AFC Wimbledon midfielder Anthony Hartigan on why he had been fearless in League One drop fight – and his first-team progression

BY RICHARD CAWLEY
richard@slpmedia.co.uk

“Everyone has ambition to play in the Premier League but it doesn’t happen for everyone. You’ve got to make it happen.”

Anthony Hartigan clearly feels that actions speak louder than words. And his actions have been impressive to date after taking more of a grip on a starting berth at AFC Wimbledon.

The 19-year-old has featured 35 times this season for the Dons – starting in 21 of his 25 matches in League One.

Since Wally Downes’ appointment as Dons boss the Plough Lane fans’ favourite has shown no qualms about trusting in the club’s youth. Hartigan’s prominence has grown.

But staying grounded is key. The midfielder’s response when asked what his key attributes are is telling.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff I can bring on the ball – I’m good technically,” he said. “But I don’t want to blow smoke up my own arse.

“It’s tough to say more. I’m ball-playing and I try to be as creative as I can. The way we are playing at the moment means I’m doing a bit more of the other side. That’s good because it will make me become a more rounded player.

“This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I honestly don’t know what I’d be up to if I wasn’t a footballer. I’d still be playing even if it wasn’t at this level, just with my mates.”

Hartigan played just two minutes of league football this season up until mid-October.

“I came back to pre-season and I had it in my head that I was going to play,” he said. “But literally right at the start of pre-season I had a niggle that kept me out a couple of weeks. That might have delayed me a little bit.

“I thought I could play between 20 or 30 this season. That was a rough target. I’ve gone past that already. It’s been good. But it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t stay up. It’s not just about me playing – it’s about securing the club.

“I feel like I’m developing every game. After each one finishes I’m finding something I can do better and add.”

So why does Hartigan think he didn’t get more action in the opening weeks of the campaign under Neal Ardley?

“I’m not too sure really,” he said. “It’s a different manager now, some players have left and there are more places up for grabs now than what there were.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Neal Ardley and Neil Cox, because they are the ones who gave me my opportunity in the first-team anyway. It’s a big thank you to them, really.

“Neal gave me the opportunity but I also think I earned it. I’ve gone out and worked for it – you don’t get given it. I had to show him what I can do in training.”

Wimbledon can move out of the bottom four in League One with the right sequence of results tomorrow. It relies on them doing the business against Accrington Stanley at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.

Hartigan doesn’t believe the perilous nature of their predicament adds extra pressure on his young shoulders.

“You go out there to do well for the club anyway – no matter what position you’re in,” he said.

“There will always be that little bit of pressure there.

“We’re there to perform, that’s our job.

“Accrington is the next game and that is the only one that matters.”

Hartigan, born in Kingston-upon-Thames, joined Wimbledon at the age of 14. He was playing Sunday league football for Chessington & Hook.

He supports Chelsea – his dad was a season-ticket holder.

Hartigan cites John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Joe Cole as his idols growing up.

Hartigan, who made his Dons debut in August 2017, won League One’s Apprentice of the Year last April at the EFL awards evening – seeing off the challenge of Southend’s Dru Yearwood and Peterborough’s Lewis Freestone.

“That was massive for me,” he said. “It was a great experience.

“I had torn my meniscus in my knee and was out for two and a half months. So to go there and win that cheered me up a little bit. It showed how well I’d done in my breakthrough season.

“I was on a table with my mum and dad, Mark Robinson – the club’s U18 coach – and Michael Hamilton, who is the head of coaching at AFC Wimbledon. David Charles [club secretary] was there too.

“I owe so much to my parents. They have taken me to games when I was younger, buying my boots and shinpads.

“The highlights have probably been my debut, both in the EFL Cup and the league because that was in the space of the same week. I played on the Tuesday and then again on the Saturday.

“Then there was coming on against Spurs at Wembley in the FA Cup. Dele Alli was playing. If we’re talking potential, he’s probably the best player I have faced. But Tottenham had all of their main ones playing that day. To come on for 10-15 minutes was unbelievable and something I will never forget.

“Some people go their whole career and never play there. Neal Ardley was the one who let me come on, it was good.”

There is plenty of time for new memories to be forged. Hartigan’s promising career is still in its infancy.

PICTURES BY PAUL EDWARDS AND KEITH GILLARD

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