CONNOR Ellis has ‘parked’ his dream of playing professional football.
He hasn’t closed the door fully, but he doesn’t expect to be lining out in the League of Ireland this season.
It’s one of the biggest decisions the 22-year-old has ever made. It’s also one of the toughest.
Since he was a kid, his dream was to play professional football, and he did, but there’s a brutal side to the beautiful game too. His eyes have been opened, he says, by his experience at Limerick FC.
He left the club last June after Limerick ‘consistently failed’ to pay his wages, and this came after he took a pay-cut in pre-season to help the club.
Already, he is six months out of League of Ireland football. There was interest from Galway United recently, but Ellis decided against the move.
Instead, he is content to keep working his day job at Stats, the world-wide leader in sports data that has an office in Henry Street in Limerick, while also keeping fit by playing with Ballynanty Rovers in the Limerick District League.
‘As hard as it was, for now I have parked it,’ Ellis confirmed, while also not ruling out a return in 2021.
‘I am realistic about it. I am out of the league six months now. I can’t see myself going back this year with the way things have fallen. By next season I will have been out of it for 18 months.
‘It’s still in the back of my head that I might go back so I’m keeping fit and playing away. Obviously, it’s a different standard in the Limerick District League in terms of training and matches, but I am keeping the door half open.’
Ellis has had to grow up fast. Even before he left Limerick FC, he took a part-time job at Stats last year to help pay his bills. He’s like everyone else, he needs money for rent, food, clothes and to enjoy life.
That desire to play at the highest level is still there, but he’s realistic too. When the former Bantry Bay Rovers striker left John Caulfield’s double-winning Cork City outfit to join Limerick in 2018, he went in search of regular football. He was mainly used as a sub at Cork, having come through the ranks there. Ellis saw Limerick as his chance to shine.
‘I came to Limerick thinking this would be the start of my career, but it hasn’t worked out,’ Ellis admitted.
‘Part of it is my own fault with performances, I can’t blame the club for everything, but what has happened here has opened my eyes to the professional side of the game.
‘I’m 22 years old now and unless you are with a Dundalk or a Shamrock Rovers, you’re going to be struggling by week upon week. You’re on 40-week contracts so that is three months of the year without wages.
‘In the League of Ireland, you are contracted year by year. Very few players sign a two-year deal, even less get a three-year deal. You might sign in December, go back for pre-season in January, if you hit the ground running that’s great, but if you don’t, then you’re under pressure and the club will look to bring in someone else. It’s tough.’
Ellis added: ‘When I was younger and with Cork, you’re winning a league title at 18, 19, and you think that professional football is brilliant. Coming up to Limerick, I’ve seen the other side of it, the reality that there are clubs in Ireland that struggle.’
A nagging hip injury blighted his first season with Limerick. Ellis didn’t hit the heights he had hoped for. The club struggled and was relegated from the Premier Division. His second season, 2019, saw an injury-free Ellis start to find his groove, scoring more regularly, but in the background the club’s financial issues were becoming a problem.
‘As the season went on, I was playing well enough but it got to the stage where Limerick couldn’t pay us,’ Ellis explained.
‘It’s hard to play well when you have those issues going on in the background, it takes the enjoyment out of it and that affects how you perform on the field.
‘I was working part-time by then and I felt I had a solid enough job to be able to step back for a few months. I talked to a few clubs but it was the middle of the season and you couldn’t get by on what was being offered.’
In the off-season, Ellis did chat with Galway United about a possible move. Again, he had a decision to make.
‘I spoke to Galway a few times, I was close to going there,’ he said.
‘They are going to give it a good go this year, they want to win the league, and hopefully they do. They train three or four times a week and then there are games so I’d be up and down from Limerick to Galway five times a week and I would have to work as well.
‘After being stung with Limerick, I don’t want to go all in again. I enjoy my job. It’s not feasible to do both at the moment. If it doesn’t suit, I’m not going to force myself to go back just to say that I am playing in the League of Ireland.’
One option that could tempt Ellis back in is if a Limerick team entered the First Division in 2021.
‘If the new Limerick club comes online and they get a licence for next season, and if they wanted me, that would interest me, more for myself to play at that level rather than pursuing football as a full-time career. If I didn’t go back next year, I’d park it then because I’d probably never go back after that,’ Ellis admitted.
‘Honestly, it depends on how I am doing at work too and if more opportunities open up for me there I might have to say I won’t have the time to do both. On the other side, if I don’t progress at work, it might lead me to giving football one last crack.’
The former Irish youth international hasn’t walked away from football entirely. He’s terrorising defences in the Limerick District League on a consistent basis. He’s racked up well over 30 goals in 15 games. Strikers thrive on goals.
‘Junior soccer is decent in Limerick, the clubs would be the same standard as Corinthians, Avondale and UCC. It’s not turning up on a Sunday morning, lads are hungover and you are winning 8-0, this is quite competitive. It’s keeping me fit and keeping me in shape,’ he explained.
As it stands, Ellis is enjoying work and he’s enjoying banging in the goals for Ballynanty. Whether he gets the chance to strut his stuff at League of Ireland level depends on a few factors, though the door is still open, for now.