Belfast Telegraph

Leeds snub proved a blessing in disguise, says Oxford star Gavin Whyte

 

Eyes forward: Gavin Whyte is focused on performing in every game he can for both club and country
Eyes forward: Gavin Whyte is focused on performing in every game he can for both club and country

By Paul Ferguson

In-demand Northern Ireland winger Gavin Whyte believes last year's crushing disappointment of missing out on a proposed move to Championship giants Leeds United was a blessing in disguise.

The Elland Road club appeared to be leading the chase to sign the Irish League's hottest property from Crusaders 12 months ago before failing to come through with an expected bid, leaving Whyte in limbo.

League One outfit Oxford United came to Whyte's rescue, snapping up the Belfast lad on a three-year deal, offering him the chance to fulfil his dream of professional football in England.

The 23-year-old has repaid manager Karl Robinson's faith with some stunning performances, scoring nine goals in 47 appearances, while he also netted with his first touch on his international debut against Israel last September before winning three further caps.

Whyte's displays for club and country have certainly caught the eye of teams in the Championship, and it is understood Martin O'Neill's Nottingham Forest have tabled a £2m bid for his services.

However, Whyte is just pleased to have been given an opportunity to make an impact at Oxford as he feels he may have been left in the shadows if he joined Leeds.

"Last summer there was a lot of talk about interest from certain clubs," states Whyte, who admits he initially found it difficult to adjust to the life of a professional when he was living out of a suitcase at the start of the season.

"Leeds were one of the main ones mentioned and at the time I was working a lot with Decky (Caddell) and Leeper (Paul Leeman) and chatting to them.

"At that stage, Leeds was where I wanted to go because everyone knows they are a massive club and I knew Stuart Dallas.

"Obviously it's easy to say it now, but I know I made the right decision in the end going to Oxford because I played a lot of games in the first team and I'm really enjoying it.

"If I'd signed for Leeds I probably would have played a lot of Under-23 games and I may not have enjoyed it as much or progressed the way I have at Oxford.

"To be honest, I probably started a lot of games sooner than I expected and I then had a spell of scoring four goals in seven games, which helped my confidence.

"The goals dried up a bit after that, which was hard, but I had another spell at the end of the season when I scored my first hat-trick for Oxford.

"Overall, I think I have really improved every aspect of my game, but I know there is a long way to go.

"I can't for one second sit back and think I've made it, but I'd like to think I contributed to a decent season for the club."

Whyte's domestic chores are over for the summer with Oxford playing their last game at the start of May, but he still has two games to go on the international front.

Today he will fly in to Tallinn with his Northern Ireland team-mates from their Austrian training camp and he is desperate to play his part in making sure the men in green remain top of Group C going into the huge autumn games against Germany and Holland.

Whyte missed the opening two Euro qualifiers against Estonia and Belarus at Windsor through injury and Oxford boss Robinson would prefer his star man to be excused from these games as he believes the Seaview favourite needs to recover from chronic fatigue after a hectic debut season.

But Whyte insists he will be on the pitch at the A Le Coq Stadium this Saturday night if selected by manager O'Neill.

"It was difficult at the time seeing what Karl Robinson said but he's been great for me and only wants what is best for me," says a grateful, yet determined, Whyte.

"It was my first season and I played more games than I could have expected, and there were a few knocks along the way.

"But I want to play every game possible for Oxford and Northern Ireland and both managers know that.

"I've always been the same. It doesn't matter if it is the Crues, Oxford or international football, if I'm fit, I want to play.

"The medical staff at Oxford have been very happy with my fitness and I now feel a lot fitter than I was before."

Whyte has one international goal to his name but he could easily be sitting on four to match his caps tally after coming seriously close to scoring a brace against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it was only the brilliance of keeper Darren Randolph that denied him against the Republic of Ireland.

However, Whyte views his glass half full and therefore his mindset is only focussed on doubling his international account.

Whyte adds: "I've been able to get myself into some really good positions at the right times but haven't been able to convert the chances.

"Michael O'Neill has been brilliant with me. At training he talks to me a lot.

"He has told me to keep doing what I'm doing and the goals will follow. I've always had confidence in myself and it doesn't matter if I miss chances, I'll still be in there again if there's a chance.

"Everyone misses chances so I don't really dwell on it. It's just part of the game."

Leeds certainly missed an open, gaping goal when they failed to go through with the signing of Whyte last summer.

A year on, Whyte is only too happy Leeds were unable to pull the trigger.

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