BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Danny McNamara reckons his loan move to St Johnstone was a make-or-break moment for his Millwall future.
The 22-year-old signed a new long-term contract with the Lions this week.
McNamara had less than six months of his Den deal to go but his impressive form in Scotland was backed up by shining in first-team opportunities under Gary Rowett at the start of 2021.
The Millwall fan had started seven successive matches before Mahlon Romeo took his place for Saturday’s 4-1 home win over Sheffield Wednesday.
“Last time I did a renewal I had signed a year with an option – and I was in my option year this season,” said McNamara.
“I was talking to Willo [Shaun Williams] on Tuesday and saying how when I went to St Johnstone at the start of the season that I was thinking ‘I’m not really in favour at the moment’.
“Going to St Johnstone, who play the same formation the gaffer [Gary Rowett] plays at Millwall suited me down to the ground.
“It felt like make-or-break – 100 per cent. I either kicked on or I’m outed. It could’ve gone either way. It was quite nerve-racking and I went up there with mixed emotions.
“I’ve always got nerves. I get nervous before every game I play -whether that is first-team, U23 or a training game. But you learn to control them.
“If you speak to the other players a lot will say the same. It’s good to be nervous, it shows you care and want to give your all.
“When the game kicks off and you have got a few early touches then it settles you down a bit more.
“It doesn’t matter what my contract situation is, I will always give 100 per cent. I’d never just get too comfortable.
“This is probably now an opportunity for me to step up again, to try to get to where I want to be.”
McNamara’s debut for the Lions came in their 2-0 FA Cup win over Boreham Wood in early January. The academy product impressed sufficiently to retain his place for the 1-1 draw at Championship big-hitters AFC Bournemouth.
Millwall have won two and drawn four of the seven matches he has featured in.
McNamara is already up to 29 appearances in the current campaign when you add in his time in the Scottish Premiership.
“I’ve loved the run of games I’ve had at Millwall,” he said. “To get my chance so early after coming back and playing at Bournemouth, has felt quite surreal.
“It’s been a massive boost for my confidence and it shows that the gaffer feels he can trust me.
“I’ve found the congested fixture list okay. You learn to adapt.
“If anything the more games you play you find it easier fitness wise.
“If you play Saturday-Saturday you relax a bit whereas when it is Saturday-Tuesday then Saturday-Wednesday you’ve got momentum.
“I’ve been really lucky with injuries and been fit week in and week out. I’ve not really had any knocks yet. The gaffer pulled me before the last game and said he wanted to give me a little rest. He wanted to freshen things up a little bit.
“It’s just one of those things. I was a bit gutted, but you’ve got to focus on the next match and try to get back in the team again.
“I’ve also got to give respect to Mahlon [Romeo]. He has been a first-team player for us for years and he’s absolutely brilliant.
“It is healthy competition. I’ve learned a lot from him.
“Mahlon has been positive with me. He has given me information. It’s not massive conversations, just maybe a pointer if I do something wrong in training.
“He has played against a lot of the players at this level so before some games he will tell me if they are tricky or all right-footed. That kind of stuff is a massive help.”
One of McNamara’s other targets is to break into the senior Republic of Ireland squad. He qualifies through his dad’s parents, who hail from County Longford.
“I got called up to the U21s when I was on loan at Newport,” said McNamara. “It had been in the pipeline for a while before that.
“I made my debut against Armenia and then played my second game against Luxembourg.
“I’m too old to play U21s any more for them, so the next step is senior football for Ireland. By playing some Championship games hopefully I’ll get noticed by Stephen Kenny [Eire manager].”
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