He wasn’t big enough to a hit at Charlton Athletic, but Neil McCafferty has been a big hit at Dungannon Swifts.
Doom and gloom surrounded Stangmore Park last season when they were on the brink of relegation. They’d lost the first-leg of a play-off against Donegal Celtic and hung on to their top flight status by the skin of their teeth after finishing bottom of the Irish FA Premiership.
Such has been the turnaround that manager Dixie Robinson is even dreaming of winning the league. A lofty ambition maybe, but with McCafferty on fire anything is possible.
He’s scored nine times this season and the two he grabbed in December — including a stunning free-kick in a Co-operative Insurance Cup quarter-final against Institute — helped the 25-year-old win the final Carling Northern Ireland Football Writers Player of the Month of the decade.
“I was at Charlton for six years, was captain at every level and was in the first-team squad at 16, but the breakthrough never came for me,” said the 5ft 7 midfielder.
“I never grew and I wasn’t big enough, but I loved it there and it’s a great club.
“I was unlucky because Charlton were in the Premier League the whole time I was there. After I left they were relegated and a lot of young players got a chance then, but I was gone.”
McCafferty arrived at Stangmore Park a year ago, after spells with Rushden & Diamonds, Derry City and Finn Harps.
And what’s been going on at the Swifts lately has helped get the Londonderry-man smiling again.
“I went to Rushden & Diamonds, had a year there and enjoyed it and then Stephen Kenny talked me into coming home to Derry City,” said McCafferty.
“I’d 14 months left on my contract at Rushden & Diamonds and when I look back now I wish I’d never left.
“I was injured when I signed for Derry and that didn’t help things.
“Then I went from Finn Harps, where I got relegated, to Dungannon where we nearly got relegated, so it was a bad few months for me.
“This year’s just been great though. We’ve a good squad with a good team spirit and what we’ve done just shows what you can do with that.
“It’s hard to say one thing was right and one thing was wrong. Winning has changed things because that puts a smile on your face for starters.”
Meanwhile Matthew Burrows picked up the Ladbrokes.com Championship Player of the Month gong after smashing in ten goals and two hat-tricks for Loughgall.
Burrows will now hope to maintain his excellent form back at Glentoran.