phone call off the FAI and I wasn't expecting it at all, it was a complete surprise and I was delighted! I’m looking forward to the game on Wednesday and hopefully I’ll play a part, but I’m very happy and honoured to be involved.”
His feet are firmly on the ground as he looks to the future.
“We have important games for the Reading U21s in the next while, a semi-final of U21s cup against Arsenal and some big league games. We will be looking to win all of those games. Anything else that comes my way in the next while will be a brilliant bonus, but my hopes until the summer and to play as much football as I can and maybe even be involved in getting promoted or the play offs."