A feature on Cardiff City striker Joe Mason.
Mark Hudson grabbed the headlines for Cardiff City on Tuesday night as his obscenely brilliant 68-yard strike completed the scoring in the 2-0 win over Derby County at Cardiff City Stadium. While the second goal proved to be the most memorable, the opener proved equally significant as Malky Mackay’s side claimed an important victory in their push for a place in the play-offs, while for young striker Joe Mason it proved to be another step in cementing his place in the team against his senior attacking rivals. Following up on a shot from Kenny Miller that rebounded into his path off the post, the Irishman made no mistake to slot the ball past visiting goalkeeper Frank Fielding, and with it claim his eleventh goal of the season.
Joe Mason’s goal return from 42 appearances in all competitions for Mackay’s side may not sound overly impressive, but Mason will not turn 21 until next month and the summer-signing has started on the bench for 17 of those games. What does make Mason’s achievements this season impressive however is how he has settled into his return to the Championship and pushed his way into the side ahead returning fan-favourite Robert Earnshaw. The Wales striker has been forced to spend most of the season watching, and applauding, the efforts of Mason and his performances will have brought back some special memories for Earnshaw as the young striker deservedly accepts the plaudits of the Cardiff City crowd.
A former youth player at home-town club Plymouth Argyle, Mason was introduced to the Championship at a young age but his debut season in senior football will only be remembered for his clubs relegation to League One in 2010. Relegation is a tough acceptance for any professional footballer, but Mason suffered this cruel side of the sport as a teenager before making a name for himself in League One the following season, as he became an established player in the side. A further professional blow would strike next for Mason as Plymouth Argyle entered administration following well-documented financial problems that further distracted from his fledging senior football career. Malky Mackay would eventually then prove to be both vulture and saviour as Cardiff City cashed-in on Plymouth’s problems by signing Mason for £250,000 in July 2011.
As a club, Cardiff City have learnt the real value of money over recent years, and Mackay quickly showed how he had bought into the clubs ethos by signing Mason just a few days after tempting Robert Earnshaw back to the club on a free transfer. Nothing more than two weeks wages for some of the high-rollers of the Premier League, Mackay instead invested the spare £250,000 wisely in Mason, and the Republic of Ireland Under-21 International has rewarded his managers faith this season. While his profile has risen significantly, Mason’s feet have remained firmly on the football ground throughout, and even praise from some of Ireland’s biggest names have not distracted him from his focus of playing his part in Cardiff City’s promotion push.
Mason is yet to earn a senior cap for the Republic of Ireland, but his Championship form this season will not have been lost on wily manager Giovanni Trapattoni, as the Italian prepares his adopted nation for the European Championships. Ireland hero Robbie Keane, a veteran of 115 caps for his country, has been an audible supporter of Mason and has called for him to gain his first taste of senior international football sooner rather than later. The praise has also been echoed by team-mate Stephen McPhail, himself selected for Ireland by Trapattoni, and as someone who has seen Mason develop at close-hand the midfielder is well-placed to make some astute observations on the progress he has made.
Mason has publicly conceded that the European Championships may be a bit too soon for him to make his international mark, but privately he harbours a very different ambition, although his eventual call-up is inevitable and his current form will only help make it a formality. International football is a big stage whatever the occasion, and while a major tournament such as the European Championships is an event able to separate the men from the boys, Mason’s rise on a domestic level this season has also enabled him to enjoy one of the defining moments of his young career despite it arriving on the day of one of his biggest football disappointments.
In February the Carling Cup Final was played between Cardiff City and Liverpool in front of a packed Wembley Stadium. Bargain-buy Joe Mason, a key figure in Cardiff City reaching the final of the competition, was named in the starting line-up by Malky Mackay and rewarded his manager with the opening goal of the game after just 19 minutes when he slotted the ball past Pepe Reina. The goal was not too dissimilar in terms of the time or the finish to his goal against Derby County on Tuesday night, in addition both goals were reward for Mackay’s faith in the Irishman over his more established names, but unlike the goal against Derby the strike against Liverpool did not lead his side to eventual success. Liverpool picked up the first silverware of the season with a penalty shoot-out victory, the emotion of his teams cruel defeat contrasting greatly for Mason with his celebration of opening the scoring that day.
Malky Mackay has shown in Joe Mason that he is content to pick players in form ahead of his more established names when necessary. In his first season in charge of the side, Mackay has led what started out as an experimental squad built up from the previous seasons decimation into their current play-off position, and they have also reached a major final along the way. Wembley may have proved an unwelcome distraction as the side struggled with form and consistency when their focus shifted to Kenny Dalglish and his squad of big-name price-tags, but Mackay has refocused his squad on the real task at hand, and as the disappointment of Wembley fades their motivation has made a noticeable welcome return. Cardiff City are no strangers to the Championship play-offs however, but they are strangers to Championship play-off success, and the side must now complete the job that started back in August.
Back in August however Joe Mason had a very different ambition. The challenge of competing against veteran duo Kenny Miller and Robert Earnshaw together with the talented Rudy Gestede for a place in the starting line-up no doubt dented Mason’s realistic aims for the season ahead, but the Irishman has consistently produced when asked, and has now become an important part of the side while his early season rivals look in from the outside. Playing any small part in Premier League promotion would have been a dream for Mason when he completed his move from Plymouth back in July, but success in his domestic ambition and the important role he has played in it could yet lead to an appearance at the European Championships just one year on. Whatever success Malky Mackay brings to Cardiff City during his time as manager, Joe Mason has already shown enough promise to suggest he could be one of his defining signings, as well as being the absolute bargain-buy of the current campaign.
The article was also published on the WalesOnline Magazine Sports Blog here – http://blogs.walesonline.co.uk/sport/2012/04/the-rising-stock-of-mackays-ba.html