Sheffield United: Republic of Ireland star takes us behind the dressing room door at Bramall Lane

First, before describing the frustration of being ruled-out by a minor injury which then took nearly three months to heal, Enda Stevens wants to provide us with a flavour of life inside Sheffield United’s dressing room.

Friday, 8th April 2022, 5:04 pm

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“There’s plenty of shouters,” he says, “Billy Sharp is a big one and so is Morgan (Gibbs-White) too.

“That’s how they psyche themselves up. It’s whatever gets you going and the atmosphere always ramps up just before kick-off.

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“Me, I’m more relaxed and there’s a few others like that as well.

“The music is always blaring out though. It’s on the kit man’s phone. But George Baldock has a big part in choosing the playlist. It’s always a bit techno but I don’t mind it to be fair.”

Tomorrow, when United resume their push for promotion with a match against AFC Bournemouth at Bramall Lane, Stevens could start only his second game since mid-January after recovering from a calf complaint. It wasn’t a major issue. The damage wasn’t too extreme. But exasperatingly, the Republic of Ireland international quickly discovered, the healing process would be exhaustive.

Family, and intriguingly Gaelic games, turned out to be Stevens’ salvation as he found himself perpetually on the cusp of a return to action while the matches - and some key ones at that - rolled by.

Bournemouth manager Scott Parker brings his side to Bramall Lane this weekend: Jacob King/PA Wire.

“You can take it back home with you, and that’s never a good thing. What made it even worse, tougher to deal with if you like, was the fact I never even viewed it as an injury really. It wasn’t that serious but it was one of those things that could have transpired into something serious if I’d gone back out there too soon. So it was just all about the waiting and waiting is never nice.

“I’ve got a little girl at home, though, and she takes up most of my time. She’s far too young to be bothered about what her dad does. She’s more interested in dolls. My missus isn’t interested either, she’s not really from a footballing background and that was also good, because she doesn’t batter me for not going on an overlap or anything like that. But she is really supportive, so that was a good balance.”

Unlike his daughter and in-laws, Stevens has always been obsessed with sport. Hurling - “the fastest one in the world apparently” - and Gaelic football were his two passions as a youngster. Although, as his 23 caps, two career promotions and performance during Tuesday’s win over Queens Park Rangers demonstrate, he later developed into a pretty tasty left wing-back. Reflecting on the sacrifices his GAA idols make to reach the top of their chosen disciplines has equipped Stevens with a sense of perspective.

Enda Stevens started his first game for Sheffield United since January on Tuesday night: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“The dedication of those lads, the work ethic they’ve got, is scary,” he says. “They’re amateurs, so they’ll be getting up at six in the morning to go to the gym, then doing a full day of work, and often going back to the gym again or to training. Seriously, you can’t help but have the utmost respect for them and it makes you feel fortunate to be a professional footballer, no matter what is getting thrown at you.

“Honestly, I think that’s why so many of us Irish lads are so driven. We come over here and we’re determined to make it if we get a chance because we know what those lads are doing back home.”

“My family are huge in it, the Gaelic,” Stevens continues. “I grew up in Dublin and I remember going to the games or sitting down at home with everyone else to watch them on the television.

Enda Stevens and Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom are focused on the meeting with AFC Bournemouth: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“People like Maurice Fitzgerald and Jason Sherlock, those are two of the players I really admire.

“I really enjoyed watching Jason because you’ve got to be tough but he brought a real flair to what he did as well.”

Having joined United from Portsmouth five years ago, winning the League Two title during his last season at Fratton Park, Stevens is now settled in South Yorkshire. “I love it here. We love it here. We live in a lovely area.”

His recent fitness issues apart - “It’s probably the longest time I’ve ever been out of action” -things have gone pretty swimmingly on the pitch too. Reaching the Premier League under Chris Wilder and then helping mount an unlikely challenge for Europe, until the Covid-19 pandemic stripped United of their momentum, Stevens is now focused on helping Paul Heckingbottom steer them back to the highest level following last term’s relegation. Now sixth in the table with only six fixtures remaining, beating Scott Parker’s second placed side would see United take another huge step towards play-off qualification following the victory over fellow contenders Rangers. Appointed in November, when a combination of poor results and politics cost his predecessor Slavisa Jokanovic his job, the former Barnsley, Leeds and Hibernian manager has had a transformative effect upon United’s fortunes.

“His record, well, it speaks for itself doesn’t it,” Stevens says, confirming he wants to earn a new contract before his present deal expires next summer. “He’s really lifted the place and has got a really strong run going.

“We always felt we were in a bit of a false position at the beginning. We always believed we were better than the ranking might have suggested when things weren’t going so well. Now we just want to prove it and get back to where we want to be. I’m just glad I can get back out there again because I enjoy playing, not watching.”

Enda Stevens was sidelined for nearly three months of Sheffield United's season: Simon Bellis / Sportimage