The words of advice from a former Southampton manager helping Sheffield United's push for Premier League survival
Immediately after the final whistle, as Sheffield United’s players reflected on their latest and most heart-breaking defeat of what has already been a punishing season, David McGoldrick placed a consoling arm around the shoulder of one of his team mates before uttering some words of encouragement and advice.
The colleague in question, Oli McBurnie, looked utterly disconsolate. Despite scoring his first goal of the season an hour earlier, it had not proved enough to secure even a point. But as McBurnie slumped on a bench inside Bramall Lane’s home dressing room, and began trying to fathom how United had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of what would have been a credible draw with Champions League hopefuls Leicester City, McGoldrick wanted to remind him about the importance of perseverance. Why, even when all seems lost, there is still hope to be found. It is a piece of advice the former Republic of Ireland international has carried with him throughout his career, ever since being pulled to one side for a spot of impromptu counselling by a former manager.
“I was going through a really tough period once when I was down at Southampton as a youngster,” McGoldrick said. “Harry Redknapp pulled me aside and told me that so long as I was getting chances, he wasn’t bothered if I missed them because that meant, as far as he was concerned, I could do it at the top because I was finding the right positions.
“Basically the message was ‘Keep on going, keep on believing because if you do, things will turn.’ It was the right thing to say and something important to remember now.”
Fifteen years after being cajoled by Redknapp, McGoldrick returns to the south coast with United this weekend as Chris Wilder’s side continues its search for a first win of the campaign. Sunday’s match at St Mary’s, which the visitors hope will prove the catalyst for a marked improvement in fortune ahead of the Christmas period, pits the Premier League’s bottom club against opponents eyeing a place in Europe after climbing to fifth following Monday’s controversial victory over Brighton and Hove Albion - Danny Ings’ scoring a penalty during the closing stages, which was awarded by the VAR official.
United experienced late drama themselves 24 hours earlier, when Jamie Vardy’s 90th minute effort cancelled-out McBurnie’s equaliser after Ayoze Perez had edged City in front. With two individual errors presenting - or “gift-wrapping” as Wilder preferred to put it - Vardy with the chance to fire beyond Aaron Ramsdale, United suffered yet another crushing and self-inflicted blow in their battle for survival. Yet remarkably, with several clubs above them also struggling, Wilder’s men began preparing for the contest only six points from safety; something McGoldrick, now in his 17th season as a professional, has been quick to remind the squad’s more callow members - particularly those being criticised on social media.
“Personally, I don’t go on it but I’m aware of what gets put on there,” McGoldrick said. “I was going through a really difficult period in front of goal last season and yes, it did get me down even though I tried not to show it.
“The best piece of feedback for me came during a game at Brighton, about this time last year, when I shot wide even after taking the ball around the goalkeeper.
“I felt terrible but what happened? The fans started singing my name and that made me feel great.”
Speaking over Zoom from United’s media suite at the Steelphalt Academy training complex, McGoldrick admitted that mentoring the likes of McBurnie and Rhian Brewster, another young centre-forward, has prompted him to think about becoming a coach when he eventually retires. However aged 33 and having recently informed Ireland that he no longer wishes to be considered for selection - “The hardest thing I’ve ever done” - McGoldrick’s immediate focus is helping Wilder’s men reach safety - something he is convinced they are equipped to achieve despite an apparent shortage of firepower. McBurnie’s effort against City was only the fifth time United have found the back of the net since September, with Brewster, their record signing, still searching for his first goal following a £23.5m move from Liverpool.
“I do enjoy it, speaking to them, because I feel they respect me and my voice,” McGoldrick said. “I know I’ve not scored 100 Premier League goals but I know the game and if I can help them, I will.
“When I was younger, I could have done more things to be better at my game. That’s what I’m trying to teach them: How to look after yourself and how to train. All of these guys have the right attitude because, with the manager here, they wouldn’t be in the team if they didn’t. He’s an honest man and he demands everyone puts it all in.”
“I haven’t done my badges yet but it’s something I’ve thought of,” McGoldrick continued. “But I still feel I’ve got plenty to give on the pitch yet.”
McGoldrick chose a long and challenging route back to the top after leaving Southampton. Having joined Nottingham Forest, and then spent time with Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City on loan, he felt his chances of ever returning were over when his contract expired at Ipswich Town following Mick McCarthy’s departure. A move to League One beckoned - “I was about to sign for one club there” - until United offered him a trial. Nine months, 15 goals and one Player of the Year Award later, he was celebrating promotion from the Championship.The predicament Wilder’s men find themselves in now, despite finishing ninth last term, appears to have influenced his decision to retire from Ireland duty.
“I just want to be the best that I can be at the highest level,” McGoldrick said. “I’ve worked so hard to get here and waited so long that I don’t plan to give up on it.”