New surroundings and bouts of homesickness after moving hundreds of miles away from family and friends, Derek Geary knows first hand the challenges young footballers must overcome to build careers in the professional game.
So, five years after making his final appearance for Sheffield United, the Dublin born defender is using that experience to ensure members of their Steelphalt Academy have the best possible opportunity of progressing through the ranks following its decision to implement a pioneering mentor scheme.
“Coming over at that age can be really tough,” Geary said. “I know myself because I did it at 16.
“I had a few of the Irish lads at my house the other day, just talking things through, because I understand the kind of things that are going to be on their mind. It wasn’t football stuff, just general life stuff really.
“It’s not just the Irish lads though. I’m happy to sit down and chat about things to help any of the boys. They’ll all have a lot going on in their lives, different things for different people,
“When I came over, we didn’t really have the same access to the internet and so you really were on your own. Don’t get me wrong, it toughened me up and made me stand on my own two feet but I can appreciate how difficult it can be for the youngsters coming through too.”
Geary started his career with Sheffield Wednesday before arriving at Bramall Lane, via Stockport County, in 2004 and was a member of the United squad which reached the Premier League two seasons later.
Now a member of staff on his former club’s youth programme, he added: “When you are a player, you have got to be so single-minded that you forget how many kids want to be footballers. Statistically, the odds are against you doing it but here, at United, the idea is to give them all the skills to help them going forward in life whether it happens or not.
“The other day I went in to speak to some about the stretching exercises. I never had anything like that until I was 23 or 24 so I told them, ‘this isn’t about preparing for a training session, it’s about a 15 year career or looking after yourself later in life.’ I had 10 operations on my knee and, if I’d done things like that, I might not have done.
“That’s something else I told the lads in the session. Sometimes, I think, it just helps to emphasise the importance and the worth of doing work like that. I remember getting told it would probably be best if I retired, gave up the game, when I was in my early Twenties but I kept on going because there was no way I could walk away from it just like that.
“Nick (Cox, United’s academy director) is always telling us about trying to give the boys 10,000 life experiences during their time in the system and that’s a really good approach to have.”