IF the next generation of Millwall youngsters want some inspiration as they try to force their way into the first-team reckoning they don’t have too far to look.
When NewsAtDen phoned Danny McNamara on Tuesday afternoon he had just returned from the training ground – despite the first-team squad being given a few extra days off during the international break.
But that’s typical of McNamara, and of his team-mate Billy Mitchell, with manager Gary Rowett often referencing the youngsters’ attitudes and work ethic.
McNamara doesn’t want to let this opportunity slip. His loan at St Johnstone earlier this season was his fifth – after spells at Welling United, Dover, Havant & Waterlooville and Newport County – and he would encourage any young player to follow the same route.
That’s National League South to National League, and League Two to the Scottish Premiership, all with the goal of a Championship debut, which he achieved in January.
As well as playing senior football, McNamara, 22, moved away from home for the first time to live in Wales and then Scotland.
But he does admit that going to former Millwall assistant Callum Davidson’s Saints had an element of last-chance-saloon about it to prove to Rowett he was ready for Millwall’s first team.
“Yeah, kind of,” McNamara says. “I was a little bit anxious, nervous because I knew I had to do well up there. If I hadn’t done well I think my time at Millwall would have come to an end.
“Maybe not, maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the way I felt. Doing so well there boosted my chances of coming back and fighting for a position in the team.
“When I was up there it just got to a point where I was enjoying my football, enjoying playing how I usually play. It felt good to be out there.
“The way I’ve done it just shows you how loan spells can really help your career. I can’t stress enough to younger players coming through that if you’re not in and around the first team just go out and get games.
“Under-23s football is very good to a certain point, but then you’ve got to go, ‘right, I need to go out and play men’s games’.
“You need to get noticed and show you can play at that level just like I did.
“All you experience off the pitch helps you on the pitch, helps you become more of a man and more mature.
“When you’re around senior players you mature quicker and it all helps you out massively on the pitch.”
McNamara made his senior Millwall debut in the 2-0 FA Cup third-round win at Boreham Wood in January and then started the next six games, keeping Mahlon Romeo out of the team.
Romeo then returned and grabbed his chance as he started the next ten games, before McNamara was recalled last weekend and was part of a back five that kept a fifteenth clean sheet in the league this season.
It’s set to be a ding-dong battle between the right-sided defenders for the rest of the season.
“I was buzzing to get the call to go back in. I’d been out of the team for a few games but that’s just squad rotation,” McNamara says.
“Mahlon came in and did really well to earn his place back in the team. I’ve been working hard and I was happy to go back in on Saturday.
“I tried to give it my all and hopefully I can maintain it and keep my position.
“Seeing Millwall doing well is everything I want. I’m a Millwall fan so I know how much our performances and results mean to supporters.
“When I’m on the pitch I try to give it my all. And when I was on the bench I wanted the team to do well and get as many points as we could.
“I knew I was going to play against Boreham Wood but no matter how well I played I didn’t think I’d start the game against Bournemouth and then keep my place in the team.
“To do that was a proud moment for me and something I’ve worked so hard for. Hopefully I can have many more moments like that to come.
“Mahlon is a class right-back, he’s been at this club so long now and he’s experienced at this level. It shows how good of a pro he is when he came back in after being out of the team for seven games. He took his opportunity and kept me out of the team.
“It’s good to have healthy competition.”
McNamara and Mitchell are both on long-term deals and are set to be cornerstones of the side if they continue to progress and fulfil their obvious talent.
“I texted him after the game, I was buzzing that we’d been on the pitch together,” McNamara adds. “We’ve both come through at similar times, he’s a bit younger than me.
“To be on the pitch together showed how far we’d come and how hard we’d worked. I thought Billy did really well Saturday.
“[Under-18 managers] Larry McAvoy, Chris Perry and [head of academy] Scott Fitzgerald improved me so much as a player and it’s paid off now, I’ve got my chance in the first team.
“We’re the youth coming through and we want to be in the first team, be regular starters and push the club on.
“The future’s looking bright for the club.
“We don’t want to look down below us, we want to look above us. ‘Little Millwall’ people look at us as, we’re not the favourites [in most games] but we have the ability to finish in the top half of the table.
“That’s where we want to be and looking up.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to hates coming to Millwall. With the atmosphere it’s a very hostile ground, when the fans are there.
“As players we can’t wait for them to return. Especially me, I can’t wait to see a packed-out Den and hopefully being involved in it.
“That’s my dream.”
Image: Millwall FC