Ben Heneghan was left in the free agency wilderness following his permanent departure from Sheffield United – and it’s why the former Motherwell man is grateful for what he’s got now.
The centre-back is with AFC Wimbledon, signing permanently for the English League One side earlier this season after a frustrating stint with Sheffield United. That came after Motherwell provided him a platform following time in non-league at Chester.
Left without a game of football for over eight months, Heneghan is enjoying being back in the fold as Wimbledon aim to push up the League One table. A promotion play-off spot is on Heneghan’s mind.
“I thought being a free agent would help you get a club because of the current financial situation,” Heneghan told NTOF. “But it went the other way. Luckily, I’ve ended up at Wimbledon and I’m loving it.
“I am enjoying playing football again. I think I had a spell of eight or nine months of not playing which is tough. I know players from League Two to the Premier League who haven’t found a club.
“So I count myself lucky that I have got something sorted. I’ve gone into the starting XI so hopefully I stay in. It’s about consistency and passing my knowledge onto my teammates as it’s quite a young squad.
“We should have picked up more points than we have so far but there are still plenty of points to play for. It’s a good squad and I do think we can push up the table. Who knows, a play-off spot may be achievable.”
Heneghan is now an established player in the EFL, following his move to Sheffield United, but predominantly through the 80 games he featured in on loan at Blackpool. To get him to this point though, Motherwell played a big part.
Mark McGhee brought the towering defender to Fir Park in the summer of 2016, Heneghan going on to make 50 appearances in claret and amber. While only there for one full season, he’s grateful for what the Well did for him
“To go up to Motherwell was a step up for me,” said the defender. “When I got the call that Motherwell were interested, it was a no-brainer. I think I played more or less every game and I loved it.
“It was a great club, like a family. I went and met Mark McGhee with Richard Tait who is with my agency. We both ended up at Motherwell and both enjoyed it, I know he did too. I adapted straight away and Stephen McManus next to me helped. He was massive in my development.
“I had my own attributes too which helped me get my move to Sheffield United. To go there and move up so quickly was a massive accomplishment because in my head, I didn’t think it would be that quick. But I played every game and progressed. I have seen it with the likes of Louis Moult and Cedric Kipre too. It shows what happens when you put your head down.
“Allan Campbell is doing really well at the moment, his work-rate is crazy. If people put their mind to it and be the first in, last one out, it can only stand you in good stead. I don’t think he’ll have any problems.
“It’s connected to the community and that makes it even better. They always had a function on for fans. If locals needed a dinner, the club would help out. It’s a massive credit to the community. I would love them to go to a cup final and win one.”
The last change of management at Fir Park happened while Heneghan was at the club, McGhee making way for Stephen Robinson, who is still in charge of Motherwell almost four years later.
But the centre-back admits McGhee’s exit, off the back of protests outside Fir Park demanding for his exit, wasn’t nice: “It wasn’t great, nobody wants to see the manager sacked.
“It’s up to the players at the end of the day. The manager can make the decisions but players on the pitch have to get the results. It was horrible. Most players and managers get abuse from fans if things aren’t going right.
“That’s just part of the game. But it’s not nice to see the guy who brought you in to get that kind of behaviour. Once it happened, all the lads messaged him and spoke to him, he came in and spoke to us. It was difficult and then Robinson came in and put his touch on things. We kicked on from there.”
Robinson has a profile of buying low and selling high at Motherwell, Heneghan the first he managed to do that with, albeit he never brought him in personally. But after the Fir Park club bought the centre-back for little, they sold him for a healthy six-figure sum a year later. Sheffield United made it happen on deadline day.
“I played in the League Cup games, a couple of games in the league, but I had interest all summer,” said Heneghan. “I was waiting for the offer to come through but I carried on, I was happy at Motherwell. My head was never turned.
“I went out for training on transfer deadline day and Alan Burrows (chief executive) ran the gaffer and said Motherwell had accepted an offer from Sheffield United. I went to the ground, spoke with Alan, I wished them well and off I went.”
But things did not pan out as he had hoped with the Blades: “Sheffield United are a big club and unfortunately it didn’t work for me there. It was frustrating as I never really got to show what I can do, which was strange, considering they wanted me in the building.
“But I won’t be the first or last footballer that happens to. The second year I went out on loan at Blackpool as all you want to do is play football. I suppose I took stuff from it but all I wanted to do was play.
“I know if I was given the opportunity I would have repaid the gaffer but for what it’s worth it didn’t happen. It was annoying. When the lads themselves say I don’t understand why you aren’t playing, that made me think I was doing the business in training.
“But for whatever reason, I wasn’t picked. To be fair to those lads, they were great. Your starting XI are always close but the Sheffield United players kept me in the group as I was sometimes sent to train on my own, for no apparent reason. So fair play to the lads for that.”
Now aiming for promotion with Wimbledon, Heneghan is eyeing a return to where he wasn’t given a chance: “I really think I should have had an opportunity in the Championship to play games.
“My aim is now to get back there. I believe in myself and I back myself. I’ll do what I’ve got to do to get there.”
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