Magilton knows the end is nigh

JIM Magilton returns to Sheffield Wednesday for the first time tomorrow, knowing the end of an eventful four-year Ipswich Town career is nigh.

JIM Magilton returns to Sheffield Wednesday for the first time tomorrow, knowing the end of an eventful four-year Ipswich Town career is nigh, writes Derek Davis.

His silky midfield passing skills earned him the nickname 'Magic' from the Town faithful, who he describes as the best and most loyal set of fans he has played for.

After starting as an apprentice at Liverpool, he joined Oxford, Southampton then Sheffield Wednesday before Ipswich paid a bargain £685,000 for him in March 1999 following a loan spell.

His hat-trick in the play-off semi-final against Bolton was part of one of the most memorable nights at Portman Road and Magilton played at Wembley in the final and for most of the successful Premiership season.

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But the 33-year-old's contract expires in July and given the parlous state of the club at the moment it is unlikely he, and the three other players who will come to the end of their current deals, will be kept on.

If that were to be the case, Magilton would leave with no regrets and a kit-bag full of happy memories.

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He said: "I have had a wonderful four years on the whole. I want to thank the fans and other players who have helped me get through the low times on and off the pitch.

"These are the best set of fans I have ever played under without a shadow of a doubt.

"They are the most loyal set of supporters I have ever known and what is astonishing to me is the spectrum of supporters. They range from babies to grandparents and that really surprised me. But they have all been wonderfully supportive and I have had a wonderful, wonderful time here.

"The reality is the club are unlikely to be able to offer me anything and I understand and have to accept that."

With 175 appearances and 14 goals under his belt since his arrival, Magilton has enjoyed a new lease of footballing life after former Owls boss Danny Wilson virtually exiled him over personal differences.

The proud and genial Irishman said: "It has been an emotional and fantastic four years.

"Towards the end at Sheffield Wednesday under Danny it was awful for me, training all week and then not getting a game at the end of it was crushing, so my job satisfaction was zero.

"George (Burley) gave me the platform here to play and after missing out in the play-offs in my first year it was absolutely amazing the following year.

"It was a fantastic experience which will live with me forever. But that wasn't enough for us, it was a means to an end. We had a set of players who were hungry for success who wanted to do well for the club and for each other.

"It was no fluke that we did so well in the first year of the Premiership, we were a decent side and deserved it.

"After such a high the following year was such a dramatic low. Yet even then we were playing in Europe which was a fantastic experience. You want to play at every level and playing in Europe had not been on my CV before then. It was also brilliant for these lads who had not played international football to experience going abroad and competing.

"It was a great buzz and we were on a crest. It was excellent which makes what has happened since even sadder."

Magilton was handed a free transfer last summer after Burley left him out for the last nine games of the relegation season.

A well-documented family illness made it a stressful time for the whole-hearted and committed midfielder whose form had been affected, not helped by an operation the previous summer to strip veins in his legs.

He said: "I had a stop-start season last year so I made a conscious effort to get myself fit last summer and had a good pre-season, whereas the year before I was always trying to play catch- up and in the Premier League if you are not fully fit you are going to be caught out.

"There were a few family things going on and then the club said I could go on a free but there was no way I was going to leave.

"It made me even more determined to do well, I had something to prove and more to give and I was desperate for another chance.

"My contract is up in the summer so given the club's position, which I fully understand, I know it probably needs another manager to come in and say they want you.

"In an ideal world I would prefer to stay but there are no guarantees and I accept that. It may even be a case of moving back to the north-west, it just depends on who shows an interest.

"One thing is for sure and that it I want to carry on playing, I just love it and I still have plenty of enthusiasm."

His will to win is evident in his actions on the pitch and he is refusing to give up the fight for a play-off place, although he accepts the team need to put a few things right before they can find a consistent winning streak.

He said: "It is about perseverance. If we carry on doing the right things and it is just about the finishing, we can work on that on a daily basis. We have to take responsibility and take the chances when they come.

"Too often this season we have been on top of teams and not scored and then ended up dropping points.

"Even so, there is a belief here that with 10 games to go we have to go on and win every game and hope Wolves slip up, so it is out of our hands to an extent."

The first of the final countdown of 10 games starts with a return to Hillsborough, for the first time in four years.

He said: "I'm looking forward to it although it was not the most pleasant experience last time I was there. But looking back I'm glad I did it.

"I went there because I felt at the time I was going to a bigger club than Southampton and thought they could push on a bit more.

"I gained a lot working under different managers, David Pleat and Peter Shreeves, good managers good coaches, then Big Ron Atkinson came in and that was an experience and finally for me Danny Wilson.

"There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes which have now come to the fore and it is very sad to see the situation now."

Ironically after leaving Wednesday as a Premiership side, they are now scrapping to stay in Division One, while Steel City rivals United are in the FA Cup semi-finals and look firmly entrenched in a play-off place.

Magilton recognises the irony: "For so long it was the reverse but now they are living in the shadow of Sheffield United. It is a passionate city for its football and they want to see Wednesday back in the Premiership but they are a long way off that now.

"I don't know Chris Turner too well but Tommy Miller, who knew him at Hartlepool, speaks highly of him and he has been getting results of late.

"I would love to see them stay up but it is going to be really tight. They have enough in the locker to do it and they have been on a good run so they will be confident they can get something out of the game with us. Trust us to go there now when they are doing so well."

Like Alan Shearer, Magilton feels retiring from international football has given him a new lease of life at club level. He has played in 36 of the 48 Town games this season and doesn't regret calling time on his Northern Ireland career after more than 50 caps and finishing as his country's captain.

"It was a huge part of my life. I was associated with them for 12 years and enjoyed every second.

"Although I was skipper at the time I felt, with a new campaign starting with the European Championships, it was time to stand aside and let the younger ones come through.

"With my son not too good at the time the decision was made to spend more time with him and the family and not be away for extra games and Sammy McIlroy was superb with me and very understanding.

"It also meant I was fresher for Ipswich and I have ended up playing far more games than I expected, especially under George Burley who had made it clear I was not first choice.

"Being put on a free made me even more determined to show my worth and then Joe came in and he has been really supportive and has lifted me with the confidence he has showed in me.

"Not playing in those last nine games in the Premiership last season made me appreciate things a lot more and while being relegated is not a good thing to have on your CV, it certainly made me appreciate just what we achieved before that. Our fall from grace has been dramatic and coupled with what has gone on for me off the pitch things have not been comfortable."

Magilton is likely to get a hugely appreciative reception from the Wednesday faithful but he knows the only way to stay with the team and fans he now loves is to send the home support home unhappy and defeated.

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