Enda Stevens is putting his dreams of Premier League football to one side as he targets a key role in the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
The 28-year-old met up with his international team-mates in Dublin on Sunday having helped Sheffield United enhance their chances of securing automatic promotion to the English top flight with a priceless 1-0 derby victory at Leeds the previous day.
Wing-back Stevens admits that the prospect of emerging from the Sky Bet Championship into the big time is an exciting one, but one upon which he and his team-mates cannot afford to dwell with eight crucial games remaining.
He said: “Yes, you can dream, but you just keep your feet on the ground. It’s an exciting time for us, it’s not just here yet, so you have got to just relax and focus on something else.
“In football, it’s a case of not getting too high and not getting too low. It’s just swings and roundabouts.
“There are going to be massive turns, I think. With eight games left. There’s still a lot of football to be played.
“We’ve just got to be… it’s the old cliché, one game as it comes. We’ve got a little break away from the league now, so it’s an opportunity and something to look forward to playing with Ireland.”
Stevens’ contribution to the Blades’ promotion drive has served to strengthen his claims on a place in the Ireland starting line-up, particularly in the wake of the retirement from international football of long-serving left-back Stephen Ward.
Asked what was behind his run of form, he replied: “Just finding my feet and enjoying my football – and I’m playing in a good team.
“We’re not a team with the biggest names, but when we go out there and play, everyone knows their jobs, we have good relationships on the pitch and off the pitch and we just want to do well for each other.”
Manager Mick McCarthy, who lost striker Shane Long from his squad with a groin injury on Tuesday – Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien is flying in to replace the Southampton man – has promised to field a strong team against minnows Gibraltar on Saturday in a bid to launch both his second reign and the qualifying campaign on a positive note.
Ireland were relegated from their Nations League B group after a dismal 2018, but Stevens is convinced they are genuine candidates to make the finals of a competition for which they are one of the hosts.
He said: “We’re confident as players and I’m sure the manager and the staff are confident. The group is competitive, but it’s one that we feel we can do well in.”
The Republic have found goals hard to come by in recent games – they have managed only four in their last nine outings – but Stevens is convinced club-mate David McGoldrick’s return to the squad will help to address that situation.
He said: “He’s been excellent. He plays the striker role differently to most players, it’s a different way and it benefits a lot of people around the pitch.
“He makes most of the team probably a better player because he takes the ball in tight situations, he’s tricky, he gets goals. He’s got a bit of everything.”