EXCLUSIVE: David McGoldrick is the teenage prodigy now blossoming in his thirties… after being sold by Notts County aged 16 due to their financial troubles, the veteran striker is back and scoring goals where it all began

David McGoldrick always promised himself that one day he would return to Notts County. Back where he started as a ball boy, made his first team debut while still at school and was then sold at the age of 16 to keep the club alive.

“I know it’s a sentimental story,” says the 35-year-old. “I’ve always said I wanted to come back and there aren’t many times in football when you say something like that and see it actually happen, but it’s not just sentiment. It’s about my career and I really thought coming home, back to Notts County, was the best thing for me at the moment.

“They were back in the EFL and I wanted to be part of the journey. A two-year contract gave me some security and things are going so well. I learn from a fantastic manager. There is a great group of players. No egos. I’m enjoying every minute of it.’

For a time in May 2022, McGoldrick thought his playing career had reached its natural end. He was out for three months due to injury, his contract with Sheffield United was up and his phone was cold.

After making a Premier League debut at the age of 31, scoring goals in the top flight and winning 14 caps for the Republic of Ireland, he was ready to accept that his time might be up.

David McGoldrick is scoring goals again where it all started at his boyhood club Notts County

The experienced striker is relishing his return to the club where he grew up as a ball boy before being sold as a 16-year-old

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“I didn’t know if I wanted to continue,” he says. ‘My phone hasn’t rang for three weeks. I thought that was me. Then I saw people I knew going back to prep and thought, “No, I’m not done yet.” I got up and got myself going again.”

McGoldrick joined Derby County and scored 25 goals in 45 appearances. Didzy, as he has been nicknamed since school, is the teenage prodigy who blossoms in his thirties.

“I came into the Premier League at an age when people normally come out,” he smiles. ‘Then I started playing well. I can’t attribute it to anything other than hard work, the way I live my life and maturing as a person.

‘I have learned to let go of always trying to be a footballer, to accept that you cannot change the results afterwards and to find other things that make you happy. I enjoyed being a parent.

‘When I was younger, I had a hard time dealing with the low points. Do not play. I see young players on social media immediately after the match. I don’t know why you would do that. Negative comments will happen. If Messi and Ronaldo receive negative comments, why should it be any different for any other footballer?

The 35-year-old has had a good start to the season with six goals from his first thirteen games

“Work hard, be true to yourself and good things will come to you. That’s what I learned later in my career.’

With such wisdom, it’s no wonder Derby boss Paul Warne wanted to keep McGoldrick in the Pride Park dressing room, but the lure of Meadow Lane was already working its magic.

“I had watched Notts County from a distance and attended a few matches,” he says. ‘I was at Wembley with my friends for the play-off final. My heart is in my mouth with the punishments. We celebrated this with a Burger King at the M1 services.’

Then came the call from manager Luke Williams. ‘He made it clear he wanted me. I made it clear to him that I wanted to come back and we found a way to make it work.” McGoldrick signed in June. In some ways, but not all, it was like turning back the clock twenty years.

“Same place, same smell, same everything,” he says. ‘Familiar faces at the main entrance and the ground staff, but a completely different atmosphere. They were all buzzing with promotion.

He scored 22 times for Derby in League One last year but was delighted to join Notts County and help them fight for promotion

‘There was a bit of carnage when I was there before. Financially it was a difficult time for the club. I was still in grade 11 at school when I made my debut. Had to take Friday off to train with the team and travel to Bournemouth, then started on Saturday.

“It was a crazy time, but I was just a kid, so I didn’t really worry until towards the end of the season they told me they were selling me because they needed the money.

‘I was an asset. I was told they had done a deal with Tottenham. Then it was Southampton and Everton. I decided to go to Southampton but it all came down to the money. They got half a million up front, I think, and that helped the club.’

McGoldrick joined Southampton’s youth academy and reached the FA Youth Cup final in 2005, as part of a team that included Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Adam Lallana.

McGoldrick – who was a Premier League striker at Sheffield United in 2021 – insists there is ‘no limit’ to where County can go

But it was also the start of a troubled decade. There were three loan moves, including six games back at Notts County, and a £1 million move to Nottingham Forest, followed by three more loans, including 16 goals in 22 games for Coventry.

This was followed by five and a half years at Ipswich before the late blossoming at Sheffield United. To be back home in Notts County, fighting for promotion from League Two and trying to return the league’s oldest club to its former glory seems a perfect way to come full circle.

“There is no limit to where the club can go,” McGoldrick said, speaking at an after-school Kicks session at the Southglade leisure center in the city’s north as part of the EFL Community Week of Action.

‘It is a club on the rise and yes, with the status of the club and an attendance of 15,000 we should be higher. It won’t happen overnight.

“I hope people don’t think we can just keep climbing and without hard work, but hopefully good times will come.”


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