Mark McGuinness: the rising Irish star who spurned England to play for the Boys in Green

Mark McGuinness is a man on the rise.

For many, leaving the club where you grew up for more than nine years, without playing a senior competitive game, may mean a degree of failure, but for Mark McGuinness it is anything but.

Born and raised in Slough, England, McGuinness qualifies to play for the Boys in Green as his father is from Derry.

A talismanic defender in his own right, McGuinness played for Arsenal as a youth, before a League One loan to Ipswich Town gave him a taste of first-team football.

And he didn’t look back.

“I had been there since I was 10, but it was a no-brainer for me to leave Arsenal.”

Last summer, however, McGuinness left the north London club, looking to find his feet in first-team football after whetting his appetite at Portman Road. On the contrary, he has more than found his feet in Cardiff City.

Under Mick McCarthy at the start of the season, and now with current boss Steve Morison, McGuinness has established himself as one of the highest rated prospects in the Championship. Although he went somewhat under the radar while doing so.

But his impressive start to life with the Bluebirds acts as something of a vindication for the young defender who could very well find himself in the Premier League sooner rather than later.

“I had been there since I was 10, but it was a no-brainer for me to leave Arsenal,” he explained. “I had that loan spell at Ipswich and racked up 25 games, and I had that spell of first-team football.

“It’s completely different from academy football. There’s a huge difference and I didn’t want to go back on that. Arsenal are obviously an amazing club, and I had been there since I was 10.

“But it was a no-brainer to go and play at a higher level. Then Cardiff came along and I took the opportunity.

“Mick has been amazing with me..”

As mentioned, McGuinness initially teamed up with a former Irish boss, Mick McCarthy in Cardiff, where he upped his game considerably.

“Mick has been amazing to me. I have to thank him for bringing me to Cardiff and giving me the opportunity to go and play in the Championship.

“Obviously in football it’s ruthless not to get results, but I really enjoyed working with him and Terry Connor.”

Mick McCarthy PA Cardiff

In another era, McGuinness could find himself in an Irish senior team, rather than an Irish U21 side given his current form.

But he’s not letting that distract him, given his sheer opportunity to play for the Boys in Green.

“That’s the goal of going to play in the senior team,” he explained. “But my aim is for it to be a huge honor to play for the Irish U21s.

“We have a big job to do this month and in June, so I’m looking forward to being involved now. Whatever happens after that, happens.

Naturally, given his stock, McGuinness fended off approaches from England and Northern Ireland, with his unwavering commitment to Ireland.

“There was always interest, and other things,” he explained. “But my heart has always been determined to play here.

Mark McGuinness Clinton Morrison

When I was younger, of course. It’s difficult because when you’re a young player at Arsenal there are always people asking questions. But I was very clear where I wanted to go and play. It was here.

“I had conversations with [Stephen Kenny] before and that’s exactly it. This [senior call-up] will come, I hope. But right now, 21 is where I’m focusing in these next few games.

“You want to play against the best players, and they are some of the best in the world.”

But it’s not just in the Championship where McGuinness excelled, he also impressed in the FA Cup, in Cardiff’s cup run.

Key to that was a clash against Liverpool at Anfield, where the Bluebirds were thrashed by Jurgen Klopp’s side despite a spirited performance.

On Merseyside, McGuinness watched Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino play, with Virgil van Dijk making his presence known in the heart of the Reds defence.

“It was a certain experience, but you really only think about it after the game,” he explains. “That’s the level you want to be at. There are top players there. It was a great experience for us.

“You want to play against the best players, and they are some of the best in the world. You can just see the quality there [from Firmino and Jota]but we played well.

“We definitely held on in the first half, but their quality shone in the second half. But playing against that was a great experience for us. It was fantastic.

Quiz

“Van Dijk is an incredible defender and one of the best in the world,” he added. “To look back on the game, you don’t realize then it’s top class. You can see the level, and why it’s at the level it is.

“When he puts the ball down he is very calm and reads the game well. He has a quick step. He may look slow, but the way he reads the game and the position of his body… His presence on the ground, it really shows.

For now, however, McGuinness is looking forward to his final shot at international football with the Boys in Green at U21 level. Ireland take on Sweden on Tuesday night at the Boras Arena.

ireland u21 v luxembourg

Kick-off is at 5:00 p.m. in the crucial European qualifiers.

Read more about: Cardiff City, Mark McGuinness, Mick McCarthy, Stephen Kenny