IT'S close to nine months since Stephen Ireland helped his fellow Cork native Cathal Heffernan secure a dream move to Italian giants AC Milan and he recently provided a glowing update on his client’s progression.
Ireland, and his management company Sire 7, played a significant role in brokering the deal which saw Heffernan officially swap Cork City for AC Milan on loan last February before the transfer became permanent back in June.
And speaking exclusively to Ladbrokes: Fanzone, the Cobh man spoke extremely highly of Heffernan and believes he is on the way to becoming ‘a ridiculous talent.’
“Cathal Heffernan is doing really well with AC Milan,” began Ireland.
He's training regularly with the first-team and playing with the U17s and U19s. He's in no better place to learn his trade as a defender than in Italy with AC Milan.
"For his education, spending the next two or three years out there, he just can't go wrong.
“Even if his future is away from the club, what he'll take from that experience, development-wise, both on and off the field, he'll come away from it a ridiculous talent at 19 or 20 years old.
“There's a long, long road ahead for Cathal, but he's giving it everything, and he's taking everything that's thrown at him.
“He's a top kid, he really, really is. He's been so independent out there, and that makes a massive difference, especially when you're a youngster playing away from home.
“I've been there, but the way he's dealing with it is unbelievable. Playing for AC Milan is a fantastic honour, but there's so much more to it than that.
“There's a whole lot of downtime, and that's where things like homesickness begin to kick in. But he'll just take himself away, go off travelling on his own, sightseeing... What 17-year-old does that?
“Like I say, he's a really special lad and is so mature for his age. His Italian isn't too bad, either! He's into everything out there; he soaks up so much information.
“He's a credit to himself, and a credit to his family. He's definitely one to watch and he deserves every success he gets.”
Ireland also opened up on the work he did with Heffernan long before he secured that transfer to the seven-time European Champions, which included coming up against some current and former Premier League stars.
“I've been working with Cathal since he was 14,” continued Ireland. “He lived in Cork and I was in Manchester. I'm close to his family and I've built up such a good relationship with them.
“Since I first saw him playing for Ireland U15s, and I realised he was from Cork, I just struck up a relationship with him.
“Since then, he's been coming over and staying with me, probably six or seven times a year. It could be for five days, it could be for a month.
“I've thrown him in with pros and ex-pros, Bruno Fernandes, your Joleon Lescotts, Emile Heskeys, I've exposed him to all of that so he's constantly learning and developing.
“I want him to take in as much information as he can; it's invaluable at that stage of his career.
“I've really given him the opportunity to see what it's like, and what it takes to make it at the top, top level.
“When you're training with these boys, their speed of thought is massive, it's a real lesson for Cathal.
“Since coming over and having these training sessions, he's gone from a centre-back at 14 or 15 who was just this physical specimen, to, all of a sudden, having trials at Leicester and Manchester United where reports on him are coming back, describing him as a two-footed, ball-playing centre-back. That's all happened in the space of a few months.
“When he first came over, his left leg was just for standing on, and now he's a both-footed centre-half.
“I worked on all of those attributes with him. He comes from an athletics background, so he's always going to have that side covered, but the football side is down to me, working on his ball distribution and all these other bits and pieces.
“Hopefully, the more well-rounded he gets, we might be able to see something close to the finished article, even at the age of, say, 21.”