Ipswich Town forward David McGoldrick went from loan reject to Ireland international and Tractor Boys boss Mick McCarthy should take much of the credit
WHERE do you begin with the David McGoldrick story?
Is it at Lansdowne Road last month, when he leaves the field after making his international debut and creating two goals?
Or does this tale pre-date that? Does it go back to the winter of 1987, when McGoldrick was born in the same month that Gary MacKay sent Jack’s Army and Joxer on the road to Stuttgart?
Those early weeks and months of McGoldrick’s life remain shrouded in mystery.
He knows he was adopted, he knows there is an Irish link with his birth parents and also one with the people who took him into their care.
“I’ve only recently become aware of so much personal stuff,” he says. “A lot of things I didn’t know about.”
Those ‘things’ have touched a nerve. A sensitive man, he has come to realise the value of a career and a life that gave him special gifts.
At 27, he’s a highly regarded player now, an Irish international, a man valued by his Championship club at £8million.
Yet not so long ago, his value appeared zilch. Three years back, Nottingham Forest sent him to Coventry, the second of three loan spells he would endure while on their books.
Labelled a Prodigal Son after returning to his home town of Nottingham following four unproductive years at Southampton — where he emerged from the same youth team as Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Adam Lallana — McGoldrick’s career seemed ready to kick on.
Yet it never did. As a player, he is neither a traditional centre-forward nor a classical number 10. “A nine-and-a-half,” is how Robin Van Persie labelled himself and Wayne Rooney last summer. While clearly less talented, McGoldrick wears the same tag.
What he most certainly is not is a winger. Yet that is where Forest played him. His confidence sank. Four years at the club brought three loan spells, just nine goals and more appearances as a substitute than a starter.
“I was out for three or four months with a stress fracture in my back at the end of my Forest career and that was when I really realised how much I love football and how much I needed to knuckle down,” he said.
“I remember I got a call from my agent saying a team wanted me. I won’t say who the team was, but they were a bit lower down and that made me realise that my career was on the line. I said to myself: ‘this could be gone for me soon.’
He added: “Football is what I’ve always wanted to do and the older I was getting the faster it was slipping away. I got my love for the game back.”
It helped that someone important loved his game. Aware of the goals he was scoring in his loan spell at Coventry — 17 in 24 games — Mick McCarthy travelled to Colchester on a cold Tuesday in November to have a look.
Impressed with what he saw, McCarthy put a call in to Forest the following day.
Six weeks later the striker was on Ipswich’s books, initially as a loanee, before he arrived as a free transfer.
“The reason I have gone from being a reject to an £8million-rated player is because of Mick McCarthy,” said McGoldrick. “He believed in me when no one else did.
“He brought me here, told me I was his number one striker and stayed true to me when I went through a barren spell.
“He’s forthright, Mick is. He tells it as it is. He shows respect and gets it back. I love playing under him.”
It shows. The guy who scored just nine times in 75 appearances at Forest has scored 25 in under two years since he moved to Portman Road, statistics which would likely be better still had he avoided a knee injury at the end of last year.
“When my cartilage came out, I lost a lot of muscle in my leg. I was a bit scared for a long time to properly blast the ball.
“The first time I did was probably when I scored against Fulham on the first day of this season. When the ball was coming back to me I was thinking ‘oh no, here we go’.
“But I just said, ‘to heck with it’. Thumped it. Scored. That goal gave me confidence. I get aches and pains, but I feel like I’m getting back to my best.”
So does McCarthy.
“He’s got the name to play for Ireland and he’s certainly got the ability to play for them too,” said the former Republic manager.
“I remember gaining great confidence after playing a number of international matches when I first broke through under Eoin Hand way back in the ’80s.
“I was with Manchester City at the time and it made me feel so much better about myself.
“If we get a bit more out of Didzy, we’ll have a really good player on our hands, won’t we?”
They will. Yet getting more out of ‘Didzy’ has proven a problem for a lot of people. George Burley was his manager at Southampton.
“We had a very good crop of youngsters,” said Burley, “the likes of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Kenwyne Jones, Adam Lallana and Dexter Blackstock, but I always knew David had all the talent in the world.
“As a player David is not going to out-pace everyone like Theo or Gareth, but he is a clever player, especially with the ball at his feet and can make things happen.
“You just need the right balance around him and you need to give him confidence.”
McCarthy has. And now Martin O’Neill is instilling belief.
“Before we went out to play the United States, the gaffer (O’Neill) just told me to relax and play my normal game. That was a show of faith.”
So too was Nigel Pearson’s decision to tell his Leicester City chairman that he was willing to sacrifice half of his transfer budget on McGoldrick last summer.
“They came for me. It was a boost to know a Premier League club wanted me. But Ipswich didn’t want to sell which is an endorsement in itself. I like it here, I like Mick McCarthy and am not one to go banging on doors,” said McGoldrick.
“My contract ends this year, but the club can trigger a clause in my deal and get me to stay for another 12 months. Hopefully we will be a Premier League club then.
“And hopefully Ireland will qualify for the Euros next year. 2015 promises to be a big year.
“But the big thing is I’m fit, I’m healthy and I’m happy. There was a time when it was drifting away from me, this game. But I have always believed in my ability. Something clicked for me one day and I’m so grateful that things turned around.”