He may be flying high with League One leaders Leyton Orient, but for striker Dave Mooney there is no place like home.
The Dubliner has notched 11 goals in 15 games aboard the Orient Express so far this season, winning League One’s player of the month award in September. But despite being a marked man across England, Mooney is adamant the best part of his career remains playing in the League of Ireland and, in particular, his all-too-brief spell at Cork City in 2008.
With City under financial pressure, the 29-year-old was sold to Reading in August of that year despite wanting to finish the season at Turner’s Cross before moving. The club, under the shady ownership of Arkaga, needed cash quick and Reading’s offer of around £200,000 was enough for Mooney to move instantly.
“Look at the team we had that year. They were great times. I didn’t want to go at the time [to Reading], I was gutted and wanted to wait, but the club needed the money to survive and I had to go,” Mooney says. “It was the best stage of my career.”
But after a rocky start to life in England, struggling to get a look in at Reading before embarking on several loans, he has finally settled in north-east London, striking up an impressive partnership with the evergreen Kevin Lisbie — “the best player I have played alongside” — and earning some special attention from defenders up and down the country — “I have gone to bed after games and noticed I’ve bumps in places I have never had them before.”
It has even led to some suggesting that if his form continues he would be an outside shout for an international call-up.
Although that would seem unlikely — Mooney himself believes he is 11th or 12th down the list — there has been precedent for League One strikers in the squad of late.
Kevin Doyle, another from the Cork City stable, returned to the international set-up for this month’s qualifiers despite being in and out of the Wolves team, while Paddy Madden earned a call up in August after his performances for Yeovil in the same division last year.
It is possible. And while Mooney firmly believes Doyle should be playing at a higher level, he does admit that it is still an ambition to make a late breakthrough.
“It’s still there in the back of my head, it’s something that I want to do. Who knows? If we can keep going here at Orient and I can keep scoring then it might happen,” he says ahead of this afternoon’s FA Cup first round game at home to Southport.
“Getting promoted to the Championship would of course better my chances but that’s still a long way off. We’ll play it by year.
“With Kevin, being in League One is a false position for him – he has told me that he really likes it there but he should be at a higher level. I would never dispute him being involved with Ireland after what he has done for the team. As for Paddy, fair play to him. He did well and made his debut on the back of getting promoted to the Championship and I think that’s something any striker with ambition wants to do.”
Back to the League of Ireland and Mooney is refreshingly honest when it comes to the domestic game. A Shamrock Rovers fan growing up, family members had season tickets at Tallaght until recently — “it’s a bit too expensive to go with the way things are financially. Not just in the League of Ireland but I think at League One clubs too”. He watches as much as he can online, makes sure to get to a game when he visits home and even stretches as far as saying it’s a better spectacle than English football’s third tier.
“I think there is more football played in Ireland; mostly because there’s a higher intensity here, whereas at home you get a small bit more time on the ball, and centre-halves are so big and strong in League One.”
Having taken the scenic route to this current stage, there are no regrets over serving an apprenticeship in the League of Ireland. He is even a strong advocate of young footballers finishing school before moving cross-channel. With so many teenagers travelling to clubs only to end up failing at a Theatre of Broken Dreams rather than starring at the Theatre of Dreams, doing the Leaving Cert should be the priority.
Mooney finished his schooling and is thankful he has something to fall back on when his career does come to an end.
“I would always encourage them to finish their education. I firmly believe in finishing school because it keeps you grounded in life and that’s so important. If you look at teams over here and the amount of 17-year-olds who think they have made it but really haven’t and end up with no education.
“They would be better off at the likes of Sligo, Shamrock Rovers or Cork, where the transition if you come to England is much easier.”