KENYA BROWN - Friday, October 17, 2014
Pat McCann was looking for an opportunity to jump start his professional career after graduating from college and thanks to Irish First Division side Finn Harps he is finally taking that step.
Having joined the team in the middle of last season after finishing his college soccer career at Holy Cross, the New York native is now finishing up is first full season with the Harps, which have ambitions to make the move up to Ireland's Premier Division.
Although McCann's professional career is still in its infancy he told Yanks Abroad that he is happy so far with his progress.
"It has gone very well. Better than expected," said McCann. "I signed with Finn Harps during the mid-season break last year and was fortunate to be in the club as they entered into the second half of the league campaign. In that time I was able to gradually get acclimated to the style of play at both Finn Harps and the League of Ireland in general and eventually reached a point where I could contribute. I was able to get a dozen games under my belt and it provided a good starting block to then return for my first full season here with the club this year. In that time I've learned a lot and have continued to learn which was the ultimate goal in coming to Ireland to begin a professional career."
McCann is no stranger to playing in Ireland. During his time away from the Holy Cross team he would head over to the country to train with a few Premier Division teams thanks to the help of John O'Hagan, a native of Dundalk. It was during that time that midfielder began to consider the possibility of playing professionally in Ireland.
The next move was convincing a team sign him to a contract. It would be the Harps that would show interest in the player.
"For a number of months prior to my graduation I had been involved with a few clubs back home in the States but genuine opportunities were hard to come by," McCann explained. "I eventually decided that in order to kick start a professional career Ireland was my best move. In saying that I also knew it was a great environment to learn my craft and improve. As a result, several of the members of the Copa Ireland staff in NYC, namely Paddy McCarry, Paul Doherty, and Austin Friel all helped facilitate a trial with Finn Harps. Harps didn't know me at all prior to my arrival but luckily I was offered to sign after a two week trial period and have been enjoying it ever since."
While McCann is now making a name for himself in the Irish league, he has not forgotten how the coaching staff at his alma mater helped in his development to the professional ranks.
"My college career at Holy Cross played a huge role in my development as a player and a professional. I earned a role as a freshman and played a number of games during my four years there. We were lucky to play a very strong schedule each year in both the Patriot League and out of conference," he said.
"From my freshman year I was forced to adapt and improve in all aspects of the game. The coaching and guidance of the staff at Holy Cross helped in fostering a very professional approach to the game. On the pitch Marco Koolman and Chris Gbandi prepared me well during my final year to make the jump to the professional level and offered some very sound advice. The Strength and Conditioning Coach, Jeff Oliver, played a huge role in improving the physical aspect of my game and developing good, professional habits to find a balance between both physical maintenance and athletic improvement. I found this invaluable when dealing with the much longer season in the League of Ireland. My frequent contact with them while I am here at Finn Harps is a testament to the help and benefits they provided at Holy Cross."
After signing with Finn Harps in 2013, McCann would find himself in the thick of the team's campaign in the league as well as their run in the FAI Cup. According to the former Crusaders captain, the most memorable moment of his first season was the team's run to the quarterfinals of the cup competition.
"It was the first time the club had reached that stage in a long time and we played two very close games with Premier Division side Drogheda. We unfortunately were knocked out in the second leg but the atmosphere and enthusiasm from the fans and everyone around the club made for a very special experience," said McCann.
As for this season, the Harps had high hopes of earning promotion to Premier Division. In the first half of the season the team were on pace for one of the promotion places, but the last couple of months were not too kind to the team and saw them fall of the pace to finish fifth in the standings.
Despite missing out on the top three this season, McCann spoke very highly of his team's effort throughout the campaign.
"Looking back, some of the results we were able to walk away with during those matches were quite impressive. In many cases we had either gone a goal or two down and sometimes even a man or two down. The boys showed tremendous resilience and determination to get something out of each game. I think some great positives could be taken by the players and staff despite the results not going completely our way. The reputation of the ‘never say die' attitude that the players established for the club came as a result of a lot of the performances in those matches. A few breaks and a few more goals to fly in for us and Finn Harps would have gotten a fairer share of the points," said McCann.
Outside of the league, the team did have a good run in the FAI Cup, making it all the way to the semifinals - the first time in 15 years - before falling to St. Patrick's Athletic 6-1. According to McCann, the "atmosphere around the club was great" at the time.
Since making the move to Ireland to play with the Harps, the 24-year-old has had to get adjusted to playing a role that he did not have to do in his college days - play a role in the attack. While he played in a more defensive role in the midfield at Holy Cross, McCann said the role he plays at Finn Harps is one that he has enjoyed.
"Last year I was given more freedom to break forward and get involved in the attack and this year I'm required to help in the buildup and sometimes make dynamic runs beyond the opposition back line," he explained.
"This is done while making sure I'm back behind the ball defensively- box to box in the most literal sense of the expression. Recognizing certain cues and sharpening positional awareness were vital components in making the proper adjustments. I've enjoyed the challenge in identifying the requirements of the roles and working to perform accordingly. I am thankful that I've been faced with the task because it has made me a more versatile center midfielder and improvement was always the number one goal coming to play in the League of Ireland."
McCann's play on the field as well as his professional attitude has not gone unnoticed by the Harps as his teammates and coaching staff have spoken highly of him. While the accolades are great to receive, he remains humble as he continues to improve each day.
"They were all paid handsomely to say those things," he said jokingly.
"Seriously, I'm not too sure what was said but I do know that everyone around the club and in the town have all been very kind to me and made it a very comfortable experience being here and for that I am grateful."
While McCann tries to focus on contributing to the Harps' efforts to move up to the top league, off the field he tries to make the most of his time in Ireland as he gets acquainted with the country of his ancestors.
"Ballybofey is a beautiful town and the people are extremely friendly," he said. "This season, I've been living in Letterkenny, another great Donegal town, with a few other members of the team. Coming from New York, the pace here is a little slower and less hectic. On a day off we have access to a great gym and the town center is not too far away. Depending on the day and the weather, one could see us at any of the small shops in the town or at the gym. Lastly, at least once a week we get to enjoy a home cooked meal at the home of Betty and John Foy, two of Finn Harps' biggest fans."
While McCann has enjoyed his time playing for Finn Harps, he hopes that what he learns with the team can help him to take his career as far as possible.
"My goal has always been to play at the highest level I possibly can and if there is potential to earn a living doing it then all the better," he said.
"I enjoy the challenge to learn and improve and Finn Harps has provided that in abundance. I would relish the chance to play in the Premier Division in Ireland. At some point, I would love to play in other countries to experience different styles of play and lifestyles and exhaust what I can out of both in an effort to improve my game. Finally, the chance to enter the professional ranks in the United States and the idea of playing in my home country is very appealing."