GARETH MAHER - Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Chris Konopka cannot wait for the new League of Ireland to commence as he will finally be recognized as a first-choice keeper following his recent move to Waterford United.
It will be the third time that the New Jersey native attempts to establish himself as a consistent performer in Ireland, but already the signs are looking good as he has been awarded the number one jersey with his new club.
The 24-year-old originally arrived in the Irish league in 2008 when he spent a year as back-up to Brian Murphy at Bohemians. While success came during that spell with The Gypsies winning both the Premier Division and FAI Cup, Konopka rarely saw any game-time.
Then after holding talks with Longford Town, he signed on with First Division outfit Sporting Fingal. It was a case of deja vu for the giant shot-stopper as his team won the FAI Cup and clinched promotion to the top flight, yet he was forced to play understudy to Darren Quigley.
So when Waterford manager Stephen Henderson came calling following the conclusion of the 2009 campaign, it didn't take long for him to agree to a one-year deal with The Blues.
"For me, it was an easy decision. For the past two years over there (in Ireland) I have yet to break into the first-team consistently, so this is a fantastic opportunity with an excellent club with a great history to it," Konopka recently told YA.
"Waterford has had a very experienced long-time keeper (Michael Devine) in the league over the past years, but he is stepping down now and the manager wants to bring me in to take over that spot as number one. For myself there was no decision at all to make when it came to this move because of that."
As well as joining a club who reached the EA Sports Cup final, the semi-finals of the FAI Cup and just missing out on a place in the promotion play-offs, Konopka will be linking up with a coach who has a great appreciation of goalkeepers.
Henderson was himself a keeper during his playing days, while his older brother Dave (now chief scout with Bohemians) was a league veteran, his younger brother Wayne is a regular in the Ireland squad and back-up with Preston North End, while his son Stephen Jr. is second-choice for Bristol City and tipped to have a bright future.
For the former Kansas City Wizards player, it is the ideal setting to be coming into for 2010 because he feels that he is at the stage of his career where he needs to be featuring regularly and showing exactly what he can do.
"I know that I have to find myself in a situation where I am playing first-team games consistently and Waterford is a fantastic place to take that opportunity," he said.
"My first year at Bohs I was able to learn the trade of the league being the back-up to (Brian) Murphy. I took it all in that year and learned from the best.
"This past year when I came into Fingal halfway through the season, they already had an established keeper (Darren Quigley) but I was pushing to get a couple of games in in the short time I was there. Now it is about playing more games."
With pre-season training due to start in mid-January, Konopka is already counting down the days to when his latest adventure in League of Ireland football begins as it should present him with his best chance yet to show exactly what he is capable of.