From Town striker to Dons goalkeeper
Joe McDonnell believes a first-team breakthrough at AFC Wimbledon has vindicated his decision to become a goalkeeper at the age of 16 – and to shelve any plans of being a hero at the other end of the pitch!
The 20-year-old made his way through Basingstoke Town’s academy ranks as a striker and even made his first-team debut up front, but current Dons goalkeeper coach Ashley Bayes – then also at the Hampshire club – convinced him that his future was between the sticks.
Speaking during an interview for Dons Player, McDonnell said: “I made the decision at the age of 16 and it looks like a good decision! I was a striker all the way through when I was younger and I scored a few goals for the Basingstoke academy. My first game for the first team was also up front. I had become a goalkeeper by that stage, but players were not available so I had to play out on the pitch. I was absolutely knackered afterwards because I’d not played outfield for a while!
“I decided to give goalkeeping a go and it has paid off. ‘Bayzo’ got me training with him every day at Aldershot and that was when I realised I should stick at it. I had a good opportunity to stay with him and learn. ‘Bayzo’ has been a massive influence. Moving up to playing League 2 football from non league is totally different. It all has to be spot-on in terms of preparation.”
McDonnell is also grateful to Basingstoke Town manager Jason Bristow for showing faith in him and offering him first-team football after ‘Bayzo’ had relinquished the number one jersey to concentrate on coaching duties at Wimbledon.
Of course, McDonnell got his chance to make his full debut at Wimbledon due to an injury to James Shea. McDonnell had more time to think about it than when he made a substitute appearance at Shrewsbury recently, but he says the coaching staff prepared him well - and his first-team chance came as a welcome surprise.
“I did not think that I would get into the first-team this season and all the coaching staff have helped me,” McDonnell added. “James Shea has been unbelievable this season and I heard the news that he was injured while I was training (on Monday). We had a bit of time to prepare and the manager, ‘Coxy’, ‘Bass’ and ‘Bayzo’ all said kind words to help me.
“It is great to play here because the fans are so loud and you can hear them cheering when you take a cross. I think it went well for me. I was slightly disappointed that we did not get a win, but the main thing from my perspective was to keep a clean sheet. It was a tough game, but we really dug in as a back five and we defended well as a team.”
Dons Player subscribers can watch the full video interview with Joe McDonnell on our premium channel, along with Neal Ardley’s post-match thoughts after last night’s night draw. Match highlights are also available and an interview with Deji Oshilaja will follow later on.