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Posted on 28 January 2002  - 12:00

Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) Football Club is located in North London. The club is also known as Spurs. Tottenham's home ground is White Hart Lane. The club motto is Audere est Facere (To dare is to do).

At the tender age of just 17, Paul O'Donoghue has already taken some massive strides in the game. But not without taking a bit of a pounding - as his nose will testify!

In April of last season Paul was catching the eye playing alongside Ciaran Toner in successive games at the heart of the reserves' defence.

At just 16, Paul played with no little composure in a 2-1 win at Leicester and a 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest at the Lane. He then took time out from reserve duty to play in a tournament in Belgium and ended up on the operating table after having his facial features rearranged.

It could be said that the O'Donoghue hooter has a story of its own to tell...

"The first time was when I was a first year at a tournament in Belgium," recalled Paul. "I went up for a header from a corner and the St Etienne full-back came in with his elbow and broke my nose.

"It was getting better after I'd had the operation, then in pre-season when I was playing at Dover with the reserves, I went up for a header and the forward done me again and it was broken."

The Lewisham-born centre-half did not undergo another operation in case he suffered another mishap during the course of the season - and he reports that his girlfriend does not mind the wait too much...

"It's alright, they said leave it until the end of the season when I've had one or two more. My girlfriend doesn't mind, she says as long as I get it fixed she can wait."

As you might imagine, sympathy is pretty thin on the ground at a professional football club - comments like 'at least you look like a centre half now!' were commonplace.

"That's what they all used to say to me. When I had two black eyes they said 'you're the complete defender now!' All I need now is a few teeth missing...

While Paul was born in Lewisham and speaks with a London accent, his international ambitions are not pointed in England's direction. His Irish parentage has already ensured that his loyalties are Ireland-bound and he has already worn the colours at under-19 level at a tournament in Canada.

It is international recognition that he feels he wouldn't have enjoyed had he not joined Spurs. Paul was an under-16 regular for then Conference side Welling United before joining our Academy at the beginning of last season.

"Before I was with Welling and Ireland wouldn't be looking down there for a centre-back," he reflected. "As soon as I came to Tottenham they had a look at me and decided to bring me over."

Paul graduated through the junior ranks at Welling and was offered YTS terms before head of recruitment John Moncur offered him a trial at Spurs.

"Welling was like a local club and not just a Sunday League club," he explained. "It is on semi-pro basis and they would have given me a contract.

"I would have then been hoping to work up through the divisions, that's what I was thinking and I got offered a YTS down there.

"But, before I signed, my manager there knew John Moncur and told him to have a look at me.

"I was going to be on the bench for the first team against Millwall and he told me to come up to Tottenham before I signed anything with Welling.

"Luckily enough, Spurs offered me a YTS and I snapped it up straight away."

Paul admits that he found the two-week trial a bit daunting - trying to impress while making the leap from a Conference set-up to a Premiership one.

"It was massive coming to a club four divisions up. I didn't expect as much. If they had recommended me a second division club I would have been more than happy. But they took me on."

He adds, however, that his grounding at a club run along professional lines helped him along in his quest to get signed up.

"Of course it did. We were doing more or less the same as Tottenham, but here it is of a higher standard. So I had to improve technically to survive.

"I always knew I had it in me, but it was a case of improving and trying to do as well as I could, working hard at it and then getting there.

"They saw it in me and offered me a deal."

Paul says that he has always occupied the centre-half position, due to the fact that his growth pattern meant he was among the bigger boys when he was younger.

"I've always played there. I was taller and stronger when I was younger, not now. But that's why I was put back there then, I was just big and strong."

Being big and strong would certainly have been a help in Paul's other pursuit before concentrating full-time on his football - the rough and tumble of the Gaelic version, in which he played for London under-21s.

"I played it about two years ago now because of my mum and dad, they wanted me to play it for a bit.

"It's not as bad as everyone thinks. I wasn't bad and, of course, it toughens you up for football. But it's not as rough as people think."

Paul relished his opportunities with the reserves last season and is keen for more of the same. Recently he has forced his way back into contention and has been drafted in a few times by Colin Calderwood.

"It was nice to play in the reserves last season. If I am going to get anywhere I've got to be playing for them, so it just gave me an earlier start.

"It was good playing with the likes of Ciaran Toner and the regular reserve players - it can only help improve my game so it was good.

"I need to do is play as well as I can for the under-19s this season and hopefully Colin will see me play and bring me up again."

Paul is perfectly positioned to explain any gap in standard between Academy football and reserves.

"It's harder in some ways and easier in others," he says of the transition to the reserve side. "With the reserves you get more time on the ball and pass it a lot more, but there is more pressure. They expect more of you because you're there.

"With the under-19s there is less time, but maybe if your ball doesn't go perfectly they don't mind so much and do their best with it. If you don't give it right to a reserve player... They expect it to be perfect every time because that's the level they're working at."

At under-19 level Paul is competing for a central defensive berth with Ronnie Henry and Stephen Kelly - and says it is a bit frustrating when he is not one of the two to get the nod from coach Pat Holland.

"Of course it can be. I played for the reserves twice two weeks ago and would have loved to have gone out and played for the under-19s on the Saturday. Seeing Ron and Steve play at the back makes me strive to get back in. I would love to play in all the games."

What he understandably declines to do is name a favoured defensive mate out of the two.

"I can't say that! They are both really good players," he laughs, before adding that his game needs to adapt to whatever partner he works with.

"Steo is a bit quicker and I can push up a bit more with him. Whereas Ronnie is good on the ball and I can be comfortable with him, but staying back a bit more. Steo is faster and if he does make a mistake he's there straight away. You can compensate for their strengths and weaknesses and they can with me."

One thing is for sure, if his progress so far is anything to go by, Paul is a pretty good bet to be one Up & Comer with a bright future. Only don't place your bet on the nose!

By Richard Hubbard