Two years in football can be a long time. Two years out of it can be even longer. For Mikey Drennan, it was just the break he needed. Now he’s back and ready to take on a new challenge, at Sligo Rovers.
“Ger Lyttle (Sligo’s manager) rang me two weeks ago,” begins Drennan. “He asked me would I go down to play a game and it just went from there, I went down on the Tuesday and signed on the Wednesday”
“I think it was a good choice, there was another team in the running as well but I decided to go with Sligo because I thought it’d be the best fit for me.”
In April of 2016, Drennan took the decision to leave the professional game. The 24-year-old was one season into his return to Irish football and playing with Shamrock Rovers, following spells with Aston Villa and Portsmouth in England.
“I feel like I’m more mature now, I know how to handle myself better I think I’m in a much better place and I want to give it another go cause if I don’t I’ll never know or I might have some regrets.”
The former Irish U21 international feels that he is finally in the right mindset to return to football with Sligo Rovers. A far cry from the struggles that plagued him during the first period of his career.
The Kilkenny native moved to England at the tender age of 16, and like many other Irish players he struggled with aspects of the transition and feels that clubs could do more to help young players settle in, in the unfamiliar environment.
“The clubs in England just say look you’re coming over at 16, you’re in digs,” begins Drennan.
“For the money they have they should have support in place to bring you out once or twice a week like you’re 16 going over to a different country and there’s no support there for you.
“I mean it’s hard for Irish kids but imagine if you’re French or Spanish and you’re coming over and you don’t speak the language, there was no real massive help for them
“I believe that if you want English players to succeed, if you want Irish players to succeed you need to start looking after them rather than just saying ‘Be there at 9:30 the bus will collect you’, that’s it, then you get dropped off at your digs and that’s it.
“You can’t go out because you don’t know the town, you don’t know where is good where is bad, you don’t know what will happen.”
At the time Drennan explained that he often spent the hours after training alone in his room watching television or gambling to pass the time. Upon returning to Ireland, the ex-Villa man thought that the depression that he had been suffering, would cease to exist.
Unfortunately for the young striker, it all came to a head following Shamrock Rovers’ derby day victory over Bohemians in April 2016, a time that for others was laced with euphoria, for Drennan it was the truly the opposite.
“After the game, I tried to celebrate with the rest of the players but I just couldn’t. I had to walk out of the changing room and just started crying. That’s when I knew.
“Pat Fenlon was the manager at the time he said ‘look you’re not right’, he knew I had depression but he didn’t know how bad I actually was and he said ‘go home and have a think about what you want’ and he gave me that time to go and think is this what I actually want? But at the time it wasn’t.”
Time away from the game was required, and when Drennan bravely opened up about his struggles, he became a figure that many who suffered from mental health issues, could look up to. A reaction that Drennan explained surprised him at the time.
“Yeah it’s great when I did come out I didn’t expect the reaction I got I was really surprised at what happened, people text me from all over Ireland, England, New Zealand, Australia saying you helped my son or you helped my daughter or you helped myself to go and actually talk to someone.
“The reaction I got was brilliant and now people ring me up asking me to do some talks and that’s great. If I can help someone just from telling my own story then I’m glad to do it.”
During his hiatus, the former FAI Under-16 International Player of the Year decided to put his previous life completely on hold. He returned home to Kilkenny and got a ‘normal’ job as he looked to rebuild what depression had torn down.
Drennan admits that the preconceived idea that some might see him as a failure initially made him nervous about coming home.
“It was different it’s something I’ve never experienced before, I was nervous about what people were gonna think, would they say ‘look at him he’s a failure’ even though the reasons why I came out were different but everyone has their own opinion on it.
“I think getting back into it was fairly nerve wracking but after a while it didn’t bother me, look it’s reality I’m gonna have to get a job at some stage anyway so it was tough but I got used to it and I think now is the right time to get back to football.”
Despite getting away from the professional game, the love for the sport still stuck with Drennan, and he found comfort in returning to where it all began, at local Kilkenny club Evergreen, who he lead to an FAI Junior Cup final in 2017.
“Playing with Evergreen was great because I was out of that professional mould but the spotlight was still there obviously not as much but the fact that I was going out and just playing.
“It was just enjoying yourself and going for a few pints after that was one of the good things about it. It’s a different environment when you’re in there everyone has a job and everyone’s in the same boat.”
Still finding his feet once again in the professional set up, Drennan’s ambitions for the immediate future at the Showgrounds are simple. Play games, score goals, win trophies.
“As it is I want to win trophies and score goals and do the best I can for the club. My ambitions are to obviously get in the Sligo team, stay in it, score goals and play well. I want to stay there for another year or two years or three years or whatever.”
Drennan’s talent on the pitch cannot be denied, and with his struggles now firmly in the past could his head be turned by a return to English football? He isn’t ruling it out.
“If something happens across the water then obviously I would have to look at it but my ambitions are to win trophies and score goals.”
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