Mackay reflects on hat-trick

Former Norwich City defender Malky Mackay reflected on an amazing personal hat-trick yesterday and then declared: “This has got to be the highlight of my career so far."


Former Norwich City defender Malky Mackay reflected on an amazing personal hat-trick yesterday and then declared: “This has got to be the highlight of my career so far.”

The 34-year-old Scot was a key member of the Watford side that turned in a superb performance to beat Leeds 3-0 in the Championship play-off final to claim a well deserved place in the Premiership.

Mackay has now helped three different clubs reach the top flight in the space of four years and when he returns from his summer break his first target will be to actually play at the highest level, having missed out on the opportunity with first Canaries and then West Ham.

But, at the moment, that concern is for another day. When the Eastern Daily Press caught up with the popular centre half yesterday on the Watford team coach he was still on cloud nine after a glorious afternoon at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and was having difficulty coming to terms to what he and his team-mates had just achieved.

“Everyone had us down as the underdogs but we went to Cardiff and won 3-0 to earn a place in the Premiership. I don't think it gets much better than that and, to be honest, it hasn't really sunk in it yet,” he said.

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“We had a game plan, stuck to it - and it worked a treat. I don't think anyone could deny that we deserved our success. From a personal point of view it was just great to be out there on the pitch to experience it all. I have had plenty of memorable moments in my career but that has got to be the highlight so far.”

The Hornets' emphatic triumph helped banish the memories of an unhappy first visit to the Welsh national stadium in 2002 when Mackay was part of the City side that lost the Division One play-off final to Birmingham on penalties. A return visit two years later with West Ham was a much happier affair as the Londoners beat Preston to reach the Premiership, but he was not in the team at the time so it was difficult to feel part of that particular triumph.

On Sunday one of Norwich's most popular former players was out there for the full 90 minutes and emerged triumphant - and as someone who had experienced the other side of the coin he fully appreciated every single moment of it.

“We're crossing the Severn Bridge as I speak and I have still got a huge smile on my face, as have all the lads,” he said. “It just feels great to be part of something special and I am determined to enjoy every last minute of it.

“We've got an open top bus ride around Watford to look forward to on Tuesday evening and that will obviously bring back a lot of happy memories for me. I'll never forget the parade around Norwich after we won promotion, where everywhere you looked there was a sea of yellow and green.

“I seem to remember over 50,000 fans came out to cheer us that evening and I thought that would be a once in a lifetime experience. Those scenes will live me with forever but now I have got another parade to look forward to and I can't wait for it to come around.

“It was also great to be part of a winning side at Millennium Stadium. Obviously I was delighted when West Ham went up last year but I was injured at the time of the play-off final and it's not quite the same when you are celebrating in a suit. This time I was playing and to come away as a winner was an amazing experience.

“I can remember the 2002 defeat with Norwich and that hurts even now. The Millennium Stadium is no place for losers on play-off final day so I knew how the Leeds lads felt at the final whistle.

“But we were obviously in the mood to party - and I can confirm that the celebrations continued after we had left the Millennium Stadium and went on long into the night!”

A raucous get-together at Watford's hotel just outside Cardiff helped banish more unhappy memories for Mackay, who was forced to put on a brave face after the Canaries' defeat to Birmingham four years ago. The club had organised a party for players and officials which went ahead despite the penalty shoot-out agony, and the big Scot wasn't exactly in the mood for a knees-up on that occasion.

“To be fair to Norwich they put on a party as a thank-you to all the players and staff at the club after a long, hard season,” he said. “But as I am sure you can imagine the atmosphere was more than a little muted. Everyone hung around, and it wasn't a bad do, but I know I would have preferred an early night.

“It was little bit different this time, I can tell you. Everyone stayed up until the early hours and a good time was had by all!”

Mackay took a whole host of happy memories away with him from Cardiff - but one in particular stood out in the mind.

“My son Callum was there to watch the game with my wife and it was an emotional moment when I spotted him after the game and gave him a wave,” said the big Scot. “He is coming up to three now so hopefully he might just remember seeing his dad out there with his medal. I certainly hope so.

“My daughter Francesca is only three months old so the excitement will have passed her by - but she was there too and that was very important to me as well.”

After this evening's parade around the streets of Watford Mackay will be taking a well earned holiday before beginning his preparations for the 2006-7 campaign - and the big question on everyone lips now is will he finally get that long overdue Premiership appearance under his belt?

The experienced defender was sold by Nigel Worthington in September 2004 before he had had a chance to make his top flight debut, and was then allowed to leave by Alan Pardew last summer after helping the Hammers to the promised land. With a year left on his contract at Vicarage Road Mackay is obviously keen to set the record straight with the Hornets, but has no intention of making any bold predictions at this early stage.

“The one thing to say straight away is that I would have played in the Premiership by now had I decided to stay with West Ham,” he said. “Alan Pardew made it clear that I wouldn't be a first choice but he would have been happy to keep me as part of his squad and I would have played five or six games, that's for sure.

“I just felt I needed a better chance of regular first team football and when Watford got in touch it didn't take me long to make up my mind. It's a well-run, family orientated club, with everyone pulling in the same direction - and as soon as I met the manager I knew it would be a good move for me.”

Mackay already knew Adrian Boothroyd from their time together at Carrow Road, where the latter had a spell as Academy coach, and when he signed a two-year deal at Watford he always knew it had the potential to be a marriage made in heaven.

“I got to know the gaffer well when we at Norwich and I always had the feeling he would go on to become a top quality manager,” he said. “He was the main reason I joined Watford and I haven't been disappointed. He knows the game inside out and has got excellent man management skills and I am sure he will do a good job in the Premiership.

“As for me, well it goes without saying that I want to be part of it as well. In this game you never know what the future might hold but I'm not expecting to be going anywhere else this summer, that's for sure!”