Ex-Derry City winger Stephen McLaughlin aims for Wembley joy again
Former Derry City winger Stephen McLaughlin is hoping for Wembley joy for a second time when Mansfield Town take on Port Vale in the Sky Bet League Two playoff tomorrow afternoon.
The 31-year-old, who netted Mansfield’s winner in their play-off semi-final second leg win at Northampton, was in the Southend United team which defeated Wycombe Wanderers in the 2015 EFL League Two play-off final and a repeat result on Saturday would do nicely.
McLaughlin concedes getting the chance to play at Wembley for a second time is something special, but to win again would be unreal.
“I have been there once and won so hopefully it will happen again,” he insisted.
“These games are one off games, where anything can happen, so you have to go there and have no regrets and see where it takes you. You win or you might lose, but you just have to give it your all and see what happens and that’s all we can do.
“Whenever you were younger playing football everybody talked about Wembley, it’s the national stadium of England.
“It’s a massive, massive stadium and I think everybody involved in football knows how hard it is to get there and I think we need to be proud of ourselves to get there after the run we had at the start of the season and to get to Wembley is incredible for the team, but now that we are there we obviously want to win.”
The talented winger, who this season has slotted into left-back for Nigel Clough’s side really has rolled back the years and has had a fantastic campaign.
The Isle of Doagh native picked up four player of the year awards for the Stags’ but he concedes the Players’ Player of the Year accolade is special to him.
“That meant a lot to me,” he added. “Any player will tell you that to get player’s player of the year is a massive achievement with fellow players voting for you to say you’ve had a good season.
“I have been in England nearly 10 years now and I have never picked up this many awards. I have had a good season, probably one of my best in England. I am really happy with it.”
McLaughlin has had a impressive campaign and has enjoyed his new defensive role, but he concedes he still enjoys breaking forward and getting into the opposition’s penalty box.
In fact that winning goal at Northampton last week saw Mansfield right-back Elliott Hewitt cross for McLaughlin to side foot home from six yards and that all out attacking approach is something the ex-Finn Harps man enjoys.
“That’s the way we play, we go out to score goals and win the game,” he stated.
“That’s the way we have been playing all season, nothing changes and nothing will change on Saturday.
“We had a difficult start to the season because we were missing boys through injuries and suspension but once we got the boys back on the pitch and got the starting 11 week in week out, we just knew it was going to happen and thankfully it did and we have taken the momentum on.
“We just weren’t at the races against them away and although we went 1-0 up our keeper kind of made a mistake for their goal, but we just weren’t at it for whatever reason, I don’t know and we got beat 3-1, but the turning point of our season was when he played them at home. They were sitting third and we absolutely battered them but drew 1-1 and after that game we went on a run.
“We have some positives to take into Saturday’s game but we also have to be wary too because they are a good side.”
McLaughlin, who admits he has been watching a few League of Ireland games, concedes that he’ll be keeping a close eye on tonight’s North West derby at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium when his two former clubs face each other in a big game.
“I have been watching the games and Friday night’s derby is going to be a tasty one,” he explained. “Especially as Derry have to now get back on track after their unbelievable start. They now have three defeats in a row, so the derby would be a great game for them to get back on track. But in fairness over the last couple of years those derby games have been tough.
“All the games have been very, very tight and Finn Harps went to Drogheda and got beat with 10 men, but by all accounts they were unlucky not to get something against Dundalk.
“So to be honest like Derry, Harps will be thinking the derby is no better game to change things around against their rivals, so I think it’s going to be a tough game and a great watch.”
‘Macca’, who played for two years at the Brandywell alongside current Candy Stripes boss Ruaidhrí Higgins always had a feeling he would one day go into management and now that he has taken over the hot-seat at Derry, he really hopes he does well.
“I wasn’t really surprised because he was that kind of person anyway and when I was playing with him you could probably see it,” explained McLaughlin. “He has done an unbelievable job and looking from the outside in, it looks like he has got a lot of trust there from the players and the board and everybody seems to believe in him and I hope he does very, very well.
“The league this year is there for Derry to mount a charge but everyone knows it’s going to be tough to catch (Shamrock) Rovers but they’ll be looking to close the gap.”