Chesterfield midfielder Marc McKenna is aware of the challenge facing the youth team when they take on York City tomorrow (11am).
McKenna was in the side when the two teams met in November, which saw the Minstermen come away with a 2-0 victory at Clay Cross, but he’s confident of the Spireites coming out on top tomorrow.
He said: “The last time we played York it was basically a few first year scholars playing and U16s so we had a really young side out on that day. They beat us 2-0, but it was actually a tight game.
“They’re a physical side who like to put the ball in behind us, but as long as we stick to our normal plan, start brightly then we’ll have more than enough quality to win the game.”
McKenna is in his first year with the club after signing in June, and while he’s enjoying life at the Proact, he’s honest enough to admit that his performances have fell below the standards he sets.
“I think I could have been better than I have,” the Northern Irishman said.
“But that’s something that I can build on in the next few weeks and next season as well. I’m a first year player but I want to play as many minutes as I can to prove that I’m good enough to stay here.”
“I think everyone has to want to succeed, you have your critics in your managers and coaches and people like that, but if you’re not going to be more critical of yourself in your own performance then you’re setting yourself standards that aren’t really achievable.
“If you’re not setting yourself high standards then you’re not going to improve.”
The 17 year-old faces stiff competition for a place in Mark Smith’s midfield but believes it can only benefit him and help bring out his many qualities.
“I think that my strengths are my passing and getting forward to assist and score goals,” he said. “I see myself as an attacking midfielder rather than a more defensive one – though obviously I need to do defensive work as well to make my overall game better.
“We’ve got a lot of good midfielders with second years Jack [Brownell] and Joe [Rowley], then we have myself, Aaron Sennett and Charlie Wakefield. There’s also George Lynam who can play there. So there’s loads of competition there, which I think is a good thing as it encourages people to play better,” he
McKenna joined Chesterfield last June along with fellow Northern Irishman Josh Tipping. He was spotted by Chesterfield at the Mayo Cup in Southern Ireland, representing his country.
He explained: “Chesterfield had a team involved at the Mayo Cup and I played against them, from there both Josh and I were asked to come over for a trial, I was on trial for a week, and at the end of it I was offered a scholarship.”
The teenager has been involved in the Northern Ireland set up since he was 12. He was recently involved in the Northern Ireland U17s European qualification campaign where they narrowly missed out but he feels he’s reaped the benefits from his international experience.
“Recently we had the European Qualifiers in Belfast,” he said. “We played against Slovakia, Spain and San Marino, and unfortunately we didn’t qualify. We were beating Slovakia with four minutes to go, but we conceded two, so that would have been us into the elite stage in March, but hopefully we’ll have
another go at that next year if I get into the U19 squad.”
“It’s different playing at international level because you only meet up the lads for maybe two or three times a year, it’s a different type of game but just as good.”
The midfielder is part of a strong core of Irish lads in the Youth Team set up which has made the transition easier. He is happy with how things are going and is hoping to stay beyond his scholarship.
He said: “My main aspiration is to get a professional contract here. I’ve sacrificed a lot coming here on a two year scholarship.
“I’ve not come here just to stay for two years, I want to stay here as long as I can and then in the future play at the highest level possible.”
As a Liverpool fan, McKenna’s role model in football is Steven Gerrard and he’s hoping to one day play at the level he did. He also has players he looks up to a lot closer to home and has welcomed all the advice given to him at Chesterfield.
McKenna said: “I’ve not really trained with the first team, but they’ve been in and around us and they’ve had a few talks with us, advising us what we need to do and how we can get close to the first team and match what they do.
“The likes of Ian Evatt have told us about the sacrifices that we need to make, work hard and put everything else we need to rather than being complacent.
“The players have told us how hard it is, even the younger professionals like Derek Daly – who I’ve been pretty close to as he’s Irish – so it’s good to get an insight into how hard it is.”