Josh Daniels relishing life in League One with Shrewsbury Town

SHREW-d  MOVE . . .  Josh Daniels made the move from Glenavon to Shrewsbury Town last August.SHREW-d  MOVE . . .  Josh Daniels made the move from Glenavon to Shrewsbury Town last August.
SHREW-d MOVE . . . Josh Daniels made the move from Glenavon to Shrewsbury Town last August.
JOSH DANIELS believes he’s got the mentality and developed the right work ethic to meet the demands at League One Shrewsbury Town.

It’s often the case that a players’ attitude and application gives them the cutting edge they need to succeed at the top levels of the game.

And 24 year-old Derry man, Daniels has learned it’s simply not enough to possess bags of ability and reckons he’s now got the attitude to match the talent.

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He’s taken the lead from fellow Derry professional footballers, James McClean and Ronan Curtis whose commitment and work rate has seen them prosper at Stoke and Portsmouth respectively.

The step-up from playing part-time football to full-time when he signed a two year contract at Shrewsbury was always going to be a big ask but Daniels has embraced the challenge.

And he counts himself fortunate to be able to play football for a living.

“I’ve obviously never had the match fitness in the amount of games I should’ve had at 21,” he confessed.

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“I sort of filled in all the gaps going to Glenavon and playing every week after leaving Derry but I was missing training every day and getting on the ball as much as possible just to get better.

Josh was tipped to make a cross-channel move from his early days at Top of the Hill Celtic.Josh was tipped to make a cross-channel move from his early days at Top of the Hill Celtic.
Josh was tipped to make a cross-channel move from his early days at Top of the Hill Celtic.

“Coming over here, it was probably another three or four levels up from what I was used to at Glenavon.

“The fitness part was what was worrying me the most as I thought I would be miles off it but pre-season was really good and I’m now the fittest I’ve ever been.

“They brought me in from a part-time club and they explained to me and let me know I was going to have to work hard to get into the team,” Daniels said.

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“The boys were doing well in pre-season, but it’s nice to get in and I’ve made a fair few appearances already, I’ve probably surprised them a bit coming in with the fitness I had.”

HAPPY FAMILY . .  Josh, his fiancee, Hannah and their two year-old daughter Zahra are loving life in Shrewsbury.HAPPY FAMILY . .  Josh, his fiancee, Hannah and their two year-old daughter Zahra are loving life in Shrewsbury.
HAPPY FAMILY . . Josh, his fiancee, Hannah and their two year-old daughter Zahra are loving life in Shrewsbury.

Daniels, who recently declared his willingness to changing his international allegiance back to Northern Ireland after a brief flirtation with the Republic of Ireland, has made 15 appearances for Shrewsbury so far.

He made his competitive debut in a Carabao Cup tie against Middlesborough and scored in his only start against Peterborough but he’s expecting more game-time in the coming weeks.

“We didn’t start the season too well and the manager was under a bit of pressure and changing the team a lot.

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“When I got in every single time I did well. I scored on my league debut against Peterborough who were sitting third.”

Josh playing for his hometown club, Derry City.Josh playing for his hometown club, Derry City.
Josh playing for his hometown club, Derry City.

A change of management was another early obstacle the former Top of the Hill Celtic man faced as Sam Ricketts was replaced by Steve Cotterill but Daniels has kept his place in the matchday squad.

The Shropshire outfit have seemingly turned a corner after impressive back to back wins against Lincoln and Hull with Daniels coming off the bench in both games.

He sat out the 1-1 draw at Wigan on St Stephen’s Day but started a second league game in the 1-0 home victory over Blackpool last Tuesday, playing in the right wingback position.

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He's also relishing the prospect of an FA Cup third round trip to Southampton early in the New Year as the busy festive season keeps his mind off being away from home at Christmas.

“That’s the thing about over here. If the manager changes you have to start from the start again and bust your b**ls to get back into the starting line-up to show how good you are.

“It was basically back to square one for me and a clean slate but I’m relishing it as I know what the league is about now. I feel like I’ve settled in really well now.

Daniels believes his time at Glenavon in the Irish League was well served as he learned to adapt his game.Daniels believes his time at Glenavon in the Irish League was well served as he learned to adapt his game.
Daniels believes his time at Glenavon in the Irish League was well served as he learned to adapt his game.

“Sam (Ricketts) was the manager when I was brought here but it wasn’t actually him it was the CEO who brought me in. He has close contacts in Ireland. The new manager is demanding a lot from us, it’s all about recovery runs and being as fit as possible.”

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After trials at Manchester United and Everton as a youngster while at Derry City, Daniels always had the desire to make it at the top level in England. And he’s prepared to give it his best shot in Shropshire, believing he’s matured a lot since his Derry days.

“Over here it’s one thing I’ve probably impressed a lot with is that I don’t stop. Even in training, if you’re not involved in the team and you don’t go out and give it everything it’ll cost you but I’ve gone past that stage of my life. I’m more mature as a person and I’m lucky to be playing football full-time.

