Sheffield United: Harrison in debt to his footballing mentors

Sheffield United defender Harrison McGahey (left) in action � copyright : Blades Sports Photography
Sheffield United defender Harrison McGahey (left) in action � copyright : Blades Sports Photography
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They have accumulated a combined total of 59 international caps, 20 pieces of silverware and amassed nearly half a century’s worth of experience in the game, writes James Shield.

Harrison McGahey knows he is fortunate to count Nigel Clough and Barry Ferguson as footballing mentors.

“Being able to have such good people around me has been brilliant,” the Sheffield United defender said. “That has really helped when it comes to progressing my career.

“I’ve been able to listen and learn from them. You can exaggerate how important it’s been.”

Tomorrow, when Clough’s United team visits Chesterfield for their eagerly anticipated League One derby, McGahey will need to draw upon all of the nous and know-how placed at his disposal.

Eoin Doyle, who is expected to spearhead Paul Cook’s attack at the Proact Stadium, has scored 12 goals in 10 appearances so far this season and eight, including two hat-tricks, in his previous five.

McGahey, though, is used to being thrown in at the deep end.

Blackpool, the team he left to join United earlier this summer, were languishing 21st in the table when an injury to Gary McKenzie forced Ferguson, then caretaker manager at Bloomfield Road, to hand McGahey his senior debut against top-flight bound Burnley six months ago.

The 19-year-old counted strikers such as Danny Ings, Leonardo Ulloa and Nick Powell among his opponents during his four outings for the Championship club. All of whom are now playing in the Premier League.

“When I took over in the February I’d already heard good things about Harrison,” Ferguson, the former Glasgow Rangers and Scotland midfielder, told The Star last night. “I didn’t think he was quite ready at that stage but the idea was to have him train with the first team for four to six weeks and then put him in.

“And, in fairness to Harrison, he proved me exactly right. I made it my business to spend a lot of time with him and speak with him because I’ve always been very keen on bringing youth through.

“That’s how I started at Rangers, the youth system, so I know how important it is.

“But Richard Kyle, the youth coach at Blackpool, deserves a huge amount of credit because he brought him through.”

“I was shocked when Barry first called me up and confirmed I was playing,” McGahey said. “He made it clear he was going to give me an opportunity but he wanted to wait because of the circumstances that were there at the time.

“What happened, though, was that injuries to McKenzie and Kirk Broadfoot forced his hand in the end. But I absolutely loved making my debut because Barry, who was playing, talked me through it and Craig Cathcart, who I played alongside, was brilliant too.

“Barry gave me a chance and I showed him I was good enough. Nigel has given me a chance and hopefully I’ve shown him I’m good enough too.

“I didn’t really every see them play at their peaks but knowing that people like that are behind me gives me lots of confidence going forward.”

McGahey, who enjoyed spells at Liverpool and Rovers before heading to Blackpool, added: “Going there really helped me kick-on. Knowing that things weren’t the best behind the scenes but still having to focus on performing was an important lesson.

“There isn’t a massive support network behind the scenes there, you have to stand on your own two feet and look after yourself but I think that being taken out of my comfort zone helped me to grow-up.”

Stopping Doyle, who has claimed over 60 per cent of Chesterfield’s goals this term, will feature prominently on United’s ‘to-do’ list as they chase their ninth win of the new campaign.

Goals, however, are unlikely to be in short supply given that league matches involving Clough’s side have produced an average of 2.89 since August and Chesterfield 3.11.

Although Doyle, previously of Hibernian and Sligo Rovers, represents the most obvious threat to United’s chances, Clough, who represented England, Nottingham Forest and Liverpool, knows his squad possess several potent weapons of their own. The most notable being a durable streak which has seen them score 47 per cent of their efforts in all competitions this term in the final 10 minutes of games.

“One of the things I love about being here is the atmosphere among the lads.” McGahey said. “We all stick together and get along really well which, out there on the pitch, is a help.

“Everyone has been great with me. Collo (Neill Collins) passes on lots of good things and I thank him for that. The same goes for Morgs (United coach Chris Morgan) who was a brilliant centre-half when he played. Really experienced too.

“I sometimes do little bits with him after training and he likes to get involved in the five-a-sides. But that’s when I do try to avoid him because he’s still really tough.”

United climbed to seventh in the table when they beat Gillingham, courtesy of late strikes from Michael Higdon and Jamie Murphy, last weekend. Chesterfield slipped to eighth after being held by Notts County although, as even their manager Shaun Derry acknowledged afterwards, the Midlands club were indebted to goalkeeper Roy Carroll for keeping them in the game.

With Jamal Campbell-Ryce, who played 16 times for Chesterfield during a loan spell at Saltergate a decade ago, hoping to return following injury, Clough could elect to reshuffle the starting eleven which dispatched Peter Taylor’s side. Jose Baxter, however, is unlikely to feature as he continues to nurse a hamstring complaint.

Midfielders James Wallace and Stefan Scougall are both available for selection after reporting no ill-effects following United’s eighth victory of the campaign. Stephen McGinn and Chris Porter could be recalled but are almost certain to face Hartlepool in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy next week if they fail to gain selection against opponents intent on ending a run of three matches without a win having lost at Doncaster Rovers and held Preston North End to a draw en route to their meeting with County.

“This club is steady and on the up,” McGahey said. “Hopefully we can go up at the end of the season because that is definitely the aim.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1