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Loan move: Ivan Sproule off to Ballinamallard

Loan move: Ivan Sproule off to Ballinamallard

Brian Little

Loan move: Ivan Sproule off to Ballinamallard

If you're looking to find the most down to earth player in the Irish League, you don't have to search far beyond Ivan Sproule.

As a footballer he has fulfilled pretty much all of his dreams, playing full-time with Hibernian, Bristol City and Ross County during nine years in England and Scotland as well as winning 11 caps for Northern Ireland.

Now, almost 12 months after he turned his back on all that to return to his native Castlederg, life has come full circle for the 33-year-old.

He's even got his old job back.

Giving up the trappings of life as a professional footballer may not be for some, but Sproule is happy with life at home in Co Tyrone and on the pitch too, with Linfield.

"It's coming up on a year since we came home and the family has settled well," said Sproule, ahead of facing Coleraine today.

"If I had been taking the decision for myself it might have been different, but I took it for my family and it was the right one.

"My wife is getting the benefit of being close to her mum and dad, my three boys are getting the benefit of being near to their cousins and although there are some parts of the full-time game that I miss, I know that I've done the right thing."

The biggest thing about walking away from Ross County wasn't the long drive that is now involved with playing football - it's over 80 miles from Castlederg to Windsor Park. Instead it was off the pitch that the adjustment came and although having three young sons keeps him busy, hanging around at home just wouldn't suit Sproule.

"I have done a bit of coaching at the local school and my old boss got in touch with me after I came home and I have had the boiler suit back on," said Sproule.

"He's very easy to work for and if I need to get away early for football then it's not a problem.

"Getting back into a routine was probably going to be the hardest part of coming home for me, but I have adjusted well."

As he looks forward to his second Christmas back home with his own immediate family, the one word that keeps cropping up is 'happy' and it's not hard to sense just how content Sproule is.

"You have to be happy in your head because life as a professional footballer - although it gave me a great career and a lot of things that I wouldn't have had otherwise - isn't as important as family and there are things that you can't put a price on," he said.

Although he has ticked almost every box as a footballer, there is one thing on Sproule's list that he hasn't achieved - success with Linfield.

He missed out on the league title last season to Cliftonville and that has sharpened his own personal determination to meet the high expectations of the Linfield fans and lift the Gibson Cup this season.

Sproule has played in almost every game for the Blues this season and he knows just how tough it will be to topple the Reds, with Crusaders and Portadown also hungry for the title.

"With no disrespect to the other teams in the league, I think there are three tiers, with four teams at the top who will fight it out for the title, four teams at the bottom and then four in the middle," said Sproule.

"Having said that, every teams is capable of beating anyone on their day. If Warrenpoint had taken their chances against us last week we might not have been in a position to come back in the second half.

"When I signed for Linfield, David Jeffrey told me that there is no other club in the Irish League like Linfield and I learned very quickly that even winning isn't enough, you are expected to win three or four-nil every week and to be six or seven points clear at the top of the table by this stage of the season. We're a couple of points behind, but I believe we are in a good position.

"Football isn't like that though. Nobody has a divine right to win anything and we have to dig deep this season, especially given the competition that there is in the league."

Sproule is in the final year of his contract with the Blues, but wants to stay around.

And he believes that the longer he stays the more success he will enjoy under his former Northern Ireland colleague Feeney.

"Warren is a personal friend of mine and that won't change now he's my manager," said Sproule.

"Everyone who knows him knows the character and the joker that he is, but those who only know him as a footballer have seen how he played when he was in the Northern Ireland team," added Sproule.

"He gave his all every time and that's how he is as a manager. On the training ground he is putting everything into his coaching to get the best out of the team.

"I have to say he surprised me, but he's very good and although he is new to management the team has made progress very quickly under him and I believe he will be a successful manager."

Belfast Telegraph