18-year-old Irish defender Dan Casey is not like most footballers.

He brings a unique skill set to his game, one which he believes has been created by a combination of his favourite sports Gaelic football, rugby and, of course, football.

The Stadium of Light will play host to the European U21 Cup this season. Picture credit: Richard Sellers/EMPICS Sport

These sports made for a busy weekend schedule as sport dominated Casey’s life.

He said: “I was playing three sports at the age of 14, 15. Gaelic and football on a Saturday, then rugby on a Sunday.”

Each sport helped bring a different skill into Casey’s game.

“Rugby, obviously, helped me a lot with my aggression. And Gaelic, just with my ability to be able to help out team-mates after the turnover of the ball,” he explained.

His former St. Joseph’s boys’ Club elite coach Mick Browne, who has also coached the likes of Liverpool’s Glenn McCauley and Everton’s Tom Murphy, agreed that Casey’s mixed sports background helped make him a better footballer.

Browne said: “It helped him develop a love of physical contact. He loved to tackle and loved 1-v-1 games in trainings. It helped his natural competitiveness and athleticism.

“We used to have to sit him down and tell him, ‘Dan this weekend when you get out of bed, take off your GAA [Gaelic Football] head, then open your drawer and put your football head on’,” he recalled.

Football, however, eventually won Casey over.

“Once he visited Sunderland I think he was smitten, and football was going to be his number one sport,” said Browne.

Casey described his decision to give up rugby and GAA to pursue football as a “tough one to make at such a young age” but one he thinks he “got right.”

Now into his third season at Sunderland, after making the move from Ireland, the highly rated defender has spent time in both the league-leading under-21 side, and his age appropriate under-18s.

He felt mixed emotions last weekend, as he sat on the sidelines nursing a minor ankle injury.

Sunderland’s under-18 side suffered a 6-0 drubbing to Liverpool, which ended their play-off hopes, but the under-21 team won to top the table.

“It’s a bit of a killer [the under-18 result] but the under-21 result is great. We are well able to win the league, we have beat the best,” said Casey.

He hopes to one day play in the Sunderland first team and is beginning to feel more and more at home in Sunderland.

He credits the Irish influence at the club as a big factor that has helped him settle.

“It’s brilliant, all us Irish guys will always look after each other and we are all quite close.”

One of Casey’s fellow Irishmen at Sunderland is, of course, first team captain, and fellow defender, John O’Shea.

“John’s been great since I got here. I know him well, he is good to talk to,” said Casey, speaking about the veteran of over 400 premier league games.

“Obviously he’s played so much for Sunderland and Man United. He’s someone you definitely look up to.

“He’s a real role model of mine,” Casey added.

A bonus of Casey’s close relationship with O’Shea is the fact that they both play as Centre Backs, giving Casey the best possible mentor to learn from.

“Whenever he talks to me about football I definitely listen. Having him as another defender, it really is great help.”

Like O’Shea, Casey also harbours hopes to represent Ireland at international level.

“I have played in all the under-age teams for Ireland, to represent the senior team is definitely a goal of mine.”

At just eighteen years old, Casey has a long career ahead of him but it is safe to say his decision to play football was the right one, and under the watchful eye of the likes of John O’Shea, he can only flourish.



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