Lee Steacy is not your average goalkeeper – the Longford Town number one has an All Ireland GAA medal with Dublin under-21s, represented his country at Colleges and Universities level, is a taxi driver and also a student at TU Dublin after spending a few years, in his own words, 'floating…..going through the motions'.
Speaking with extratime.ie, the Dubliner explained how his career developed to the stage where he’s now playing some of the best football in his life, the importance of getting things off field in order and how colleges football can be beneficial to player development in this country.
We began by chatting about balancing work and study in secondary school and how Steacy himself managed it.
“I did my Leaving Cert in 2011 and I’d have been playing gaelic football with Dublin minors the same year.
“It was basically a professional outfit at the time and trying to balance that was tough as we’d the same schedule as the senior side in terms of Championship and we obviously went all the way to the All Ireland Final.
“It was really tough throughout, after Junior Cert really, to juggle sport as it was at such a high level.”
The following year Steacy joined Shamrock Rovers under-19s where he had a very good season as the Hoops were pipped to the league title by a Cork City side who ended up winning the league and cup double.
“After I’d finished the under-19 season, it was the best I had in football, it was the first time I ever had a proper goalkeeping coach and the benefits with that.
“When no one came in for me, anyone at all, it was quite disheartening. But I was lucky to have a contract with the first team though I just wasn’t ready, nowhere near the level by any means.
“Firhouse Clover was a great stepping stone for me, playing adult football I just can’t speak highly enough of it and so it’s a blessing in disguise the way it worked out, though obviously I would have liked to be a first choice keeper sooner than I did.
“At the same time it was tough to take at the time, I had some of my mates saying, ‘You have to just accept this’, and obviously I was never going to do that and I just got on with it and worked hard and thankfully I was spotted through that.”
As well as his own hard work, Steacy, sponsored by Atak Sports, remains thankful to Keith Long for signing him at Bohemians and is effusive in his praise of goalkeeping coach Fred Davis (‘without that training Fred did with me, I wouldn’t be where I am today') and the legendary Dean Delany ('In the two spells I’ve played with Dean he’s never let his team down, he’s been brilliant').
A move to Bray followed the arrival of Shane Supple at Bohemians ('I wasn’t getting a game as second choice so I was hardly going to get one as third choice') and once again it was another league winning netminder standing in Steacy's way – Scotsman Peter Cherrie ('he was very good, I was very impressed with him').
Despite not playing regularly, the current Longford Town number one feels he played his own part in keeping the goalkeeping standards high – ‘I’d like to think the two lads saw the competition and upped their game because Dean Delany said he had his head turned, he knew he had to be on top of his game.’
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is play sport…. wherever I end up career wise I do think it will be sport related……There’s no doubt about it, one of the best years I’ve had in terms of performance was 2018 at Shels and I just played more for the senior team than at previous clubs, I played very well in most of the games but that was down to college football, there’s no doubt about that.
“If I hadn’t have been playing on a regular basis with the college I wouldn’t have been ready to go into games and therefore I wouldn’t have played as well maybe against Pat’s in the Leinster Senior Cup when Neale Fenn spotted me and signed me from there.
“I think college football, you’re playing with really good players and it is a great stepping-stone to showcase your ability. God knows who’s looking at you because you’ve League of Ireland managers watching at the games.
“College football is unbelievable; it gives you that licence to play as well. But you do need to have your affairs in order off the field as well. For years and years, I hadn’t a clue, I was just floating basically…. going through the motions.
“It isn’t until you realise where you’re going and put the infrastructures in place to facilitate that, that you start to see results. I
“I think you have to look after outside football first and try and balance everything if you can. That’s why I’m in college, that’s why I’m a taximan and that’s why I’m a League of Ireland footballer.
“If you can do that, that’s how it will work better I think personally.”
Steacy made his Irish Colleges and Universities debut in April 2018, keeping a clean sheet in a narrow win over Scotland at Oriel Park.
A proud moment for the Dubliner, “It was unbelievable to be honest, when I got the email inviting me into the squad it was one of my proudest moments…to represent my country at the age of 25 I couldn’t believe it…if I got the opportunity to play in that squad again I’d take it with two hands…I was delighted with it. An unbelievable moment in my career.”
Chatting about this further, we discussed the importance of college football in helping player development, 'It doesn’t make any sense (that there’s no infrastructure from under-19s to adult football), you might be a really good player but you’re not quite ready yet.
“Some players don’t bounce back. I was hungry enough to keep working hard and luckily I got back into the league but that doesn’t happen for a lot of good players.
“College football, if you could get straight into college it’s unbelievable. The standard of football, the support you get, so much support through scholarships and just in general when you’re playing with a sports team.
“You’ve sports mentors, you’ve nutritionists, you’ve everything really. It can really help you grow as a person and as a player. I think you have to be mature enough and know exactly what you want to achieve (in order) to progress.”
Students on the Athlete Support Programme at Technological University (TU) Dublin can avail of a range of supports outlined by the netminder above including: Financial, psychological, mentoring, nutritional and physiotherapy supports as well as access to gym equipment and national competitions (further information is available here).
Speaking about his decision to attend TU, the 27-year-old told us about chatting with others about the course and their experiences of the college before taking the plunge himself, first on a GAA scholarship where he combined Sigerson Cup matches with those in the Collingwood Cup.
“The people are unbelievable, both sets of managers.. Billy O’Loughlin and Gavin Fleming, I get on brilliant with both of them and we still keep in touch today…it’s the people that are unbelievable.
“You’ve the likes of Matt Lysaght in the Sports Office who does so much…he’s brilliant, Niamh, she runs most of it and then you’ve Lar and Darragh. You’ve got so much support there.
“I think TU Dublin City Campus is a really great establishment to be in and also obviously they’re moving into a new campus in Grangegorman, it’s unbelievable.”
The future of football may be unsure at the moment, but one thing is definite, when it resumes Lee Steacy will be well positioned to deal with whatever happens on and off the field.