Gary Mills’ loan signings tend to be like Donald Trump’s sense of humility: seldom seen, to the point where you begin to wonder if they ever existed in the first place.
Gerry McDonagh might be the man to buck that trend. Certainly, his crucial intervention on Tuesday offered hope that he might be the man to spearhead our attack in the absence of the unfortunate Jordan White.
The word was that McDonagh was big, strong and mobile. All the key boxes for a target man were ticked, then, but there was still a question mark. With only ten minutes of first team experience, would he have the ability to put those qualities together into something useful in a competitive environment? A further twelve minutes into his professional career, he gave us the answer.
His fine header, and indeed the neat build-up play which preceded it, gave hope that here was a player who could augment a stretched front line. There were still rough edges on show – he allowed centre backs to get in front of him a little too often as he waited for the ball to arrive, and looked for a free kick a little too often, but those can be easily addressed as he picks up more pitch time. The key thing is that he looks like he can contribute to our cause, and that sets him aside from so many of our recent temporary signings.
The suspicion last season was that Mills’ loanees were cheap squad fillers. Young lads, generally very wet behind the ears, who were sent out to toughen them up. With their parent clubs in the Football League carrying the financial burden, there was no risk for us, but equally they were never going to become key members of Mills’ plans.
On paper, McDonagh looked to fit into that profile neatly, but his performance at Guiseley suggested that there’s more to him than his predecessors.
If you take Rhys Taylor out of the equation, as he was clearly a very different type of signing, then last season’s other loan players didn’t get much of a look in. In fact, of the other nine loanees, only four actually got a start, and six played less than ninety minutes in total!
It looks like the timing of McDonagh’s ascent to the side is serendipitous, so hopefully he won’t suffer the same fate. He’s already played more minutes for us than Ryan O’Reilly and Taylor McKenzie did, after all! However, there’s a second worrying category he could fall into. Last season we also had a habit of returning loan players, only to see them thrive given more responsibility at a different club.
Jon Nolan is the obvious example, winning Grimsby’s Young Player of the Year award and getting promoted, while Daniel O’Brien and James Caton impressed at Chester and Lincoln, and Joe Quigley scored seven in fifteen starts at Woking.
With McDonagh on a one month loan, let’s hope something can be done to enable him to play a bigger part in the coming season!
That should start tomorrow, of course, as he’s surely in line to start at Aldershot. We’ve an impressive record against The Shots to maintain in recent years, with four wins in our last five clashes.
Last season we did the double over them, with Wes York getting the ball rolling on each occasion. He scored the opener on the second Saturday of the season as we beat them 3-0 at The Racecourse, with James Grey and Dom Vose getting the others, and then snatched the only goal when we travelled to Hampshire in November.
The season before saw us return from The Recreation Ground with a point in the penultimate game of the season, Louis Moult opening the scoring after ten minutes only for us to concede on the stroke of half time.
For the last time we lost at Aldershot you have to go back to September 2013, when we succumbed to a tame 2-0 defeat.
We haven’t tended to put Aldershot to the sword on their own patch though. We’ve won there four times in twenty visits, and only once did we triumph by more than one goal. That came in September 1969, when Albert Kinsey got the opener and Arfon Griffiths scored a penalty in a 2-0 win.
Our other wins there came in successive seasons in the mid-1970s. In September 1974 we were trailing for an hour, but Mickey Thomas equalised with a quarter of an hour left, and Dave Smallman got a late winner.
Then, in April 1976 we triumphed in a thrilling match. Mel Sutton gave us an early lead, which we lost just before the break, but Brian Tinnion and Graham Whittle each struck within two minutes with a quarter of an hour left to put us in control. However, The Shots pulled one back with ten minutes remaining to ensure a tense conclusion before we could claim the two points.