BY CHRIS MCNULTY
DALE Gorman is hoping to catch the eye of Stevenage FC manager Graham Westley in the coming weeks having last weekend returned to the club to begin his second year at the club.
Demoted to League Two last season, Stevenage will bid to be among the contenders for a swift return into League One – and the Letterkenny man will aim to be in Westley’s plans.
Gorman, who celebrated his 18th birthday last week, flew back to England on Saturday to begin pre-season training on Monday. Signed from Letterkenny Rovers last summer, Gorman played for the club’s youth and reserve teams last season and spent some time training with the first team during the second half of the season.
In this game, the honeymoon period doesn’t last too long and he’s aware of the need to impress.
“The first year is the toughest in that you’re getting used to everything, but the second is the biggest year, though, because you’re playing for another contract,” he says.
“It’s flown in though and it’s been enjoyable.”
The tough-tackling midfielder made his debut for the Letterkenny Rovers senior team in 2012 when, at just 15 years old, he came on as a substitute against College Corinthians in the FAI Intermediate Cup. The man whose number was on the reverse side of the board was none other than Anthony Gorman, his father, the former Linfield, Coleraine and Finn Harps midfielder, who also left home as a youngster, signing for Mansfield Town when he was sixteen.
“It’s a big change, but I didn’t find it hard,” Dale says.
“I’d been away from home a lot with international sides so I got used to that.”
The reserve teams aren’t a week-in, week-out operation, playing twice a month, but it was with the Stevenage youth team that he made a mark last season.
“I’m playing in midfield every week so I’m delighted,” he says.
“We did alright. We finished in seventh in our League. We had some very good results and some very bad ones, but it was a pretty positive season – we beat last year’s tally by twelve points.
“From Christmas to the end of the season I was up training with the first team quite a bit. I was with them nearly every week.
“You have to raise the game when you go up there. The manager and the coaches give good feedback which is a huge help.”
His performances at club level caught the eye of Northern Ireland Under-19 manager Stephen Craigan, the former Motherwell player.
“Unexpectedly, to be fair, I got picked for the Under-19s,” says Gorman, who lives in digs with fellow Stevenage player and NI international, Ben Kennedy.
“It was a busy year. I went to the Euros in Belgium and started against France and Iceland. We didn’t qualify, but we had some good displays under the belt. This year in October we have the Euros in Northern Ireland and we’re in with Russia, Czech Republic and Faroe Islands.
“Being in the international set up really brings you on. Having that bit of extra experience all around you in the dressing room is a great help.”
He could well feature for Northern Ireland at The Milk Cup, which starts at the end of July.
It was on international duty that Gorman first caught Stevenage’s eyes.
He says: “I was playing for Northern Ireland against Scotland and the next week I got a call to say that they were keen to take me over. Before we went to the training camp for the Euros, I went to their academy.
“They were pretty interested and after I had a good Euros I played a game for Stevenage against Bournemouth. I scored one and set up one. They took me into the office and said they were offering me a two-year contract.”
He knew there’d be raised eyebrows.
Stevenage – the former Stevenage Borough FC – only won promotion to the Football League in the 2009/10 season.
The move was a calculated one by Gorman.
“It was a no-brainer,” he says.
“You see them in League One and you do think to yourself that you’ve a chance of making first team football and getting a step up.
“To some people it might have been a surprise. There is no denying that the only way is up from here. We’re in League Two and anything lower than that…yeah, the only way is up. I want to get a good pre-season now and leading into a good season. I’ll just take it from there.”
He played for the club at the IMG Tournament in Florida in December and the club will return again this year.
For now his focus is honed in on making a breakthrough at Broadhall Way.
“My objective this season is to get into the first team regularly,” he says.
“For a start, it’s about getting in and getting a start in League Two under my belt. I want to make that push from the first day I get back over there. This is a big year.”