As featured in our matchday programme, we find out more about left-back Mason O'Malley following what has been his breakthrough season.
Mason, we’ve talked a little bit before about your background and we know it started at Hunslet Boys in terms of football, but I understand you have a bit of a rugby background?
Football started after rugby for me. I have an older brother who was massively interested in rugby and my first interest was rugby too. That kind of faded away. I was nervous to go and play football to be honest and to find a team. Eventually, I went and did it and it was the best choice I’ve ever made. Football is what I love doing.
Any reason why your interest in rugby faded?
I don’t know really. It was just one of those things - I decided to knock it on the head and went to football for some reason. I’m very happy I did!
Why were you nervous about coming into football?
I think it was the thought of new players and meeting people you don’t know. I’m still like that now. When I came here from Huddersfield, it was the same. I’m not the loudest and that’s the way I’ve always been.
Coming through from Sunday league, you must’ve played in nearly every position before sticking at left-back?
That’s Sunday league all over. You play up front, you play on the left, on the right, right-back. As a kid, I played in an attacking position but as things got more serious and I started playing academy football, I had to cement a position, which was left-back. I had to develop my game, build on that and move forward.
I bet you wouldn’t have believed anyone if they’d told you that you’d be in this position now from where you were back then?
As a kid, you do it because you love playing football, but you never think that. I never thought I’d be in the position I am now. Hopefully what I’m doing now will last for many more years to come.
How did the move to Huddersfield come about?
It was while I was playing Sunday league. There was a scout at one of my games for Leeds City Boys and I played there for two years. During my time with Leeds City Boys, we played a trial game against Huddersfield Town and that’s where they picked me up. I had a six-week trial there but two weeks into it I pulled a hamstring, so for four weeks of it they didn’t get a look at me. Despite that, luckily enough, they gave me another chance. Three weeks into it, they wanted to sign me.
I bet you thought your chance had gone?
I did. Even my mum was saying to me to not be disappointed at what could happen. I went into a meeting with them and I thought the worst. The coaches were brilliant with me and were really understanding, and knew I couldn’t control what had happened. They were willing to give me that second chance.
I’ve spoken to a few lads this season about coming through in an Academy and they’ve all had their own experiences. What would you say were your biggest challenges as you came through the system?
Coming through, I was always played above my age group and I had to adapt quickly to that. At Huddersfield, when I was 14, I played in the Under-18s at one point and it was tough. It was physically tough because there was a massive difference to what I was used to. It was about getting to grips with the physical side of the game and using different ways to overcome the physical challenges.
Did you have much of an involvement in-and-around the first team at all?
At the time, I don’t think there was a lot of progression for the younger lads. Being a Premier League team, there weren’t a lot of opportunities to break through for anyone. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times that I trained with the first team. It was tough, even at Under-23s level. I played a full season for the Under-23s as a first-year scholar and there were players around me who were playing in the Championship. It was tough to get into that team, never mind the first team.
Huddersfield were flying high round about the time you would have graduated as a scholar. Did you ever think you were going to get a professional contract with them or did the first team’s on-field success hamper that?
It was tough. When I was a scholar, they were a Premier League side, so the expectation and the standards were very high. In my second year as a scholar I didn’t play as much and that’s when you get the idea that something isn’t right and things might not turn out how you want them to. I think it’s the best thing that could have happened to me though, to be honest, as it’s paved the way for me to come to Scunthorpe. You look at then to now and now I’m playing games in League Two.
It must’ve been a tough year in particular for you, knowing that a deal wouldn’t be there. You can quite easily be disillusioned and ‘go off the rails’ so to speak.
It was so tough mentally. I was going in everyday never expecting to be in the team and that proved to be the case. I went on loan at one point to a men’s football team, just to get minutes, because I was nowhere near it in the Under-18s or the Under-23s. I didn’t get my chance there and the signs were there before I even got told.
Do you physically get told you’re not in their plans, or do you just get cast aside for the next group coming through?
Yeah, I got pulled into a meeting and they said to me it was one of the toughest decisions they’ve had to make on a player.
That’s doesn’t make it any easier for you though, does it?
No, it doesn’t. When we got told, the season wasn’t over. It was a couple of months before and I think it was just important for me to maintain my attitude. My attitude helped me and I didn’t want to be the player who didn’t turn in anymore, or missed gym, or left as soon as I could. My mentality was to carry on as normal, turn up on time, still do my extra work. Nothing changed for me. There were a couple of players in the same boat as me and all of a sudden, they went missing. I was the complete opposite.
It’s an obvious question, and probably an obvious answer, but do you see the benefit of that now, especially looking at those players and where they are, rather than looking at you and where you are?
Definitely. A lot of them are doing jobs totally opposite to football and are nowhere near the game anymore. I’m glad I did what I did.
Do they give you a reason why you aren’t getting a deal or is it just you’re not and that’s it?
