So here I am writing my first column of the 2012 season as a FC Haka player in Valkeakoski, Finland. This time last year I was settling in to life in Richmond Park with St Patrick’s Athletic after what can only be described as a turbulent pre-season.
Having made the switch from Sporting Fingal to Inchicore in February due to Sporting’s financial demise, I had the opportunity to play for the club I supported as a boy. And although it had its ups and downs, I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity and I’ll always look back at the end of my career with pride knowing that I had played for in my opinion, Ireland’s best club.
Due to Sporting’s collapse, it opened the door for St Pat’s to compete in the Europa League and having tasted European football in the previous season with Sporting, it was definitely something I put down in my calendar as an event to greatly look forward to.
After getting through the first two qualifying rounds against IBV of Iceland and Shaktar Karagandy of Kazakhstan respectively, we eventually bowed out in the 3rd qualifying round to an excellent Karpaty Lviv side from the Ukraine. Needless to say after featuring in every game of our European adventure, it whetted my appetite and fuelled a desire to one day play further afield.
I’ve always had an ambition to play in Scandinavia due to the style of play in which teams operate, so when we got paired up against IBV of Iceland I was thrilled as not only did it give me an opportunity to test myself against technically gifted players who played football the right way, it also gave me an insight in to whether I could be good enough to play for teams in Scandinavia.
After coming from behind in the first leg in Iceland to beat IBV at home in front of a vociferous Pat’s faithful, it proved that we could definitely compete and perform at that level and I was even more determined to try and find a way of pursuing my ambition.
Once the European adventure had ended, I was suddenly removed from the starting line up. It frustrated the life out of me and having won the Player of the Month award from the St Pat’s supporters for July, I took steps to see if I could sort something out at the end of the season.
Seeing as I know Shane Robinson since I was 15, having completed an FAI FAS course for a year with him, I knew he was excelling in the Finnish Veikkausliiga. After seeing a lot of his goals and performances from highlight reels, I asked him would there be any chance that he could arrange a trial for me at the end of the season. He asked his manager and former Drogheda teammate Sami Ristila would it be possible if I came over and trained with the team for a few days in December.
Fast forward a few months and I was flying into Helsinki airport with Robbo preparing for a training session on a Thursday and a friendly match against FC Honka on the Friday. The training session on the Thursday was excellent and I knew from the moment it had finished I wanted to sign for FC Haka. It was all ball work followed by passages of play involving a lot of intricate passes to build up the play from defence through midfield and then on to attack.
It was refreshing to see how much faith Sami had in his players. He always wants them to pass the ball, even in tight difficult situations when under pressure from opponents. The match went very well and we won 1-0 after being forced to see the game out with 10 men for the remaining 30 minutes after one of our players was given his marching orders.
I thought I performed quite well and was delighted when Sami expressed his interest to sign me after the game. Needless to say it was a no brainer and on the flight home I was overcome with excitement of the prospect of playing in Scandinavia.
It’s worth pointing out that at the time of my trial at FC Haka, Liam Buckley had just taken over at St Pat’s. I
had already met up with Liam prior to my trip to Finland and had agreed that if I wasn’t to ply my trade in Finland, I was going to sign back for Pat’s the following season. Although from a career perspective it was a no brainer, it still was a difficult decision to uproot and leave as I knew St Pat’s would also have suited the way I play.
It also was a difficult decision to uproot and leave my family and friends. I now have three little nieces (Kayleigh, Holly and Krystal), a nephew (Lucas) and I’m a godfather to my best friend’s little girl (Lisa) and it was particularly gut wrenching to move abroad as my family are a very close knit. Nonetheless it was a decision that had to be made and I’m confident that I’ve made the right one.
So here I am three months later preparing for the new Veikkausliiga season which is due to start in three weeks time and I love it here. In next week’s column I will detail how my first few months in the small village of Valkeakoski have been.
At the beginning it was tough overcoming weather of -27 degrees every day. Then there was the realisation that throwing water on cold saunas really doesn’t have any effect whatsoever, and that shopping for condoms and lube in a girls dress at your local supermarket is highly embarrassing yet fun!
This season I’d also like to add something different to my column. I’ve decided to introduce a shoutout segment for something away from the footballing world that I myself deem humourous, inspiring, scandalous or downright wrong.
Anyway, this week’s "Shaney’s Shoutout" ( #ShaneysShoutout ) is to my new teammate and my wingman over here - Juha Pirinen - for his interesting choice of tea mug. What category it falls under is up for debate
You can follow Shane on Twitter at @shaneywaney4