David Norman Jr Looking Forward To Historic FAI Cup Final…And Beyond
This weekend will see Canadian defender David Norman Jr. step into the FAI Cup Final in front of over 40,000 fans and counting, offering the 25-year-old St. Patrick’s Athletic man a golden opportunity to end a whirlwind 2023 on a high.
Having already won a promotion medal with Northampton Town earlier this season, it’s safe to say that it’s been quite a year for the former Cavalry defender.
The upcoming FAI Cup Final against Bohemians FC is expected to be Ireland’s biggest of all time: with just five kilometers separating finalists St. Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians FC within Dublin, the cup final stadium – which is also in the capital city – is quite a good venue for both parties.
For Norman Jr, his path to get to this point wasn’t easy: St. Patrick’s Athletic marked his second club of the season, and with an expiring contract fast approaching he’s putting his head down and, as he’s always done, putting in the work. Still, 2023 has proven a year to remember.
“I’ve definitely grown as a footballer, but I also think I’ve shown my ability. I’ve shown what kind of player I am in different leagues,” says Norman Jr, who spoke with us ahead of the cup bout. The player has enjoyed his time in Ireland’s top flight, where he’s stepped into a starting role to help the club not only secure continental cup action next year, but keep itself in the hunt for silverware through the country’s domestic cup, too.
The Real David Norman Jr.
The former Canada U-23 international has found himself becoming a journeyman footballer: His time with the Vancouver Whitecaps saw him embark on loans to Queen of the South and Pacific FC before a move to Inter Miami, though he was sidelined that entire year through injury. Moves to Cavalry, Northampton Town, and St. Patrick’s Athletic followed, with the player helping his last three clubs to things like back-to-back CPL playoffs, promotion to League One, and both FAI Cup Final and European football, respectively.
Yet, he’s found himself on the move frequently. With his St. Patrick’s Athletic contract set to expire after this weekend’s FAI Cup Final, he’s prepared to be on the move once again – but he also knows how important leaving a positive impression will be.
“I just feel like I haven’t quite had a full season or two to really show what I’m about as a footballer. I’ve done it in a few glimpses in the CPL, Northampton, and over here in Ireland now. So, I’m trying to stay present and enjoy each each week as it comes,” he says.
On English Football
David describes the jump to English football earlier this year as the biggest he’s ever made in terms of the style of play, intensity, and atmosphere. Following two seasons at Cavalry, the defender was looking at a few different options when Northampton’s offer came in, and he found it hard to let an EFL opportunity pass by.
“As a young player growing up in Canada, those are the opportunities that you want. There wasn’t a CPL around when I was growing up, so you never imagined playing on your home soil. You always thought about going to England going overseas. So the transition was easy enough – definitely different, but I think I’d had some practice in those transitions already.”
“It took me a few weeks to break into the team, but once I had an opportunity, I did well and we had some good results. It was just being being patient and working hard each day, trusting in my abilities, and then taking advantage of that opportunity when it when it came.”
The atmosphere of English football proved a fresh experience for the footballer, who describes the city itself as an entity which revolves around the success and failures of its club.
“It has this great community and family feel to it. The whole support from the whole town was right behind every single one of the players and staff members. It was just incredible, a feeling that is really hard to describe…I was only only there for the second half of the season, but you felt part of something that was much bigger.”
When Norman Jr. signed the club had nine games left to play, and he featured in six of them. They recorded five wins and one draw in the matches he was involved with, with Norman also adding a goal in a 3-1 win over Harrogate as the club secured promotion into League One. Despite locking in a starting spot at the tail end of the campaign, he found himself released shortly after the celebrations.
Disappointed to miss out on the club’s adventure in a higher flight, it was back to the grindstone again. It wasn’t long before a call from Ireland rang in, with St. Patrick’s Athletic hoping the defender could help them lock in a top three spot. Having spoken with former Cavalry teammate Ben Fisk about his time in the league with Derry, he then accepted the offer to experience Irish top flight action himself.
