Brothers Rory and Ronan Hale on cusp of Brummie breakthrough
BEYOND the boundaries of Belfast you mightn’t have heard of them – but the odds are you soon will.
Meet the Hale brothers – Rory and Ronan.
Hailing from the Newington area of north Belfast, the two teenagers are hoping the 2016/17 season will be their breakthrough years at Aston Villa and Birmingham City respectively.
Football runs deep in the family genes.
Their grandfather, Danny Hale, was one of the finest strikers to grace the Irish League during the 1960s, cutting a dash with Derry City and Crusaders in his pomp.
Rory is 19 and Ronan is 17.
Rory is entering his fourth season at recently relegated Aston Villa, Ronan is in his second year with cross-town rivals Birmingham City.
Rory started out with local club St Patrick’s before working his way through Cliftonville’s ranks from U11.
After a series of cross-channel trials, Villa signed him – and the former Milk Cup golden boot winner hasn’t looked back.
To put how far Rory Hale has travelled into context, the striker-turned-midfielder’s final game of last season for Villa saw him come up against Arsenal’s midfield metronome Santi Cazorla at the Emirates Stadium in the U21 play-off final.
“Cazorla was my toughest opponent by a mile,” says Rory, who has signed a one-year extension at Villa Park.
“They beat us 3-1. Arsenal had about six first teamers. Cazorla was my opponent the whole game. He’s so two-footed I didn’t know what foot he was going to hit the ball with. But I held my own at times. He was so smart on the ball, he rarely ran anywhere.
“He was in the right place at the right time... The Emirates was the best stadium I’ve played in and the pitch was like a snooker table.”
Rory made most progress under Tim Sherwood during his short spell as Aston Villa manager – and the north Belfast man is hoping new boss Roberto Di Matteo will cast his eye towards the cream of the club’s U21s ahead of the new season.
On Sherwood’s impact, Rory said: “As soon as Sherwood came in he had me up with the first team, and I was still a second year scholarship and the youngest player.
“Sherwood was brilliant with me and it was a shame he got the sack because he was the one that would have brought me through.
“Mentally, he would always give you confidence. If you lost the ball he would encourage you to get back on the ball, whereas another manager might just yell at you.
“His training sessions were excellent, he was just a lively person.”
The fact that Villa suffered relegation from the Premier League last season may see more youth team players given the chance as the Birmingham club starts to rebuild.
“It can go two ways for me,” explained Rory.
“If they want to go straight back up then I can’t see them playing many youngsters every week. [But] Di Matteo has been appointed and he likes to play young players. If you get one shot at it and you play well, he might stick with you.”
As the new season beckons, Rory’s target is to break into the first team reckoning at Villa or secure a loan move to broaden his experience.
Across town, his younger brother Ronan is the talk of Birmingham City in youth circles.
A goal machine who learned his trade with Irish League club Crusaders, the 17-year-old scoring sensation has already earned his international youth stripes with Republic of Ireland, scoring on his debut against Germany in June.
Not 18 until September, Birmingham City tied the youngster to a four-year contract after his scoring exploits in his first full season at the club.
He scored 29 goals which included a five-goal first-half haul against Leeds United. The following week he bagged another four goals against Coventry City.
His form was so prolific the club’s official website posted 10 of Ronan Hale’s best goals and have promoted him to the U21 ranks for the 2016/17 season.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m doing it,” said Ronan. “I don’t see it as pressure. It was my boyhood dream to become a professional footballer. Homesickness hasn’t been a problem either because I’m talking to my family every day.
“When I arrived last year, I was just straight into training. I was nervous at the start but it was something I always wanted to do so I thought, there’s no point in being nervous…”
One day, Rory and Ronan Hale hope to meet each other in the Birmingham derby.
“Birmingham City and Aston Villa would be big rivals,” Ronan said. “Hopefully Rory and me can
play each other. But at the minute I’ll focus on doing well for the U21s.”