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Career ladder: Leon McSweeney

15 April 2013

Name:Leon McSweeney
Date of Birth: 19/12/1983
Club: Leyton Orient
Previous Clubs: Cork City, Leicester City, Scarborough, Hucknall Town, Hednesford Town, Ilkeston Town, Cork City, Stockport County, Hartlepool United.

What do you remember about your first ever match?
I went to watch my hometown team, Cork City, with my mate and stood in the Shed End signing songs - I was hooked from then. Ever since that, I always used to go to Turners Cross to watch Cork and luckily I had the opportunity to play for them.

My first professional game was for Stockport County, we played Accrington Stanley at home. We won 2-0 - it's always nice to get a win on your debut. It was quite a big club so that was a significant move for me.

Who was your childhood hero?
My childhood hero was Paul McGrath. Then, when I became a teenager, it was Roy Keane. It's been Keane throughout my football career but Paul McGrath was initially the one I aspired to be.

When did you realise you had a chance to progress in the game?
You see players that you play alongside as a schoolboy getting trials and I never really got trials. My first trial didn't come until I was 18, so I was quite a late developer in that respect.

I kind of gave up when I was 16; I was just playing with my mates after that, completely for enjoyment. I took my A-levels back home as education was a big thing for my mum, so I got that under my belt, and the football took care of itself and eventually escalated. I was catching the eye quite a bit back home, scoring a few goals, then Leicester City came in and it was all done and dusted. I trialled with them twice, a contract was offered, and the following summer I was over in England playing for them.

It worked out fantastically really because I had time to get an education under my belt, whereas a lot of lads come over to England too young and have nothing to fall back on when they get released.

Which coach has had the biggest influence on your career?
The best coach I had was probably Damien Richardson at Cork City. I went back there after University and was contemplating what to do next, it was my last throw of the dice for professional football. He gave me a contract until the end of the season and his man management was brilliant. He took time out to get to the bottom of why I didn't make it in England, and he was the only manager up until now that has took time out to get to know me as a person.

He put his arm around my shoulder and gave me the confidence I needed. Every time you played for him, you felt you were unbeatable. It was something I was lucky to have at that point in my career. I think a lot of the players that worked with him at a similar age to myself would say the same thing about him - when you crossed that white line you were playing for him, and didn't want to let him down. If you have that as a manager, I think you've cracked it.

What did you spend your first wage packet on?
I think you just get sucked in with all the other lads. I remember when I was at Leicester all the lads were into Nike trainers and when the new colours used to come out everyone used to buy them.

I remember when I got my first wage packet I bought a pair of designer jeans that were too big for me. I just got them because I had always wanted a pair.

Does your squad number have a special meaning to you?
Not really, I play right-back so number two is quite synonymous with that position but it's just the number I was given. The one number that I have always liked is 20, and that's the number I wore at Cork. I wore it at Stockport, too. I like the look of the number and your first squad number is something that always sticks with you.

Who did you last swap shirts with?
We've played in the FA Cup a lot recently and we were lucky enough to play against Championship sides but I don't tend to swap shirts, especially if we get beat. I have a bit of pride in that sense.

I played a pre-season game against Sunderland when I was with Cork and I got Liam Miller's shirt. There's no real reason behind it, it was just the fact that the other lads were getting shirts so I got one. He didn't want mine, though, so you can't really call that a shirt swap!

How has the game changed for the better since you became a pro?
The media coverage of football now is a lot better, especially in League 1 and League 2. Club's in the lower divisions get a lot of airtime on Sky and if you're a player coming through the ranks in your early 20s and early teens it's a chance to go out and produce to a TV audience. It gives you a good opportunity to get your name out there.

If you could have coached yourself when you were a teenager, what advice would you have passed on?
Have self-confidence and believe in yourself. You can take a lot of flack when you're a bit younger, jostling for positions in the team. With me being away from home, leaving Ireland, I didn't have that family environment to come home to, so it was quite daunting. I'd say to myself to not let that sort of thing get to me.

Also, you should always remember that a club signed you for a reason, as I think it's very easy to try and change your game to what people are saying, even though it's not your game, and it's detrimental to your performances. As you grow up, you kind of learn to faze that out and get on with it. In the early years it's tough, though, as it's all new to you.

If you stay in the game at the end of your career, what will you do? a) Manager b) Coach c) Scout d) Physio e) Pundit?
I'd like to become a manager or a coach - that would be the ideal scenario. You have to be realistic, though.

I'm writing a blog at the minute and posting the link to it on twitter, and that has been quite popular with the Leyton Orient fans. I've been approached by a website to do a regular blog, and I enjoy writing so if it leads to anything else, so be it. You never know what will come around, so I'll just keep plugging away and getting my name out there.

What do you want to be best remembered for at the end of your career?
For being a good lad. I have always said to myself if I left a club and a group of players, and someone asked those players what I was like, I would want them to just say, 'he was a good lad'.

I would also like to be remembered as someone who you could rely on on the pitch.

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