Belfast Telegraph

Swifts sensation Mitchell has all the right goals to ensure his future success

By Graham Luney

Andrew Mitchell's sporting talent goes beyond the white lines of the football pitches in Northern Ireland where he has become the hottest player in the senior game.

In the summer months the Dungannon Swifts goal machine lurks menacingly behind batsmen in his wicketkeeping role for Waringstown, his hometown club.

The big Danske Bank Premiership clubs are scrambling to sign the boy who is leading the goalscoring charts with 18 this campaign, but away from the heat of battle he's a level headed lad who has three passions in life - football, cricket and teaching.

"I play a lot of cricket in the summer months and that's my other love outside of football," says Andrew who turns 23 on January 25.

"While I enjoy the football I also cherish my time on the cricket pitch playing for Waringstown.

"My brother James is 20 and he also plays for Waringstown. He made the Ireland Under-19 side so he's got sporting talent too!"

When not scoring for the Swifts, Mitchell is focused on his teaching degree at Stranmillis College and just as in his football career, he's quick to praise those who have had a positive impact on his life.

"My old Primary 6 teacher Timothy Brown at Waringstown Primary School gave me the passion for teaching, the knack for it, and he taught me the values that mean a lot to me," he adds.

"He was a big influence on me and he's inspired me to go into teaching. It's a crucial time in my career now as I want to graduate in June.

"I have a lot of self-belief as a footballer and while the chance to play across the water may arise I'm really focused on the final year of my teaching studies at Stranmillis College and I'm committed to working as hard as I can for the next six months to get that degree.

"A footballer's career is short so education and getting my qualifications is very important."

Glenavon want a reunion with the boy from Waringstown, Crusaders have tabled a significant offer and Linfield are also interested - but let's be brutally honest - every football club in the country would love to have Mitchell leading their attack.

In the last three seasons he has scored 42 league goals in 73 appearance for the Swifts.

He has scored more league goals in 2016 than any other player - 27 in 39 games.

This campaign he has scored 18 goals in 26 games in all competitions and also weighed in with six assists.

Stangmore Park chiefs have decided they don't want to sell the striker this month unless a "crazy" offer comes in.

And Mitchell is in no rush to go anywhere. When he does, you can be sure he will shed a tear.

"It's been a fantastic season for me so far and long may it continue," he says. "Hopefully Dungannon can finish in the top six and have a good run in the Irish Cup - we have a fifth round game against Dergview at Stangmore and it's a big one.

"I've been working very hard in training and in the gym. I've got to thank the manager, Rodney (McAree) and everyone at Dungannon for believing in me and having faith in me. It's important I pay tribute to him because he has been a huge help and scoring goals is a great feeling.

"I feel much stronger and fitter now than when I joined the club and I know that to be successful in this tough league you need to be serious about your preparation and looking after yourself.

"There may be more skilful leagues than the Irish League but you've got to be up for the physical battle.

"It's nice to be leading the scoring charts and it's nice when people acknowledge that but I must thank my team-mates as they have been creating the chances and I've tried to tuck them away. I was at Glenavon from the age of 15 to 18 and it was disappointing to leave at that time and go to Ards but in the grand scheme of things it was the right thing to do as I had a better opportunity of gaining first team football elsewhere. I've got a lot more experience in the Premiership now and things have worked out well.

"My primary focus is on scoring goals for Dungannon so the transfer speculation won't distract me. I'm happy to stay to the end of the season and then we'll see what happens."

Swifts boss Rodney McAree is immensely proud of Mitchell, recognising that his progress is down to hard work, ambition and drive.

"When Andrew first came to us he had a tendency to drift out to the left wing and be a left sided player but his knowledge and understanding of the game has really progressed and now he's a prolific centre forward," says Rodney. "There was a time when he struggled to get through 90 minutes but he's worked hard on his strength and fitness and that's no longer an issue. The boy has great stamina, whereas in the past he might have blown up on 75 minutes.

"I think he's got a really bright future and with a little luck he could play across the water. I believe our boys should play in the Irish League before making a move, like Liam Boyce has done, as they can develop physically. A lot of the young players in England and Scotland are physically stronger than our lads. The Irish League is a physical league and players develop at different rates. We have seen Niall McGinn and Gareth McAuley get a good education here and move across.

"But I'm delighted for Andrew, you couldn't meet a nicer fella and everyone's respect and admiration for him tells you how highly they rate him. He's a well brought up lad and I know there has been a lot of press speculation about his future but that won't affect him. He's too clever for that. Andrew will make the right decision for him when the time is right. The club has decided it doesn't want to sell Andrew in January so hopefully we can go on a good Irish Cup run with him and finish in the top six."

Irish FA Elite Performance coach Darren Murphy was at Stangmore when Mitchell rolled up as a raw talent and he's thrilled to see him mature into one of the game's best players while still only 22 years old.

"Like with a lot of young players you don't know how they are going to progress but Andrew really hit the ground running," said Darren. "It was going to take time but we saw a lot of potential there and it's a real thrill to see him develop.

"He's just a level-headed boy who loves football and wants to be a top player.

"He's had to juggle his cricket and football commitments but he has managed to do that very successfully and I'm not surprised by that. He comes from a good family.

"To score 18 goals this season is incredible and the Swifts are a club that has given players a chance and nurtured them, from Sean O'Neill and Craig McClean to Timmy Adamson, JP Gallagher and Jamie Tomelty."

Mitchell's summer move will be an interesting one but you can be sure this Waringstown wicketkeeper will be a 'brilliant catch' for one very lucky club.

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