Ben Heneghan has revealed how experiencing the rigours of non-league football paved the way for his move to Bramall Lane.
The Sheffield United centre-half, who joined Chris Wilder’s side on transfer deadline day, spent two seasons with National League club Chester after being released by Stoke City.
Despite the initial culture shock, Heneghan admitted that spell at the Deva Stadium proved the turning point of his career.
“It was real football, proper football, where people’s livelihoods were at stake,” he explained. “When you’re an academy player, you’re just trying to get better. But there it really mattered and meant you grew-up fast.”
Heneghan became Wilder’s penultimate signing of the summer window after agreeing a three year contract last month. Speaking ahead of tonight’s visit to Bolton Wanderers, which could see his side climb to second in the table, United’s manager cited the player’s character and mental strength as factors behind the decision to lure him to South Yorkshire.
“I’ve worked hard, got my head down and now have been rewarded with the chance to come here,” Heneghan, who has spent the last two years with Motherwell, said. “It’s an opportunity I aim to grasp with both hands. I want to prove a point and try to force my way into the team. Being here shows that, sometimes in life, you’ve got to take a couple of steps back to move forward again. Because how could you not feel honoured to be at a club like this.”
Heneghan took his first steps on the footballing ladder at Everton where, after joining Goodison Park’s academy system as a youngster, he became good friends with new United team mate John Lundstram.
“I knew John already and it’s always nice to see a familiar face, Heneghan continued. “Everyone was good mates back then and I was pleased to see him here. Straight away, you can tell there’s a really good spirit here too. It’s obvious as soon as you walk through the door. You go to some places and there’s little groups all over. Here, everyone is laughing and joking in the changing room which is good. Seriously, you can’t put a price on that and it’s because everyone, I can already tell, is really focused but also down to earth.”
Heneghan made 50 appearances for Motherwell after heading to Fir Park 15 months ago. With 10 of those coming against either Rangers or Celtic, Wilder is confident he has both the skill sets and the personality to establish himself as a Championship footballer.
“It was good to come up against those two, Rangers and Celtic, because it teaches you so much,” Heneghan said. “They’re huge clubs and the amount of fans they bring with them is something else. So you learn a lot from that. I’ve not played in the Championship yet but I’ve watched it on television and the quality is right up there. But being a part of those occasions will stand me in good stead.”
“You want the atmosphere to be booming,” he added. “I like for that, it’s brilliant. I’ve been told it’s something special here and I can’t wait for my first game at home to come around.”
First, Heneghan must force his way into a team which heads to Greater Manchester searching for its third straight win after beating Derby County and Sunderland in recent weeks. Although Wilder’s attacking options have been depleted by injury - fellow deadline day arrival Clayton Donaldson injured a hamstring at the Stadium of Light - Richard Stearman is likely to be the only notable defensive absentee.
With Wilder using yesterday’s pre-match media conference at Shirecliffe to stress the importance of consistency, United are unlikely to make wholesale changes against opponents who also gained automatic promotion from League One last term. Wanderers, however, could be forced to tweak their starting eleven after Stephen Darby and Derik Osede failed to complete their 3-0 defeat by Middlesbrough. That result left Phil Parkinson’s at the foot of the table having lost four and drawn two of their six outings so far this season.
“Although there’s a real togetherness in the group, everyone also drives each other on,” Heneghan said. “You want the manager driving you on and you want your team mates driving you on because that’s what delivers results rather than a laid back approach.
“If you have that spirit and that togetherness, so long as everyone works hard then, in football, you can get any result. I’ve worked hard to be here and I don’t plan to stop working hard now.”