“I don’t take it for granted. I’ve been watching the likes of James McClean and Ronan Curtis and they have that same attitude.

“It gets you a lot further than people would think. If you’re working hard someone will always notice it. I have a much bigger platform than I ever had.

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“Over the years that was always the question about Derry lads and their mentality. There weren’t a lot of players who came through like James McClean.

“Watching him do so well in England and win 75 caps for Ireland, that’s the stuff of dreams.

“If you can match even half of his work rate and try and prove to players and staff you’re good enough and you’re prepared to listen and work hard, then that’s why English teams are looking at Irish players more knowing they have a will and desire to push on and progress.

“There’s obviously a lot of talent coming through and boys like James pave the way for a lot of boys to look up to.

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"You need to be playing regularly and playing at a higher level and some boys maybe need to drop down to a lower level to make sure you’re playing enough football.”

That’s why he left the full-time set-up at his hometown club to join Irish League part-timers Glenavon in 2017 and he believes that grounding and regular football in a physically demanding Irish League has reaped its rewards.

“It’s a business at the end of the day and if they’re going to bring in players to play in front of you and they aren’t local then you have to make the decision. Leaving Derry was a tough call but it’s worked out for me.

“A lot of young players from Ireland might be a bit weary about coming over to England but being here and seeing what it’s like and knowing I can hold my own and progress so fast, it’s been great.

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“You are playing with boys and against players that have probably played in the Premiership or higher levels than League One and you’re learning every day.

"For me it’s just about getting better, testing yourself and seeing what level you can reach. We’ve got the new manager in now and he’s been shuffling the team about to see what suits him and his style of play. Hopefully I get the chance to get in and secure my place again in the next couple of weeks.”

Daniels arrived at Shrewsbury as a winger but has been deployed in numerous positions, even as a centre forward, as first Ricketts and now Cotterill make use of his versatility and he’s loving the experience.

“It’s not as if I can’t do it and bear in mind I’ve played every position apart from my own position,” he said. “I was classified as a left winger and since I came here I’ve hardly played at left wing.

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“I’ve played No. 8, I’ve played left side of centre midfield, right side of centre midfield. I’ve played right wing, false nine. I’ve actually come on and played as a No. 6 at times.

“I’ve come over and done a lot more than what I thought I could do in those positions and I was being trusted. People used to always say at Derry, ‘He is technical and tidy but can’t defend’.

"I’ve completely changed my game now. Going to the Irish League added that nasty side to my game that I needed - that aggressive side. I always had the technical side but I’ve improved that as well.”

Settling into his new surroundings and a full-time life in England was always going to be a tough transition but he’s taken well to the historic town of Shrewsbury which sits on the banks of the River Severn.

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Initially it was difficult adapting to life without his two year-old daughter, Zahra, and fiancee, Hannah, but since they’ve made the move over permanently in recent weeks, it’s helped him both on and off the pitch.

“I absolutely love it,” he enthused. “It was weird the first six or seven weeks because it was the longest I was away from the wee woman.

“I was trying to put it out of my head but no matter what it’s going to affect you. I didn’t have my own furniture, I didn’t even have wi-fi for the first while as I was in an apartment and there was no signal so I was struggling as I couldn’t Facetime or anything.

"These are the wee sacrifices that have to be made. You hear people talking about wee stupid things like that but it’s a big deal.

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“For me it was about making a big impact in training straight away and showing that I’m not coming over here just to sit about and be a squad player. I knew I had more than enough and was more than capable of playing.

"Obviously when we got the house sorted and Hannah came over with the wee woman, we got sorted and we absolutely love it. We love the area, the people here are really friendly.

“When I was younger I was wary of going to England but it’s very similar to Derry. It’s a small enough town and a beautiful town. It’s very old, culture-wise, lovely streets and the people are really nice. I couldn’t have moved to anywhere better.

“Even the people at the club, the staff and everyone, are all amazing. Anything you needed they sorted me out straight away.

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“So getting Hannah and the wee woman over I didn’t realise how much it would have settled me straight away. As soon as they were here it was like a weight off my shoulders and I felt like I kicked on again in training and fitness wise, and focus - I haven’t lost track of anything.

“I absolutely love it, it’s amazing and what I always wanted.”

Having spent Christmas away from home while Hannah and Zahra returned to Derry, it’s been challenging but he’s had plenty to focus on given the hectic schedule. In fact the next time he returns home will be to get himself ready for his wedding day next summer.

“I haven’t actually been back home since. Hannah and Zahra are going home but I will be going to the airport and lifting her and that’s it. I’ll be flat out.

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"I’ll probably not be back now until I get married next year on May 21st. The end of the season is really close to it so I’ll have to make sure it doesn’t clash.

“That’s more than likely the next time I’ll be home - next summer.”

Having signed off 2020 with a first home League One victory of the season and just the second of a so far disappointing year, Shrewsbury host Crewe at New Meadow on Saturday and Daniels is hoping to keep his place in the starting line-up.

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