GAWA: TWO Ns – ONE E – ONE I. Josh Magennis – a journey travelled.

Northern Ireland

“He is our captain and leader, and whenever Michael’s not around whatever he says goes. I’m not going to start questioning him on the pitch”.

In the flurry of post – match sound bites floating around after the seventh round of European World Cup qualifying matches, the above could get lost in the quotational haze. It is an interview from double goalscorer Josh Magennis after Northern Ireland’s 3-0 win over San Marino. The press were somewhere between the reasonable question of wondering if there had been a chance of captain and penalty taker Steve Davis letting him get a hat -trick on the award of the penalty, and cheekily trying to see if there was discord over Davis’ decision to take it himself.

On the surface, Magennis’ answer is straightforward enough, but there is so much more to it if you know the central characters involved and the hinterland to the Northern Ireland team. Before we get to that the first thing that strikes me is how far it is from what I see sometimes in the Premiership where it is about “me” and not the team. How many times have I watched some narcissist in shorts fight and argue for the ball after a penalty award, so he can do a stupid dance and tweet some nonsense on his ‘mechine’. Never mind the team. Never mind how it looks. Never had a mind.

But his statement says a huge amount about him, and his respective captain, team, manager and the culture ingrained.

Josh Magennis probably will never get to play in the Premiership. I’m sure he would love to and the hard work he has put in all his life to get to his place today is exactly the sort of stuff to propel him further. He is a lad who was nearly reduced to playing rugby as he was struggling as a goalkeeper. This is the journey he has travelled, yet he is the sort of guy who is the absolute antithesis of some of the ridiculous characters that can be found at the top end of modern football.

Magennis is a footballing embodiment of character and charisma. He simply never stops smiling for a start. If he ever in the afterlife was to end up in the warmer accommodation, I could easily imagine him having a pint with Beelzebub in Hell’s snug bar.

“Hey Satan, pint of bitter is it, – don’t suppose you have it on cold draught down here?” and laughing at his own double joke.

He’s that sort of character. He is fun in green and white. I have heard it said that he is ‘good to have around the place’ in reference to his various international squad inclusions. This is where it can get easy to dismiss him. The media gravitate to him due to this cheerful, bouncing, extrovert nature. In earlier days he and Kyle Lafferty were seen as the squad’s Chuckle Brothers and that was and still is true. He has been in and around the squad since 2010 but both players have diverged a little.

Josh for many years was the squad’s major back up to the forward line – filling in where he could around Healy, Lafferty, Paterson, McKay, Ward, Washington, Grigg and Boyce. Snatching the odd substitute’s role he rarely ever started a game and the fans never got to see him in extended play. He had a dubious first touch and was more enthusiastic than effective.

But for all his fun and frolics there is deep substance to this guy. The first time I realised there was more to him than I thought was the away game in 2015 to the Faroes. It had been a game which we were struggling in and were huffing away sat at 1-1. It is generally accepted that their sending off more than helped us over the line in our 3-1 win, but Magennis’ performance in the twenty three odd minutes he was on struck me as being very pertinent.

Within three minutes he had earned himself a booking and then after a strong run forced the keeper to just about turn a shot onto the post. This was followed by good work on the edge of the box to cross in for Lafferty to get the match closing third goal. ‘Go on and make a difference Josh’.

This incremental contribution, of course, continued with the all important second goal in the history making match v Greece a month later to qualify for the Euros. Whilst at the Euros, his defiance of his team and nation in taking on the defence to cross for Niall McGinn’s goal rather than kill the ball v Ukraine has gone into legend. Construction, competence and confidence.

There is a famous photograph from that goal aftermath of the players celebrating it. The expression of Magennis, front and centre is that of a man, who knew his contribution. It also tells of his knowing his team’s moment. It tells of his knowing what it meant to the support, primarily because he is a supporter himself. It also tells me that there is more to come from him and that team. That picture tells you all you need to know about Magennis and his team.

Since then he has become a force in other ways. In Hanover he was trusted to be the lone outball against Germany and indeed gave Hummels and Boateng a run for their money. He has also become a physical force on the right wing and his throw – ins are  part of our aerial armoury. His break and pass through to enable Liam Boyce to score in the friendly against New Zealand was not quite appreciated due to Boyce’s classy finish. His two goals v San Marino were full of anticipation, desire and presence. In short, he is now an integral part of the starting line – up.

Thus the interview. Interview?- he should have his own chat show. The other reason the media gravitate to him is because he is so articulate. In interviews, he talks very holistically about his place in football in context to life. He can think outside the football bubble and he knows how lucky he is. He takes it all in and this shows on and off the pitch. He replicates along with the rest of the NI squad the culture of O’Neill. It is done naturally. Do not underestimate the power this gives to this team.

Go back to that quote at the beginning. It is not about him but the team. He asked because he is now senior and confident enough to do it, but deep down he would have been disappointed if Davis had agreed. The team is still not that strong that they can self- indulge, for they are professional and do the right thing. Self – indulgence isn’t really their thing anyway.

Right question, right answer, right response.

As I mentioned in another article, players are custodians of the shirt and many travel through them. Some players leave the shirt in better condition than when they found it.

Josh Magennis- that’s with an ‘e’, not an ‘i’. You know just like the saying- no ‘i’ in team.