After years of study, the class of 2022 at UCD have put the books aside and embarked on the world of work.
or a graduate, the education is just beginning. Liam Kerrigan, from Sligo, had to pinch himself recently when he found himself sitting with a coffee on a Saturday evening in the square of a small Italian town, a three-year contract with an ambitious Serie B club nestled , alongside his business degree, as he becomes the latest Irishman to try to break into the world of calcium.
“I love it here, I have no complaints, being a full-time footballer in Italy is not something to complain about,” Kerrigan said. “It’s still hard to believe I’m here.”
Last week Kerrigan was at a training camp in the Italian Alps ahead of the new season, which begins next month. It’s fair to say there will be more excitement around City and club Como if they achieve any of their pre-season targets as former Arsenal player Cesc Fabregas is strongly tied to a move there.
But for now, Kerrigan is happy to be where he is. “I knew I would move on but I thought it would be Ireland or England, I never imagined it would be Italy. I didn’t think I was going off the beaten path, but when it happened, I was all for it. I had finished my baccalaureate, I had my results in June so I was a free man. I got a 2.1 in trade so I was happy with that. I hope I won’t need my diploma for a while, but it’s in the back pocket if I need it.
Football in Italy is not a joke, it’s hard work. He only had three days in Como to settle in before leaving for training camp in Bormio, a small town best known for its ski slopes. But this is not a vacation.
“Breakfast is before 8am, the first session is at 9:30am, but you arrive 45 minutes early to get ready, finish it, have lunch, you have a few hours of free time, then come back for the 5pm practice, then dinner and after that you’re just ready for bed.
“Since I arrived here I have spent most of my time in Bormio for a pre-season camp, we have been here for almost three weeks. It was different at home, at UCD, we didn’t escape for a long period like that, it’s complete, two or three sessions a day. It’s eat, sleep, train and go again. It’s more intense than usual, at UCD we were part-time, but now I train more than ten times a week, which is new for me.
Ireland and Italy have had a cold relationship in terms of football: Liam Brady was a huge success but Robbie Keane only lasted six months of the five-year contract he signed with Inter Milan in 2000. Yet last year six Irishmen managed there: Kevin Zefi and Cathal Heffernan joined the academies with Inter and AC Milan, Udinese signed James Abankwah and Festy Ebosele, Aaron Connolly joined Venezia on loan, and now Kerrigan.
“Wherever you go it will be a little risky, but I saw a run here that was just as good, if not better, than I would have had in England, it’s a different style of play, a new language, moving away from home, but it’s a risk that could pay off, maybe get bigger rewards than if I had gone to England. It was calculated, I thought about it and it was just the best option for me.
“I think that’s changing, people have stopped seeing England as the alpha and omega, we have six Irishmen in Italy now and it’s the start of a trend where Irish players will look beyond from England.”
Learning the language is something he’s keen to do and not overlook even if there are English speakers around: former Chelsea man Dennis Wise is on staff at the club, although that he deals more with contracts and signatures than with day-to-day matters. coach, former Waterford boss Marc Bircham is also there, while England player Lewis Binks is on loan from Bologna.
“Our assistant manager speaks good English, so I get his messages and I don’t miss instructions from the manager. But I know I need to learn Italian to do well here.
“I have the basic words I need in the field and the minute I use Duolingo, but once I get back to Como after this camp I will find myself a tutor. It would be ignorant of me to don’t learn Italian, I’m coming here as a guest from their country, that wouldn’t be a good way to do it, I’m looking forward to this challenge, it’s good to do it and maybe Maybe I’ll be fluent soon enough, but I want to give it a shot.
Serie B are a step below the top flight, although a Coppa Italia first-round tie against top-flight side Spezia early next month will give an idea of what that is. Kerrigan is impressed with the standard in Serie B, where he will soon face Venezia player Connolly.
“It’s a serious league, huge clubs here, Parma, Genoa, Palermo, Cagliari, teams I knew even when I was a child in Serie A. Our goal is to get into the play-offs, and you don’t know ever after that, getting to Serie A, strange things happened.
International progress beyond the Under-21s – they have a Euro play-off against Israel in September – is also on his mind.
“I’m focused on my establishment here and the games, if the club is doing well and I’m playing well, you never know, I have to get there first here; if my club form is good, the rest will follow.