Huddersfield told me that they didn’t see a pathway for me at their academy. Each academy is set up differently and has different styles and different ways of playing football. Some are very position specific and they just told me there was no pathway at their club.
So then you’re an 18-year-old, out in the open, not knowing what to do next. That must be daunting.
Yeah, and that’s where my agent came into play, because at the start you do wonder whether that’s it, and whether it’s the end of the road for you in football. It was so tough at the time and I remember coming and playing a trial game for Scunthorpe. There was a second trial game, but I was ill. Again, I thought it was a chance missed. I thought that would be me looking for another club again.
Was Scunthorpe the first club you came to?
Yes, Scunthorpe was the first club I trialled at and, like I said, it’s probably the best thing that’s happened to me. I’m playing regular football in League Two and I don’t think I could have asked for much more at the minute.
That’s either quite lucky, or Huddersfield made a big mistake, because you hear of players going on five or six exit trials, going to various clubs looking for contracts and even resorting to dropping to non-league.
Huddersfield used to have people come into the club, such as representatives from the PFA, and I remember them telling me that it’d be really tough to finish my scholarship without a club and to then get into another club. I’m just happy that I kept working hard as it got me to where I am at the minute.
How much do you feel you’ve developed as a player since you came to the club?
I think I have developed a lot. I had to get used to how Scunthorpe wanted to play and how League Two football is played. I think my game understanding has developed more than anything and obviously my fitness levels are getting there now. I’ve been playing games back-to-back and in midweek too, so I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.
In terms of the aerial side of things, you don’t seem to let it affect you and you seem to hold your own in those situations.
Yeah, the gaffer has helped me with that lot - knowing when to challenge for the ball and knowing when to cut off. Sometimes it can be like chasing a lost cause if you go for a ball when you know you’ll get nowhere near it, so the gaffer has helped me a lot in that sense.
That would have been the first time you’d played in front of any sort of crowd, wouldn’t it?
Southend in December was the first time, yeah. I’d never played in front of a crowd of that size and it does give you a bit of a buzz. Feeling the atmosphere was a really good feeling, I just want more of it! Vocally, you’ve got to be a lot louder in those games with crowds and that’s something I’m still working on to improve. Especially when fans are back, my communication is something that definitely has to improve even more.
You’ve touched on the fact that you didn’t expect to play as many games as you have so far this season. With that in mind, what did you expect? What were your targets?
I don’t really know, as I didn’t expect to start or anything. I didn’t really expect much to come from this season. Like I said before, if someone told me I was going to play this many games, I would’ve laughed at them.
Have you surprised yourself with how well you’ve done?
I think I have taken myself by surprise and shown that I am capable of playing at this level. I’ve shown that I can handle League Two football and I can handle players that are older than me and bigger than me. There are ways around it.
Where do you see yourself going in your career now? You’ve obviously had highs and lows already, with the biggest high being breaking into professional football.
That’s how football careers go. There will be times when I go down the curve and then others when I go up the curve. I said it on the radio a couple of weeks ago, but the sky is the limit. I don’t know where my football career will take me, but hopefully I have a lot more highs than lows.
You committed your immediate future to the club with a new contract in December. How easy a decision was that?
In the end, when things got sorted, this is a place where I am comfortable. I’m happy being here and I’m happy with everyone around me - the players, the staff, the support on social media and I’m not too far away from home. I was very happy to sign for another two years.
I suppose that’s two-fold isn’t it? You want to stay loyal to the team that has given you the chance and you want to establish yourself as a professional and often jumping around to different teams isn’t the answer.
I think it’s important that I’m stable, especially while I’m young. I was at Huddersfield for five years and I got very comfortable there, so I think that’s what made it harder coming into a new team because of how comfortable I got there. I am comfortable here already, but the longer I’m here, the more comfortable I will get. Because I’m so passionate about football, it was almost like my second home. It was my first time at a professional club and I loved it. I loved playing academy football and it was of a good standard. I don’t think I got too comfortable there, but I was very happy and content and I felt good there.
What is your first footballing memory? The first thing that came to mind was Leeds United versus Arsenal at Elland Road when Bradley Johnson scored a worldie.
Who was your first manager? That will have been Kenny Jimmerson at Hunslet Boys.
Who was your first room-mate for an away game? I know for a fact that would have been Scott High at Huddersfield. Me and him were like that, and you can use the emoji! (🤞)
What was the first album or single you bought/downloaded? The Script.
What was the first film you saw at the cinema? I can’t remember, I don’t have a clue! I couldn’t tell you at all!
Who is your favourite band/artist? Drake.
What band/artist do you always switch off? I’m not into rock music.
What do you always watch on TV? Usually just football, Super Sunday!
What makes you change channel? The news!
What is your favourite meal? Nandos.
What food do you never touch? Pineapple on pizza!
What is your biggest achievement in football? Probably, so far, just playing professionally in League Two, to be honest.