Billy King's future uncertain as former Hearts and Rangers winger eyes European place with St Patrick's Athletic
A sprawling five-bedroom Dublin house is home to Billy King and four of his St Patrick’s Athletic team-mates.
The popular assumption might be that these young lads are partying late into the Irish night, staging mammoth Playstation sessions and generally having a jolly good time of it.
Whilst harnessing the camaraderie, their focus is firmly on football matters at nearby Richmond Park. St Pat’s are second in the Premier Division, on course for European qualification and face Dundalk in the FAI Cup on Friday night. King and his housemates can’t afford distractions.
The former Hearts and Rangers winger is nearing the end of his second year in the Fair City and is out of contract in a matter of weeks. The future is uncertain but he won’t allow thoughts to wander too far ahead yet.
“My contract is up at the end of the year,” he told the Evening News. “The season finishes around early December, depending how far we get in the cup. I haven’t really thought of anything else so far, I’m just trying to finish the season strongly. We are in the semi-final so we’ll need to just take that as it comes.”
He boasts plenty experience of Scottish football having represented Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Morton in addition to spells at Tynecastle Park and Ibrox. He might consider returning home, but Europe with St Pat’s next summer would also hold a certain appeal.
“I’d look at all options to be honest. As I said, I haven’t really thought about it. Everyone is really focused just now because this is the business end of the season. It could be a great season depending on how well we do.
“We are trying to finish this season first and see what we can achieve. Then my contract is up but I’m really enjoying it here and I haven’t really thought beyond the end of the year.
“I think Europe is the aim for most clubs in this league, to get into the top three. That gets you a chance to play in Europe and the money that comes with it is big. It’s good experience playing against top European players so everyone looks at that as a target.”
The FAI Cup carries a Europa Conference League qualifying spot alongside second or third place in the league. First place enters the Champions League qualifiers but Shamrock Rovers are 13 points clear of St Pat’s and look destined to retain their title.
League of Ireland marketing and commercial output has improved in tandem with playing standards on the field in recent years. King noted the quality around him quickly after arriving in January 2020.
“I came over here because I hadn’t played for a while,” he explained. “I was injured towards the end of my contract at Morton and the Irish league starts in January. I got a full pre-season and got going again. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time across here.
“I’ve played a lot of games and the standard of the league has improved. The majority of clubs are full-time. We have a good team this year, we’re sitting second in the table behind Shamrock Rovers, plus there are good sides like Bohemians and Dundalk.”
He makes a worthwhile point. Bohemians beat the reputable Greek side PAOK Salonika at Dalymount Park in a Europa Conference League tie in August. Shamrock Rovers – with current Hearts midfielder Aaron McEneff in their team – gave a good account of themselves 12 months previously against AC Milan at Tallaght, eventually losing 2-0.
Rovers’ Europa Conference League exit to the Estonian side Flora Tallinn this year temporarily deflated all concerned with Irish football’s development. St Pat’s, though, can point to their own steady progress since head coach Stephen O’Donnell took charge.
He has been a catalyst for many rousing displays in Inchicore. “We didn't have the right squad and it was a bit of a transitional period for the club last year, which was my first year here,” said King.
“The gaffer came in and this season is the first time we’ve been right in amongst it at the top of the table. It’s been really enjoyable.
“We have a real good team and, although we’ve had a couple of poor results recently, we are sitting in the a good place in the league. We’ve also got the cup semi to look forward to. Thankfully I’ve stayed fit and played a part in every single game. It’s definitely been the right move for me coming to Ireland.
“I came across when I was 26, single, and I live in a big five-bedroom house with five of my team-mates. It’s a lovely area and it’s good living in Dublin. That was one of the things I looked at when I came here. Being in Dublin was big for me, there is loads to do.
“Matty Smith [ex-Dundee United] lives in this house as well. He’s a Scottish boy and I get on well with him. The house gets a bit hectic at times with us all there but I can fly home for £30 return so that’s a big plus. In that respect, it’s easy enough to go and see family when you get time off.”
He won’t have much time off over the coming weeks as St Pat’s try to execute a memorable climax to their season. That may well be pivotal to King’s next move.