A professional footballer with a family background in Creeslough made his debut for Paulo di Canio’s Swindon on Saturday.
Twenty-one-year-old Luke Rooney, who is the grandson of Luke and the late Mary (nee McFadden) Rooney of Roscad, Creeslough, signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with the League Two club last week, having left Gillingham for an undisclosed fee.
Seven minutes into the second half of Swindon’s fixture against Macclesfield at the County Groun, Rooney was introduced and went on to set up the only goal of the game.
Paul Benson scored the late winner 14 minutes from time in a match that saw Di Canio sent to the stands after protesting when his side were not awarded a free-kick.
“It is a fantastic opportunity and one I couldn’t possibly turn down,” London-born Rooney said of his opportunity to join Swindon, who are currently in fourth place in the table. “The club being as big as they are was a massive influence, as was Paolo di Canio because of what he has done in the game.”
The midfielder has been a regular visitor to Donegal with his parents, Ian and Sharon and sister Abi, for many years. He made a total of 61 appearances for Gillingham, netting six goals, including one on his league debut in 2009 against Exeter City.
In March 2010, Rooney joined Conference National side Eastbourne Borough on loan and made a scoring debut in the 1–1 draw with Grays Athletic. He was previously a youth player with West Ham United and Charlton Athletic.
Rooney went on to have two loan spells with Eastbourne before becoming a regular in Andy Hessenthaler’s side but was dropped by the Gillingham manager in November after rejecting the offer of a new deal, although he was reinstated after reopening talks.
“I had a fantastic time at Gillingham and I cannot speak highly enough of everyone at Gillingham, particularly the manager, the players and even more particularly the fans,” said Rooney, who was out of contract at Gillingham in the summer. “I had a good bond with them, they took to me right from the start because I came through the ranks.
That part of it is very sad - to leave a club where I played my youth football. But this was too good an opportunity to turn down.”
Swindon, who caused the biggest upset of the FA Cup third round when they defeated Premier League Wigan Athletic earlier this month, take on Leicester City in round four on Saturday. Rooney, however, is cup-tied having played for Gillingham in their 3-1 loss against Stoke City at Priestfield.