“That idea fighting for a European spot for the next year, and they were still in the cup as well… there’s lots of things to play for midway through their season. The conversations I had with management here were great and I decided to take another chance on a new league and a new club. And I’ve enjoyed so much of it so far.”
Similar to Northampton, it took a few matches of adjusting before David Norman Jr. capitalized on the opportunity to secure a starting spot for himself. When Axel Sjoberg was sidelined, the 25-year-old Canadian stepped into the line-up and hasn’t looked out of place since. He’s appeared in seven of St. Patrick Athletic’s regular season matches on the bounce, and two of their cup games preceding the final.
He also had his first taste of continental action shortly after arriving, though the club ultimately lost out to Luxembourg side F91 Diddeleng over two legs in the Europa Conference League qualifiers, with St. Patrick’s Athletic now qualifying to test itself in the competition again come 2024. Before that, however, they’d like to win Ireland’s domestic cup, which his club has only done four times since the competition began in 1921.
In His Father’s Footsteps
The move to Richmond Park saw David Norman Jr. do something unique: he would join the same league his own father had played in some forty years ago, when David Norman Sr. was loaned from the Whitecaps to UCD in the early ’80s.
“I think the league’s probably changed a lot since he was playing forty-something years ago,” laughs Norman Jr. “But, he told me about his experience. He loved his time here, the people, the city.”
David credits his father for instilling the mentality and discipline it takes to be a professional from the early age. With his Dad having had a storied career that saw him represent Canada at the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, the advice and experience he passed to his son has proven invaluable as he forges his own path.
National Team Ambitions
David Norman Jr. has represented his country at the youth level, last suiting up for the Canada U-23 team for the Concacaf Olympic qualifiers two years ago. Now 25, he’d like to earn a sniff from the senior team.
“I think for any footballer, that’s the pinnacle: to play for your country. Obviously, all us Canadians now are looking at the the World Cup in 26 and 30. The fact that we qualified for one in 2022 and we’re hosting the next…we’ve got such an unbelievable group of players at this present time. That’s got to be at the pinnacle of every player’s goals right now.”
Make no bones about it: David Norman Jr. has the senior national team on his target list, much like Cavalry’s Dominick Zator did when he crafted his own move to Europe.
A Credit To The Canadian Pathway
He may be travelling quite a bit, but David Norman Jr. is making big waves at each of his European destinations. Having accrued over fifty Canadian Premier League appearances prior to his European adventures this year, he credits Canada’s top flight for allowing him to showcase himself.
“The CPL has been such a great springboard Canadians to show what they’re about on home soil, to get moves to bigger leagues, and play themselves into the national team,” he adds.
“I think we’ve seen it with a lot of players now: they just need a platform and a place to play. Six years ago, that meant going and slugging away somewhere in a European country. Now, players can play at home, they can show what they’re about on the field, and now they’re getting forward and progressive moves.”
He points to young talent like sixteen year-old TJ Tahid getting a FIFA U-17 World Cup nod and the growing number of CPL call-ups to national teams as proof in the pudding that Canada’s top flight is solidifying itself as a high-calibre developmental league on the world stage.
“I was super fortunate for the league. I had a short stint on loan with with Pacific and then the two years with Cavalry. It was great to see how the sport has grown in that city and be a part of that, getting the chance to play to play professional football on your home soil. “
Some of his teammates at St. Patrick’s have also picked on some of the goals shown in the league – the CPL Bangers Only branding proving international – with David coming to realize that plenty of foreign talent are looking at the league with intrigue, especially given Canada’s high quality of living.
For him, it’s a surreal experience, especially given how limited opportunity was in the country during his youth.
“I never dreamed of playing in Canada growing up as a kid because it was this foreign concept. But now, I hope there’s ten, eleven, or twelve year old children that are watching CPL games on the weekend and thinking ‘hey, I’m gonna play in that league’. It’s really just going to grow.”
David Norman Jr. and his St. Patrick’s Athletic teammates will kick off their FAI Cup Final against Bohemians FC on Sunday, November 10 at 10:00AM EST (3:00PM GMT)
Header Image Photo Credit: St. Patrick’s Athletic