Jamie MacDonald is prepared to leave Kilmarnock to ensure regular first-team football next season.
The former Hearts goalkeeper hopes to start the campaign as No.1 at Rugby Park but admits he doesn’t want to sit on the substitutes’ bench any longer.
The arrival of Freddie Woodman on loan from Newcastle in January forced MacDonald out of the team despite a consistent 18 months beforehand. Woodman has just won the Under-20 World Cup with England and been voted Goalkeeper of the Tournament, and there is talk of the youngster from Croydon returning to Ayrshire this summer.
MacDonald won’t make any rash decisions until Lee McCulloch, recently appointed as permanent manager at Kilmarnock, finalises his squad. However, at 31, MacDonald isn’t willing to play second fiddle and will look to move on if necessary to play every week.
“I need to wait and see if Jig [McCulloch] gets the opportunity to bring Freddie back. That might happen and, if so, I will be trying to look elsewhere,” explained MacDonald. “I just want to play football, no matter where it is. If it’s at Kilmarnock next year, then all the better. If not, it’s something I’m going to have to look at.
“The problem I had at the end of the season was Jig was interim manager but wasn’t permanently in charge at that point. That made it more difficult because he wasn’t in a place to guarantee my future when he didn’t have his own sorted. It’s been a weird end to the season.
“I didn’t play for the last six months after they brought Freddie in on loan. Whether he comes back or not, who knows? If they bring somebody else in, who knows? I really don’t know what the situation is. I’m just heading back for pre-season and taking it from there.
“All I know is, from my point of view, I want to play. That’s important for me now. The last six months is the first period in four and a half years when I haven’t played regularly. It’s the first time since the first half of the 2011/12 season at Hearts when I haven’t played week in, week out. It was a difficult few months for me.”
What made it more difficult to digest was a conversation with McCulloch’s predecessor, Lee Clark, in which the Englishman recognised MacDonald as one of Kilmarnock’s standouts.
“I was disappointed being left out because I’d been Kilmarnock’s best player for the previous 18 months. I was really happy with how I’d performed,” continued the keeper. “I felt wronged by the decision. At the time, Lee Clark was the manager. His explanation wasn’t really much of an explanation.
“He said: ‘You’ve been our best player for the last 18 months, I just feel I need a change.’ That made it worse, in all honesty. I’d rather he came to me and said: ‘Look Jamie, you’re not my type of goalie, I fancy bringing somebody else in because I don’t feel you’ve been doing too well.’
“I could’ve taken that better because I could’ve respected his opinion. He pretty much told me I was the best player but I was getting dropped anyway. It was difficult to take because there wasn’t a proper reason behind it. It was quite strange being told you’re the best player and then being dropped.
“Freddie came in and took a few games to bed in and then he was doing well. He was playing well when the team was doing well, so there wasn’t much chance for it to change. I can’t really put any blame on Jig for that. It was the situation he inherited from the previous manager. It was just something I had to get on with.
“To be fair, Freddie is a really nice boy and he’s a right good goalkeeper as well. He’ll go on to have a really good career. That made it a little bit easier. He wasn’t a Billy Big-time or the kind of person who is in your face. He was a really young professional man and was a credit to himself to be honest.
“He’s just won the Under-20 World Cup with England and been voted Goalkeeper of the Tournament as well. He is a really good, young keeper. My gripe was more with the manager for dropping me when I was playing well. If he’d told me he just didn’t fancy me as a goalie, then it would’ve been a wee bit more acceptable.”
There is no doubting MacDonald’s motivation despite the unexpected difficulties. He intends to continue playing until his late 30s and doesn’t want to lose momentum by finding himself sitting on the bench.
“If anything, this last few months has made me that bit hungrier to get back playing and make sure I’m not in that situation again. In the past, particularly early on at Hearts, there were times when I got into the team and then unjustly was pulled out. Marian Kello had that wonder season [2010/11] when I couldn’t argue about not playing.”
He eventually succeeded Kello as first choice at Tynecastle midway through the 2011/12 campaign – and went on to etch his name in Hearts folklore by starring in the Scottish Cup final victory over Hibs a few months later. He then spent a year at Falkirk after being released by the Edinburgh club in 2014, and eventually joined Kilmarnock on a three-year contract in summer 2015.
“I love playing football and I just want to play as many games as I can between now and the end of my career,” said MacDonald.
“Hopefully I’ve still got six or seven years left in me, or it could all finish next year. Nobody knows. I just want to play.”