‘I always believed it would happen for me here’ – Drinan on his belated breakthrough at Ipswich
- Credit: Picture: Stephen Waller
Signed in January 2018, Aaron Drinan had to wait more than two-and-a-half years to make his Ipswich Town debut. Now the Irish striker is keen to keep the shirt.
To embellish a well-known phrase, good things come to those who wait, work hard and keep believing.
It was in October 2017, almost three years ago, that Aaron Drinan first arrived at Ipswich Town on trial from Irish side Waterford United.
Asked what he liked about the teenage striker, who had impressed in UEFA Youth League games against HJK Helsinki and AS Roma, then Blues boss Mick McCarthy replied: “Pretty much everything. We expect to sign him in January and I think he will eventually be a first-team player. He can compete in the Championship.”
Drinan was subsequently signed for around 100,000 Euros when the transfer window eventually opened and the plaudits kept coming.
Captain Luke Chambers revealed that team-mates quickly nicknamed Drinan ‘Murph’, due to his similarity to physical former Town front man (and fellow countryman) Daryl Murphy, saying: “He has been kicking me left, right and centre and treading on my toes in training. He’d run through that wall if he had to. He’s an exciting prospect alright.”
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The only problem was that Joe Garner, David McGoldrick and Martyn Waghorn were in the way. As a result, he was an unused substitute on five occasions in the second half of 2017/18.
The roadblocks remained. Paul Hurst, having signed Ellis Harrison, Kayden Jackson and Jon Walters, loaned Drinan out to non-league side Sutton United. Then Paul Lambert, after signing Collin Quaner, allowed Drinan to return to his former club Waterford on loan.
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Last summer saw James Norwood arrive at Portman Road and Lambert allowed Drinan to go out on loan again – first to Swedish second-tier side GAIS, then to Scottish second-tier side Ayr United.
The writing looked on the wall for the youngster heading into the final year of his contract.
Yet, as we speak, he’s very much the man in possession of the shirt. With Norwood, Jackson and new signing Oli Hawkins not fit for much of pre-season, the 21-year-old scored twice against Colchester and then continued to take his chance in friendlies against Tottenham and West Ham. Impressive performances have followed in competitive games against Bristol Rovers, Arsenal U21s and Wigan.
Asked if there was ever a time that he thought his chance at Town wouldn’t come, the down-to-earth youngster is quick to reply: “No, I always believed something would happen for me here.
“My mindset was always to keep working and carry on. Whatever your goal happens to be – in my case it was to play for the Ipswich Town first team – you have to keep going and I always believed it was going to happen for me.
“I always felt I was good enough to play here and now that I’m in the side I want to stay in it for as long as possible and make a good number of appearances this season.
“I have the best part of a year left on my contract and I would like nothing more than to do well enough to earn a new one and extend my stay.”
Reflecting on his journey to this point, he said: “My background is different to the lads who have come through the academy and been at the club since they were very young.
“I only came here in 2017 but looking back at the player I was then and the player I am now, I’m completely different. I’ve improved physically and learned so much in terms of how to play the game, especially the number nine role.
“I’ve benefited from all my loan spells because I played regularly and came up against some big, strong central defenders.
“Ayr and Waterford were a couple of good turning points for me. Going back to Waterford raised a lot of questions and it might not have looked that good, but the standard over there is improving and there are a lot of good players coming into the league.
“Sweden was a good life experience, but I’d like to think I’m done with that now and all I want is to be playing for Ipswich Town.”
Drinan’s all-rounder qualities have made him look perfectly suited to leading the line in Lambert’s new 4-3-3 so far. His link-up play has been pivotal.
“I think I’ve got off to a great start, to be fair,” he said. “When the gaffer told me the day before the Bristol Rovers game that I was going to be playing it was an unbelievable feeling. It also came as a bit of a relief because I’d been at the club for so long without making my debut.
“I know it was a cup tie but in my head I treated it like a league game because we were playing one of our League One rivals and that’s the bigger competition for us. It was a new experience. The game was a lot faster than anything I had experienced before.
“One of the most important things is that you have to be able to make the ball stick when it is played up to you and bring other players into the game, while scoring goals is obviously a big factor as well.
“The gaffer has helped me a lot. I’ve added so much to my game since he’s been at the club and his coaching, together with that of Stu (Stuart Taylor, assistant manager) and Gilly (Matt Gill, first team coach), and the way they’ve looked after me, has really improved me. I feel so much more confident when I’m out on the pitch and a lot of that is down to them.”
And do his team-mates still call him ‘Murph’?
“Yeah!” he says, with a smile. “It’s a nice nickname and I take it as a compliment. Daryl had a great career here and I’d be delighted if I could get anywhere near what he’s done. He scored a lot of goals, earned good moves to other clubs and now he’s back in Ireland playing for Waterford again. He’s definitely someone I look up to and there are bits of his game that I’ve taken on board.”
Drinan might not be the new kid on the block, but he’s certainly brought something new to Ipswich at the start of this season.