Patrick McLaughlin

Very shortly, Newcastle United will announce their annual retained list with several players - mainly youngsters - set to learn that their future lies elsewhere.
Former Magpies Reserve team captain Patrick McLaughlin was released last year and knows just how hard it is to take the bad news but, fresh from winning at Wembley twice with York City last month, he tells DAN KING why those shown the door shouldn't give up... 

Peter Beardsley's words were the ones which Patrick McLaughlin had desperately hoped not to hear, but deep down had half-expected that he might: "Unfortunately, we're going to let you go."

It was a crushing blow to the then 20-year-old, who had left his friends and family in Larne, Northern Ireland, as a teenager to follow his grandfather's dream of seeing him become a professional footballer. He had impressed sufficiently while playing for the Newcastle's Academy sides to sign a professional contract in 2008, had progressed to captain the Reserve team, but it was the end of the road for him on Tyneside.

A few months later Beardsley, his former coach and one he still hugely respects, was talking to McLaughlin again. This time, however, it was with a message of congratulations. At the end of the young midfielder's first season with York City, he had just played - and won - at Wembley twice in the space of eight days as the Minstermen won the FA Trophy and the Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final.

With the release of United's retained list imminent, any young player shown the door by the Magpies could do far worse than look to McLaughlin for inspiration and advice.

"I've spoken to some them already about it," says the now 21-year-old with two Wembley winners medals on his mantelpiece. "I've just said to work hard and try every avenue you can. And always believe in yourself because it's a time, when you've just been released, that people are saying 'you can't take him, he's not got any experience, he's not played enough games, he's done this, he's done that.'

"It's a time when you really need to be strong and believe in your own ability, and know that eventually someone will take a chance on you. Then it's up to you to prove them right."  

Most of the players who will not be offered new contracts by Alan Pardew this summer have already have been notified, with several Newcastle youngsters already having had trials elsewhere. McLaughlin admits it is an uncertain time for anybody - one which he could not bear to draw out any longer than necessary.

"At the end of March last year, I think, or early April I phoned 'Pedro' (Beardsley) one day and just said 'can I come in for a meeting?'," he explains.

"It was a day off, it was a Wednesday, but he said 'yeah, no worries, I'll meet you at the training ground' and when I got there I just said 'look, I just want to know what's happening next year so that I can start getting my head around it and start to move forward if I'm going to here next year or not."

And then came Beardsley's words.

Professional as ever, McLaughlin skippered the second-string to a 4-0 win over Blyth in the Sage Northumberland FA Senior Cup final at St. James' Park. The club helped him by compiling a video of him in action to show prospective employers, while Beardsley and Willie Donachie recommended him to other clubs. But as he left with a signed shirt, a head full of happy memories and a hernia injury, the road ahead was uncertain.

"It was tough," he admits. "It was tough because I'd been there for four years, but it's one of those things. You've just got to take it on the chin and you've got to just think, 'well I'm going to go and show people what I can do.'

"It is hard. I've seen players go out of the game. There was eight or ten released the year before I was and there were another three or four alongside me, and a lot of them have gone out of the game, a lot of them are finding it hard to get clubs and stuff.

"That's obviously the worry: that you won't manage to get anywhere. But you've just got to believe in yourself, work hard and hope that something does come up - and if you get the chance, grab it with both hands.

"In the end, if I'm honest, it's probably worked out well for me. It's beyond what I expected at this time last year. From nobody really believing in you, it's a time when you have to dig deep and believe in yourself, work hard and eventually something comes up.

"If you want it enough and you work hard enough, you eventually get there and I think this season has been a good first step to hopefully getting there.

"To play at Wembley is an unbelievable experience. It's surreal on the day - you sort of have to pinch yourself to know that you're actually there - but you've just got to go and enjoy it and I really did."

In the FA Trophy final on Saturday, 12 May, Gary Mills' men beat Newport 2-0 with McLaughlin involved in the killer second, scored by Lanre Oyebanjo. Then City went back to the famous stadium on Sunday, 20 May to beat Luton 2-1 and secure a return to the Football League.

"Those eight days between the Trophy final on the Saturday through to the play-off final on the Sunday were immense - and so have the last ten days celebrating it!," laughs McLaughlin, his voice still a little hoarse.

"I had messages from Fergie (Shane Ferguson), Stephen Folan got in touch, Jeff Henderson got in touch... and Pedro got in touch. I've had a lot of support from the lads up there, which is always nice.

Patrick McLaughlin

"The last couple of weeks have been a bit surreal and I don't even know if they've sunk in yet, to be honest. The place has been absolutely buzzing; when we won the Trophy we had a little civic reception and people were starting to get excited for the play-off final coming up.

"We had two good turn-outs fans-wise at Wembley for the two finals, and then we had an open top bus on the Monday after the play-off final and the turn-out for that was outstanding. The streets were completely packed with flags and banners and all sorts.

"It seems to have swept the city along and there's a real big buzz about the place about going forward.

"It was their eighth season in the Conference so the aim from day one was to get promoted. That's one of the things that sold it to me when I came to meet the gaffer and have a chat with him about signing; the fact that they wanted to get promotion and I wanted to be part of it.

"To actually go and do it was phenomenal. Winning the Trophy was a little added bonus - you've got to win as much as you can and like anyone else, when I retire I want to turn around to my kids and grandkids and say 'there's what I won in my career, I won a stack of trophies and medals.' You're remembered for what you've won."

Last season, his first in senior football, McLaughlin played 55 games in all competitions, scoring 13 goals and providing 14 assists.

"If you'd offered me that at the start of the season I'd definitely have taken it, but part of that's down to the manager because he's given me the chance," he says.

"I was really a defensive midfielder at Newcastle but the manager has given me the chance to play a bit more advanced - even at times to play in the hole, just behind the strikers. And it's brought out a side of my game which was always there but never really got a chance to flourish at Newcastle because of the position I played there.

"But that's the way I played when I was a kid and I've got the chance to go back to that, and it seems to be working well for me."

He's on a roll and so are York. Last month also saw permission granted for a new community stadium for the club and now they're aiming to continue their winning streak in the league above.

"With the squad we've got, the players we've got and the style of football we play, I think League Two will suit us," says McLaughlin.

"The higher you go, the more football that's played and we do like to put the ball on the floor. There's three automatic promotion places and then the play-off places so there's no reason why we can't aim to do back-to-back.

"Crawley did it last year, Stevenage did it the year before so you never know. That'll be the objective - play-offs at least. We'll see what signings are made in the summer and see what happens. But last season will be hard to repeat..."