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Exclusive interview: Toner on sporting family, senior starts and meeting God

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Exclusive interview: Toner on sporting family, senior starts and meeting God

Harrison

Kevin Toner is odds on to continue his family's sporting success - after taking inspiration from his Gold Cup-winning uncle.

The 19-year-old defender hails from an impressive sporting stable.

His uncle Mark Dwyer rode Forgive'n Forget to victory in National Hunt horse racing's blue chip event at Cheltenham in 1985, while dad Brendan briefly played football in the lower leagues for Mansfield.

And as he enters the final furlong of the 2015/16 campaign, Toner is determined to carry on the family tradition.

"My family is very sporty," explained the Dublin-born stopper. "One of my uncles was a successful jockey and another is a very good golfer who is the pro at one of the clubs back home.

"My mom plays golf too and she is at a seven handicap.

"And my dad came over to England to play for Mansfield but he moved back after a few years.

"You have to be good in my family otherwise you're out!

"But they are all so happy for me to see where I am today."

Despite Villa's predicament, Toner has had plenty to smile about in the past few weeks.

After making his Barclays Premier League debut as a substitute in our last home game against Southampton, he earned consecutive starts against Watford and Newcastle.

News of Toner's breakthrough spread quickly back home in Ireland - so much so that it sent his phone into meltdown.

"My phone was hopping all day! Straight away I had to get out and ring my mom to tell her," he said.

"Even her phone was going all day with people texting her to say that I was playing.

"Everyone was delighted for me. I had comments coming through from people I used to play football with back home when I was younger too. It was a good feeling.

"I know it's a cliché but it was a dream come true. You work all your life to say you've played in the Premier League.

"To do it at a young age is an achievement in itself. My heart was pumping."

Toner

That Toner is in contention to start a third consecutive Premier League game is remarkable considering only seven months ago he was playing non-league football for Kidderminster Harriers.

But the tenacious centre-back admits the muck and nettles of the National League helped him mature as a player.

"It was different," he said. "It was nice to go out on loan and play men's football and see what it's all about.

"It is all about getting points on the board and not so much about playing nice football.

"It is a lot more physical so you have got to step up and show you are not a kid any more.

"You are playing in front of fans too - even when there are only 1,000 people there it is more than the U21s and you start to hear the roar when tackles are flying in.

"I really liked it. It felt like I was playing back at home because those are the sort of pitches I grew up playing on.

"You are used to coming to Bodymoor Heath every day and training on carpets, so it was a different ball game."

Toner is the latest in a long tradition of Irish players to represent Villa.

So a recent visit from compatriot Paul McGrath - arguably the club's greatest-ever player - had special significance for the youngster.

Although Toner is keen to keep his feet on the ground, his brush with God left him star struck.

"When we were out training he came over to see Gordon Cowans," he explained.

"All the boys were tapping each other saying 'look, it's Paul McGrath'.

"It might not have meant as much to some of the other boys but as an Irishman it was a massive thing for me.

"He's a total hero in Ireland. I was definitely star struck.

"It was great to see him. I was getting messages from people back home that evening, saying: 'Did you get to speak to him?'

"He was a quality player and someone who commands total respect in the game."

While the encounter with McGrath left Toner purring, he has also been taking inspiration from a current Villa and Republic of Ireland defender.

"Ciaran Clark is someone I look up to," he said.

"He is my type of player. I like the way he plays. Ciaran is not someone who messes about.

"If there's a ball there to be won, he's going to make sure he does that.

"He's an absolute quality guy to have around in the dressing room too.

"He always comes over and chats to me as a new lad in the group. He gives me advice and always has a friendly word for me."

Toner

Toner will be returning the support for Clark this summer by cheering him on at the European Championships.

While Clark is likely to be heading for France with the Ireland squad, Toner will be there to back the boys in green.

"I've got my flights booked and everything," he added.

"I used to follow Ireland all the time when I was younger so I'm going to the Euros with all the people that I used to go with.

"We used to go to all the away international matches. I can't wait for it.

"I read in the papers that there are 28,000 tickets and 280,000 people applied.

"For such a small country with only five or six million people that's amazing.

"Hopefully one day it will be me representing Ireland. It is 100% my aim to eventually earn a call-up."

AVFC Official
By @AVFCOfficial 11th May 2016