Harry Maguire has already packed a lot into his embryonic career.
Play-off campaigns, relegation and an England under-21 cap.
Tomorrow, when Sheffield United confront Hull City at Wembley, he is expected to add an FA Cup semi-final to that ever-growing list. And, if Nigel Clough’s side are triumphant, the 21-year-old centre-half will dedicate victory to their fans.
“Really, this is to repay the supporters,” Maguire said. “We had a poor start to the season but they stuck by us and hopefully we’ve done that, repayed them, by giving them a great day out.
“It will be a great occasion for us to but it won’t be a day out because we’re going there to try and win. If we treated it as just a day out then we wouldn’t have beaten Aston Villa.
“We’ve got a solid base and everyone will give it their best shot. If it isn’t good enough then it isn’t good enough but hopefully we’ll be having another trip to Wembley after this.”
When United, then 23rd in the table and without an away win in 13 games, prepared to embark on what has been a remarkable journey at Colchester five months ago, it seemed inconveivable that, over 11-and-a-half hours of football later, they would find themselves potentially 90 minutes away from becoming Bramall Lane’s first representatives to contest the trophy since Jack Dodds and Co in 1936.
But, having progressed through six rounds and beaten the likes of Aston Villa and Fulham before overcoming Charlton Athletic in the last eight, they travelled to London today intent on securing a place in history.
“We’ve got to try and replicate what happened against Charlton. The fans drove us on to win that game and we can’t thank them enough for that,” Maguire said. “It was unbelievable, to come out and see all those red and white shirts made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on end.
“I dreamt about scoring the winner before that match. I didn’t obviously but I’ll probably have a dream about it again.
“It’s always on your mind, especially when you go to sleep. It’s in your head always about scoring the winner in a match like this.”
“These are the occasions you make sacrifices for when you are a youngster,” Maguire added. “This is what it is all about.
“They say the better players play in the better games and thankfully that’s what’s happened to us so far.”
United’s march towards the capital has been built on an almost impregnable defence which, with Maguire and Neill Collins at its heart, has conceded only five goals en route to what promises to be an intriguing Yorkshire derby against Steve Bruce’s team.
Maguire, who recently served a two-match suspension after collecting his 10th caution of the campaign, cited Clough’s appointment in October as the catalyst for United’s upturn in fortunes, together with the former Liverpool and Nottingham Forest centre-forward’s decision to hand Chris Morgan a prominent role on the coaching staff.
The 36-year-old made nearly 300 appearances for the club before injury ended his career in 2010 and mentored Maguire as he progressed through United’s ranks.
“The gaffer, Garns [Andy Garner], Gary ]Crosby] and Morgs have been brilliant,” Maguire continued. “Morgs is still a big influence in the dressing room. Basically it’s just the gaffer’s positive attitude. He’s given us belief and has shown great confidence in all of us.
“Every day I come into training knowing that I’m going to enjoy the session. The gaffer joins in with the banter and also shows a few glimpses of what a player he was. I try to give him a little kick when I can get close enough.
“There’s a real buzz and confidence about the place.”
“The defensive record has been unbelievable really,” Maguire added. “But it’s not just the defence because, right across the team, we’ve got a bunch of good honest lads. You see the two wingers, Flynny [Ryan Flynn] and Murphs [Jamie Murphy], crawling off the pitch at the end and Doyler [Michael Doyle] gives us great protection too. He’s the best in the league, without a shadow of doubt, at his job.”
Maguire, though, has also posed a threat in the opposition’s penalty box and his driving runs caused Charlton all manner of problems before goals from Ryan Flynn and John Brayford set up United’s date with destiny.
It is a tactic they could employ again as Clough seeks to exploit the open spaces of the national stadium’s pitch.
“The gaffer gives me and Collo confidence to start attacks,” Maguire said.
“He encourages us to do that and, when we do, that’s because we’re playing with confidence.
“When you don’t have that you want to pass the ball quickly on.”