DENZIL Fernandes’ voyage to the League of Ireland Premier Division began in Saudi Arabia and took in India and West Cork before reaching his promised land.
Fernandes played an important role in helping the Dublin club win the 2019 First Division title, and earning promotion, ending a six-year absence from the top flight.
It has been quite the journey for the instantly likeable footballer who will ply his trade in the League of Ireland’s top tier next year.
Yet, the story of how a child born in the Middle East ended up playing football in West Cork before becoming a League of Ireland regular is an intriguing one. Canon Crowley Park, the home of West Cork League club Drinagh Rangers, was where Fernandes’ fledgling career began. To this day, the 21-year-old remains thankful for the opportunity to hone his skills within the club’s renowned underage structure.
‘I was born in Saudi Arabia but brought up in a place called Goa in India before moving to Ireland when I was about eight or nine years old,’ Fernandes explained.
‘My mum Jean, dad Camilo and three brothers, Dominic, Daniel and Damien, have been with me every step of the way. My brothers and I began playing for Drinagh Rangers when we moved to West Cork and the club has been brilliant to us. My brothers still play (for Drinagh) and looking back, the West Cork Schoolboys League was a huge help to me.
‘Playing schoolboys league in West Cork helped adapt my technical ability and to improve my training in so many ways and the coaches were top drawer too. Getting the opportunity to represent the West Cork Schoolboys League at the Kennedy Cup is my best memory of that time. Travelling to the University of Limerick (twice) was some experience as we lived, trained and played like professional footballers for a whole week.’
It wasn’t long before the young midfielder’s talents were noticed outside of West Cork, and Fernandes would line out for Cork Schoolboys League clubs Bandon AFC and College Corinthians before making his dream move to Cork City.
From day one, manager John Caulfield and his backroom staff were impressed with their young acquisition’s talent and work rate. So much so, that Fernandes quickly established himself in the Cork City U19s squad and played against AS Roma in the UEFA Champions Youth League.
The midfielder reached a crossroads soon after however and showed plenty of maturity by signing for Cobh Ramblers in search of regular first team football. Manager Stephen Henderson would become one of the biggest influences on Fernandes’ career, but it wasn’t until the West Cork resident put pen to paper for Shelbourne last summer that his League of Ireland career finally took off.
‘My biggest influences so far have been my parents and one of my more recent coaches, Stephen Henderson,’ the former Drinagh Rangers player noted.
‘Hendo was great to me and I can’t thank him enough for passing on all his valuable advice and knowledge when I was playing for Cobh Ramblers. When Shelbourne were interested, I could already imagine what it would be like to lift that (First Division) trophy as they were six points clear at that stage of the season.’
So it proved, as Fernandes was part of the Shels team that overcame Drogheda United 3-1 and cemented promotion to the Premier Division with a game to spare.
‘It was just a surreal moment for me to help Shelbourne get over the line and win the title,’ he said.
‘I’ll cherish that memory for years to come. The atmosphere at the Drogheda game still gives me goosebumps. The fans were top class that night but to be playing in front of a crowd like that was something special.’
Looking ahead to 2020, Fernandes cannot wait for the opportunity to show what he can do at Premier Division level. Returning to Turner’s Cross will be special but going toe to toe with the likes of Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic should make for an unforgettable year.
‘I think the only realistic target for Shelbourne is getting as many points as possible from each game,’ Fernandes said.
‘We’re going to go for the three points against each team that we play but if I was looking at what place in the table we’d finish, I’d say mid-table, hopefully. I’m looking forward to playing the teams that have been outstanding this past year such as Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers. Cork City are another team that I’m relishing to line out against as I represented them when I was a youngster.
‘It’s essential for me to be playing Premier Division football at this stage of my career because I’m improving all the time and trying to play to the best of my ability at a consistent level. The bar is set high every time I go out to train and play matches but now, I get to test myself against some of the top teams in the country and I can’t wait.’
The song ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ comes to mind when assessing Fernandes’ career path to its current point. From Saudi Arabia to Goa, from Drinagh to Cork and from Cobh to Shelbourne, Fernandes has gone through more in his short career than most League of Ireland players experience in a lifetime.
All that hard work, dedication and sacrifice is about to pay off as Fernandes becomes a Premier Division player.
DEDICATED: Denzil works hard for the big moments
FEW players are more dedicated to their chosen profession than Shelbourne’s Denzil Fernandes as he embarks on his debut season in the League of Ireland Premier Division.
A lengthy midweek commute between Cork and Dublin merely served to demonstrate the young midfielder’s ambition after moving from Cobh Ramblers to Shelbourne.
‘A typical week with Shelbourne was training on a Monday, gym work on Tuesdays, Wednesday another training session and recovery on Thursday before playing a match on Friday evenings,’ Fernandes said.
‘2020 will be different as there will be an extra day or two of training. Last season I would travel on the bus, on the Monday, to train from 6.30pm to 8pm that evening and then get the bus all the way back home to Cork.
‘On Tuesday, I’d do my own individual training before going to work in the evening. Wednesday would be the same as Monday, and I would sometimes stay up until the Friday as games took place that night.
‘I hope there will be more big moments, that’s what it’s all about. You work so hard for moments so here’s to a big year next year.’