It’s true what they say: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Okay, so describing Jamie McDonagh as Glentoran’s turndown is a bit of a stretch, you have to admit.
Still, there’s no denying that Cliftonville boss Paddy McLaughlin was the one to make the right-wing diamond shine brighter than ever.
That’s according to the man himself, who has bagged no less than 18 assists and six goals since joining Solitude in the summer; a direct involvement in an incredible 35% of his team’s goals.
The fact that five of his six goals have come in his last four games, including two outright goalscorers apiece against Linfield and Ballymena United, means he is unquestionably the Irish League’s man of the moment.
Rewind about six months, and few would have predicted such a comeback, not even McDonagh.
Moving to north Belfast he was coming off a frustrating first season in Irish League football, earning just six Premiership starts for the Glens and scoring just one goal, ironically a clinker against the Reds.
“I had a lot to prove to myself and to the league fans,” he says, conceding that his confidence “sort of disappeared” during last season at the Oval.
“I didn’t have a lot of playing time and I didn’t believe in myself anymore. Once that’s gone, it’s hard to go back. I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough to play in the Irish league.
“I am very grateful to Paddy for giving me the playing time I needed and I want to continue to thank him for believing in me.
“He gives me confidence in every game, as he does for every player. He gives me this free role to go and do whatever I want. I was like that too when I started in Derry, where I was very dependent on crosses in the box, which played into my hands. It’s up to the manager to play a game that suits me and that I’m good at.
During the conversation, McDonagh constantly refers her to her current boss as further proof of her gratitude.
And, therefore, it’s fair to suggest he didn’t quite have the same relationship with his former Oval boss Mick McDermott.
“The discussions I had with Mick and Windy (Paul Millar – assistant) were that they wanted me to stay and come back to the team,” he says of the opportunity to have played a another season at the Oval.
“I thought I was too far for that and it was better to move on because maybe they felt like I was coming off the bench as a team player, when I saw myself more as a holder.
“The manager may have his reasons and I may have mine. These things happen in football.
And, of course, like only human nature, when other people’s beliefs about your abilities don’t match yours, McDonagh admits there’s an element to proving those skeptics wrong.
“Yeah, a manager doesn’t define you as a player,” he says, revealing what has become his summer transfer mantra. “A coach’s opinion doesn’t mean you’re either a bad player or the best player in the world. People will have different opinions of you. The manager at Glentoran had an opinion of me and that didn’t matter. me a bad player It’s a game of opinions and finding that manager who rates you as much as Paddy rates me by the minute.
“That’s how it is. I don’t have any grudge against the manager of Glentoran or anything like that.
Better to use that energy focusing on the here and now, which is a much brighter thought anyway, especially following those howlers at Ballymena Showgrounds last Friday night so well they even received a retweet of the match of the day.
“It’s not like me,” he laughs.
“No, to be fair, I do a lot of shooting practice after training and I’ve done that since the start of the season, but it just seems like this month it finally clicked. They just fell on me and I connected well with them.
But there’s more to it, the sudden burst of goals, he explains, is due to the return of right-back Conor McDermott and a tactical adjustment to seemingly number one talking point Paddy McLaughlin.
“A lot of my game has been away this year; try to get one on one and put balls in the box,” the 25-year-old explains.
“Since McDermott has been back, Paddy has wanted him to play higher up the pitch and he kind of plays like a winger. That gives me the freedom to come in.
“Once you score the first goal, you start shooting more often and changing your arm a bit more. I’m in good form and they all seem to be hitting the back of the net at the minute.
If he can repeat the trick in tomorrow’s second-round draw at Carrick Rangers en route to a first Irish Cup success for the Reds since 1979, expect a statue to go up Cliftonville Road during the week.
“It was mentioned to us,” he says of what is now a 43-year wait.
“We’re not going to dwell on it too much. The story isn’t great but we really believe in ourselves and want to push for silverware this year. I hope we can stamp our authority on this part of history.
Of course, in order to win any sort of trophies these days, part-time clubs like Cliftonville now have to overcome full-time outfits at Linfield, Glentoran, Larne and Crusaders.
But having spent his early career in full-time environments like Sheffield United, Morton and Derry City, McDonagh says the gap between the two isn’t as big as some outsiders might think.
“The only difference is that they train in the morning rather than the evening and do a little extra gym work,” he said. “That’s probably why I didn’t want to go part-time because you have your gym sessions, your stats, your diet and everything is very professional.
“But since I’ve been at Cliftonville, we’ve been training three nights a week, which isn’t much different from what most full-time teams do; they have maybe an extra session on the court and probably two sessions in the gym. There’s not too much difference and I think it shows in the way we play.
“If you didn’t know anything about the league and looked at the teams, you would say maybe there are five or six full-time teams and I hope you would say we are one of them. I don’t think full time really matters and hopefully we’ve proven this season that we’re more than capable of taking on the top teams and competing.
But, of course, few would blame the Lisburn man for returning to that environment full-time in England or Scotland should the opportunity arise. Not that he’s too freaked out about it anyway.
“I would never say never,” he says.
“I’m happy where I am, but if the opportunity arose to go to England and it was the right deal for me and my family, I would be happy enough to do it. Saying that, if it doesn’t did not happen, I would also be satisfied with that.
“It’s about proving people that I’m good enough for this league and now I’m at the stage where people are talking about me which is good to see. I’m happy to prove people wrong and to prove to people that I’m good enough.
“I’m a Cliftonville player and I’m happy where I am.”
And amen to that, roared the crowd at Solitude. Cliftonville’s new treasure shines brightly.