In Conversation with… Chris Konopka
Ray Scott talks to United’s No. 1
(first published in the May 2010 Athlone Town programme)
Many players can go through their whole career and never win a medal in football. But if you are lucky you will get to experience the thrill of being part of a winning side at least once! For the very lucky few, amassing a complete set of medals from a country is a rare achievement, but Blues netminder Chris Konopka is close to completing this unique feat, having already landed a Premier Division medal and a couple of FAI Cup medals. And he has only been in Ireland for less than two years.
Chris Konopka, hails from Toms River, New Jersey. It is a holiday town for the yuppies of Manhattan (if you’ve seen Jersey Shore on MTV – it’s set in Toms River) and hardly a hotbed of soccer. However, soccer is in his blood. His father is a senior executive with the American Major League Soccer organisation and he has been playing it for most of his life! Despite his height (6’5”), he is the smallest in his family and while his brother is on the fringes of professional basketball, Chris decided on a career with the smaller ball!
A soccer scholarship at Providence College in Rhode Island, provided his education and on leaving college he was destined for a pro career in the MLS.
“I had been training with the New England Revolution while I was finishing college,” recalls Chris. “They had spoken to me about joining the team and I was also been looked at by New York [Red Bulls]. The system in the US is different as everything is centrally organised and they recruit via a draft system. New England had the sixth pick that year and I was their choice. However, Kansas City Wizards had the fifth pick and so I ended up in the Mid West!!”
A year in Kansas proved to be a difficult one for Chris and as they held his registration, the only option was for him to move out of the country to find football.
“I had a trial with Cardiff City and another with Charlton and I was hoping to move to the UK. However my coach had some contacts in Ireland and with the change of management at Bohemians, there was an opportunity to come to Dublin which I jumped at!”
It proved to be an inspired move with Chris picking up a league and cup winners medal in 2008 with Bohs – the first American ever to achieve such an honour. As the number two (ironically behind Waterford’s Brian Murphy) Chris’ opportunities were limited (though he was instrumental in helping Bohemians to the A Championship) and he felt it was time to move on.
“ I was always going to be number two at Bohs and my passion was to play soccer so I felt I needed a move. When the option to join Sporting Fingal came along in the middle of last season, I jumped at it and was hoping to challenge Darren Quigley for the number one jersey.
I did get into the team when Darren got injured and actually played in the semi final of the cup but Liam [Buckley] was always going to choose Darren for the final so I was warming the bench again and so when the Blues came looking, I was ready for the new challenge.”
And for Chris, playing is his number one priority!
“I love it here in Waterford. The city is beautiful, the people have been welcoming and the club has been excellent. There is a different atmosphere here, especially with the players. There is a spirit that I haven’t seen at the other two clubs and I notice it big time with the players that are not getting into the team regularly. They still put 100% into training and know that their opportunity will arrive and they need to be focussed and ready!”
And of course, while Chris holds the number one jersey, he knows he has to work hard to retain it!
“Kevin [Burns] and Josh [Byrne] are both excellent goalkeepers and I really have to work hard to keep them out but that is the kind of pressure I enjoy. Nothing comes to you on a plate and you have to work hard for anything in life so I will keep working hard and try to hold my place. But I also know that both lads are more than capable of doing the job too so that is my motivation.”
Talking to Chris Konopka, it is obvious that his passion for the game is total and his commitment to the Blues borders on fanatical. And it is easy to understand why he says he would give back the medals he has already won in order to win a First Division championship one!
“It would be great to have a complete set and so early in my career. Liam Buckley has been in the game all his life and yet he had to wait till last season to win his first medal and that was as manager! But I feel that there is a little tinge on the medals I have already won as I didn’t really do enough to win them. I want to be part of the team that plays well all through the season, plays every game, makes vital saves to help the Blues to victory. In fact, I would trade the others for a thoroughly earned First Division medal!”