VFTN were lucky enough to chat to Mark ahead of the trip to Birmingham, where he popped up with a late, trademark towering header to secure an unlikely point. Undoubtedly Cardiff’s Player of the Year to date, McGuinness is now one of the first names on the team sheet and he talks here about his breakthrough season.
You joined up with Arsenal’s academy at the age of 10. That must be a mind-blowing achievement at such a young age, like winning the lottery! How did that happen and what was your life like at the time?
Yeah, it was massive. I was playing for my local district side and there was a scout at the game that spoke to my mum afterwards. It didn’t really believe it at first. It came out of nowhere. I lived near Heathrow in West London, whereas the training ground is in North-East London, so my mum was umming and ahing, but I begged her!
My dad has always been an Arsenal fan and it was a coincidence that I ended up signing for them. At such a young age, you don’t really process it. You think it’s just another club until you actually go there, amongst all the other talent and it’s amazing. It was all a blur at first, but it was incredible for my development. At that time, they were one of the best clubs in the world and it was all building blocks for where I am now.
You progressed through to the Under-18’s and Under-23’s. Who were your contemporaries in those age groups?
At Arsenal, the talent is incredible. Bukayo (Saka) and Emile (Smith Rowe) were a similar age to me and I played with them for a long time. You’ve got others out there playing European football and smashing it and on the other side, you’ve also unfortunately got some where their career has taken another route. I was fortunate to get a positive outcome.
Last season, you were playing pre-season games for the seniors and even scored in a game against MK Dons. Was the step up to the first team daunting?
At the end of the day, you’ve got to believe in yourself and that was always my goal. Being in and around such a fantastic team was great for my development. I knew at the time that I wasn’t going to be involved that season, so that was just good experience and set me up to go on loan to Ipswich.
Were you keen to head out and play more games, or were you hoping to stay at Arsenal and fight for your place?
I wanted to go out and play men’s football and I wanted to go out earlier, but unfortunately I picked up a shoulder injury. I felt ready and Ipswich was a fantastic experience for me. I played an Under-23 game in the Papa John’s Trophy against Ipswich and I must have done alright because that’s how it all happened really!
How did you find playing in League One? As a 19-year-old and in your position, I imagine it was probably a culture shock.
It was something I had always wanted to do. I just wanted to play and it is a completely different environment to academy level. You’re playing with men that have families and mortgages, so there’s a lot on the line. I loved it straight away and once you’re in that environment, you don’t want to go back. Thankfully I didn’t and that set me up for my move to Cardiff.
How did your move to Cardiff come about?
I wasn’t going to go back to Arsenal and be involved with the first team, but I had one year left on my contract there. I didn’t want to go back out on loan again, so as soon as a club like Cardiff come in, it’s a no-brainer. It’s a fantastic club and city as well.
You were probably a player that most Cardiff fans were not yet aware of when you joined. Did you expect to go straight in to the first team, or were you expecting to have to bide your time a bit and maybe drop into the Under-23’s for a while?
I was signing to be in that starting eleven. You have to fight for your place, wherever you go and at whatever level. My mindset was that I was coming here to play football, get as many games as possible and thankfully I’ve managed to do that. Mick McCarthy played a big part in that, so I thank him for it.
You pretty much hit the ground running. Your first few games were at right back though and you did very well. Is that a position you had played before?
No, that was a new one for me, but I’ll play anywhere! It gave me a bit more freedom in terms of attacking, but you still had that same element of defending, so I enjoyed it and played a couple of games there.
Centre back is probably the position where Cardiff has the most strength in depth and becoming a fixture in the side is no mean feat. How have you found working with Sean, Aden and Curtis? Presumably between them, they know all of the tricks of the trade!
They have massive experience. They’ve had fantastic careers up until now and I will continue to learn off those guys. It’s healthy competition and they welcomed me in, so it’s been a seamless transition.
You’re a very fearsome competitor, but seem very mild-mannered. Is that your competitive nature coming through, or do you have to put some sort of game face on?
You definitely need to have a dual personality. On the pitch, you’ve got to fight and be ruthless, defend for your team and do your job. Off the field, it’s a different matter and that’s where the respect comes into it.
Cardiff fans have really taken to you because you’re very much a typical Cardiff fan favourite; passionate and full-blooded. Presumably you’ve felt that, from the terraces and the fans you have had interactions with around the city?
Definitely. The support I’ve had has been incredible. Home and away, it’s been fantastic. I’ve had great support and messages. I appreciate that and so does everyone else at the club.
Mick McCarthy signed you and has since left the club. I know there were managerial changes during your time at Ipswich too, but that is the nature of the beast. What has changed since Steve Morison has taken charge and how have you found working with both?
I have so much respect for Mick and I have him to thank for me being here. He gave me my opportunity, but these things happen in football and I wish him all the best. Morro has been fantastic with the boys and he’s got us playing some good football. He’s really motivated us and the boys are buying in to everything he’s been saying. It’s been good and let’s hope it continues.
Things are starting to look up, with performances and results improving recently. What are your hopes for the remainder of the season? Presumably a first Ireland cap is a goal in the foreseeable future?
For Cardiff, we just have to build on these results and get some good home form back. I know the fans would appreciate that, to make the place a fortress. We just need to keep building. It’s a long season and there are still plenty of games to play. We just need to keep improving and the results will come. International football is a bonus and it would be fantastic to get a senior cap.