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Interviews

Phone call put Rod’s career back on track

Wimbledon centre-back interviewed after his summer arrival

24 September 2018

During an interview for the Scunthorpe United programme, Rod McDonald talked about the moment when his life was transformed by a phone call back in 2013 from then Hereford United manager Martin Foyle.

Before then, Wimbledon's new centre-back was on the verge of moving into a completely different career as he contemplated working on the railways!

For those supporters that may have missed it, the full interview with Rod is reproduced in full below.

It was almost full steam ahead for Rod McDonald to move onto a completely different career path at the age of 20. Rod had just achieved his Personal Track Safety qualification to work on the railways, but Martin Foyle, then manager of Hereford United, offered him a chance to reignite a football career that had stagnated since he was released by Stoke City at the age of 17.

Following two seasons with Northern Premier League side Nantwich Town, during which he also worked part-time as a delivery driver, Rod opted to chase his dream job in football – and his decision paid off, as it led to promotion success with both Northampton Town and Coventry City.

"After dropping down to play in non-league you appreciate it massively when you get a chance to move back up," Rod said. "It's very different in non-league. I did a lot of delivery driving, partly because I was bored but also because I wanted to earn a bit of extra money. I was working for Expert Logistics, which involved dropping off washing machines and other goods. I did it for six months. I was getting paid decent money when I was playing part-time football, but I only trained on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I needed something else to do, apart from going to the gym.

"A week after I passed a course to do work on the railways, I got a call from Martin Foyle offering me a chance at Hereford. I thought the worst-case scenario would be that if I didn't make it, I could go back to the railways if things didn't go to plan."

Rod certainly didn't look back after making that choice, and he believes that the tough grind of playing against battle-hardened strikers has made him the player he is today.

"If you're a striker, you can have a good six months of scoring goals and then get a move back into the league. As a young defender I had to do it year in, year out. It was tough, but if you want to be a professional footballer you have to keep knocking on the door. I also played for Colwyn Bay in the Conference North. The ground was small, but we trained in Chester and it was mainly players from Liverpool, Manchester and Cheshire. We played in the Conference North, and it was a good group.

"I was playing non-league football from the age of 17. I had three spells with Nantwich, and I also played for Telford, and played about 150 games in non-league altogether. At 17 years of age, when you're not at your strongest, you come up against tough strikers. There would be pinching, and even biting, but they would get away with it! As a defender, you had to use your brain. I'm a big lad now, but I'm trying to be clever with my defending at the same time."

After earning regular first-team football this season, Rod is hoping to be a part of the club's long-term future, particularly with a move back to Plough Lane on the horizon.

"The manager, his staff, and the way they want to do things here were key factors in me moving to Wimbledon. With the plans for a new ground, you can see the way the club is trying to go. The club is aiming to push forward, and I want to be a part of that. I didn't know too much about the history of the club, but I think it's amazing that Wimbledon are just two leagues away from the Premier League. As a player you want to play as high as you possibly can. If you're going to just settle at a certain level, you might as well quit football.

"I had quite a few offers in the summer, including one or two clubs at this level and a couple in League Two. I contacted the manager at Coventry and asked what my situation was because there were clubs interested in me. I just wanted to know my situation. At first, I was told by the manager that he wanted me to stay, but when I went back it was the same as before. I wasn't sure if I fitted into the manager's plans, and it didn't look like I was going to be first choice. I just wanted to play regular football. I decided it would be best if I went elsewhere, and Wimbledon was the best option.

"I want to play as many games as I can here and show people what I'm about as a player. My first priority is to defend, but I like to get on the ball and play out from the back as well. I do a lot of work with Coxy and Reevesy. The manager, players and staff have all made me feel so welcome here, and I want to show people what I'm about."

There's no doubt Rod did that at Northampton Town, where he played a pivotal part in helping the Cobblers to a runaway League Two title success in 2016, the same season as Wimbledon's promotion via the play-offs.

"Martin Foyle was my manager at Hereford, and he got the job as Head of Recruitment at Northampton. Martin said to me, 'I want you to come down and show them what you're about.' I was on trial for about six weeks and then Chris Wilder signed me. I was originally brought in as back-up, but Chris told me that if I came in and did well I'd get the chance to keep the shirt. I ended up keeping the shirt, and it was probably the best season I've ever had. We won the League Two title and played some great football. Everyone got on with each other, the manager was a big influence, and it all worked well. We had quality players, and it was just a shame that when we did get promoted the team fell apart.

"My time at Coventry was a bit different. Mark Robins and Chris Wilder do things a lot differently! Mark Robins brought me in to try to help the club get promoted, and that's what we managed to achieve. I was a bit gutted not to play in the final at Wembley as I'd played every single game until the play-offs, but I was still buzzing that we got promoted."

The Liverpool-born defender's route into football as a child came about due to his elder brother Clayton, who started at Manchester City's academy before him. Clayton also became a professional footballer he now plays for Nantwich Town, and had has spells in the League with Port Vale and Walsall.

"My brother was at City's academy, and they asked me if I wanted to come in and train with the younger group. I got signed up and stayed there for two years, before going to Stoke. Obviously, Man City have gone from strength to strength, but I was at Stoke when the club got promoted from the Championship to the Premier League, and you could see how much it all changed. They were two good academies, where I developed my game and worked with good coaches, but Martin Foyle was the one who gave me my big break in professional football, and he is a major reason why I progressed in my career."

At the age of 26 and with so much experience of different levels under his belt, Rod's is a career that promises to go from strength to strength.


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