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back in the limelight Dubliner McDonnell fired up to tame Lions with non-league Wood


Adam McDonnell

Adam McDonnell

Adam McDonnell

Rewards are not easy to come by when you toil away in the lower reaches, far away from the big time.

For Dubliner Adam McDonnell, a record of just two games of league football in England for the six-and-a-half years spent cross-channel looks like a poor return for the time invested.

Today, when his non-league side, Boreham Wood, play Millwall in the FA Cup, it will be some recompense, some sign that the 24-year-old is on the right path in his career and in life. The TV cameras will be present and family back home, especially his Millwall-supporting dad and granddad, have more reasons to tune in.

"This is the kind of game you hope for. Going over to England at 17, you don't know if it'll last. I am here over six years now but I had no idea if it would have been for one year or six, so moments like this make it worthwhile," says McDonnell.

"It's definitely a big game for us, part of the reason why I moved over, to get games like this."


It's also a reward for staying put as, many times since he moved over to England from Shelbourne in August 2014, he was tempted to pack it in, a real test of his mettle from the start when an issue over his registration meant he could not play games, even at reserve or youth level, for his first year in England.

"A lot of my friends went to England at 16 but I think I am the only one still over here, a lot of them went home to play in the League of Ireland," he says.

"It was tough, there was plenty of days where I was ringing my dad, saying I was on the next flight home, booked on the next ferry, I couldn't do it any more. But looking back I am happy I stuck it out. I'd have always questioned myself if I had given up then. And when I walk out in this game today it will all be worth it."

Ballymun native McDonnell was schooled by Tolka Rovers and Home Farm where he started playing with close friend and current Bohemians 'keeper James Talbot when the pair were just four years old, Anto Breslin another contemporary from a gifted Tolka Rovers side. "Seven of us went on to play for Ireland," he says.

He burst onto the scene with Shelbourne, scoring on his first-team debut in July 2014. Shels were playing Ipswich in a friendly the following day so their manager, Mick McCarthy, had popped to Tolka Park to check out the Reds. Only 17, McDonnell scored in a 3-1 win and within weeks he was off to Ipswich.

His League of Ireland career was brief (seven games) but vital. "Having those games made me, Shels turned me into a man," he says.

"Getting clattered in training, playing in those matches, it made me grow up quickly, I could get away with things in the U-17s and U-19s as I was one of the best players but not in the first team. Even training was intense as you had lads there in the team who didn't want this kid taking their slot, Shels made me grow up quickly and helped me progress, and I think Mick McCarthy trusted me more as I'd played first team football."

But McDonnell spent a year in cold storage due to registration issues. "I signed on transfer deadline day when I was 17, but for some reason with FIFA I couldn't play for Ipswich at all until I turned 18," he says. "I trained with the first team and Mick liked me, that was the most annoying thing, that I could have played for the first team. That whole year was tough."

He made his league debut for Ipswich at the end of the 2015/'16 season, played for them again early in 2017/'18 but after a loan spell with non-league Aldershot he made that move permanent in 2018, after his release by Ipswich. Two years at Aldershot led to an offer from Boreham Wood and in 2019 he moved on a two-year deal.

"I had other offers but I wanted to stay over in England and play full time, being full-time was key," he says. "And this is a great club to be at, they have the best pitch in the league and a great stadium, family-run club.

"One of the reasons why I dropped down was to get back up, it's not happened yet but that's not to say it won't happen. I have seen players go back to Ireland and then get back to England. I am still young and I know I can play at a higher level.


"I know now that I should have worked harder at Ipswich, done a lot more training and if I had a second chance I'd work harder, I am more humble now and know what I have to do."

His game is one of the Cup ties this weekend that could throw up an upset: Boreham Wood, mid-table in England's fifth tier, are on some run, five wins in a row, while Millwall have just one win in their last 13.

"We're on a great run, six games unbeaten, four clean sheets in six. We know the gulf in standard is there, Millwall are a Championship side, but I feel we can do it. We have lads who are looking to move on their careers, push themselves on, they want to play at a level like the Championship and this is their chance to prove it, and I have no doubt our lads will raise their levels 10 per cent for this game, if we are at our best we can cause an upset. Sometimes bigger teams go through the motions in a cup tie. We won't be going through the motions today. I know I won't."

  • Boreham Wood v Millwall, Live, BT Sport Extra 3, 12.0

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