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Neal proud of Irish hero

9 October 2015

Dons manager recognised striking talent

It turned out to be the making of a Northern Ireland hero with advice from Neal Ardley converting Josh Magennis from a teenage goalkeeper into a striker.

Last night Magennis (pictured above) struck a vital goal to help Northern Ireland reach Euro 2016 – their first qualification for a major international tournament since 1986.

But it was the intervention of Neal Ardley during his days as Cardiff Academy Manager that put Magennis on the road to Irish greatness.

Indeed, the soaring header from Magennis that put Northern Ireland two-up in a 3-1 win against Greece was far from a surprise for Neal.

Speaking during an interview with Rob Cornell for Dons Player, Neal Ardley recalled: “When I arrived Josh was a first year apprentice goalkeeper at Cardiff City. He was six feet, two inches tall, and powerfully built. When we did a few things in training I noticed that he was the quickest in the team, had the most powerful shot and could leap like a salmon. One particular time we were doing set-pieces and I watched him get above two centre backs and bullet a header into the top corner. I said to the staff afterwards ‘this boy could play up front’, but they all laughed.

“I had a chat with the goalkeeping coach and heard that Josh was not going to make it as a goalkeeper. He had a year left and I told Josh that his best chance was as a striker. Josh said he would go for it and the following season we did a lot of work with him as a centre-forward. He scored 15 goals in 22 games, got a professional contract, and got into Cardiff’s first-team squad.

“Then he got a move to Scotland and he’s done really well. He has got in Northern Ireland’s team and I am proud of it because I don’t think the lad would have made it as a footballer if we had not made that call. It was a brave call and a lot of people thought I was mad, but sometimes you have to trust your eyes. I’ve spoken to him since and he has acknowledged that he owes a few things to me. It was nice to play a part in someone’s life like that.”

Neal was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live in the build-up to last night’s Northern Ireland versus Greece match.

  Neal’s full update ahead of Oxford is on Dons Player and an interview with Sean Rigg will feature on our premium channel later.

Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff livepic.Picture credit:

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