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Academy magic: Alex's story

16 May 2013

McCarthy's rise through the ranks

Alex McCarthy's call up to Roy Hodgson's England squad marks one of the greatest achievements made by a Reading Football Club Academy far.

In a year which has seen two of our Academy graduates (Hal Robson-Kanu and Jem Karacan) score Premier League goals for the club, and one notch on the international scene (Hal with Wales), the Royals' youth set-up has received this latest accomplishment having just sealed a place in the Barclays Academy Premier League Final with its current crop of under-18s!

Born in Guildford on 3rd December 1989, Alex was a goalkeeper and a wicket keeper for Surrey as a boy, before taking the football route to join Wimbledon as a schoolboy. After continuing his progression with Wycombe, Academy coach Colin Barnes brought him to Reading to begin a scholarship and, at the age of 16, he began an apprenticeship at Madejski Stadium.

He made 16 appearances for Eamonn Dolan's under-18s in 2006/7 and 26 more as a regular for our Academy side the following season, and little did he know then, but he was playing a part in an Academy age group who would produce some of the best players to play for Reading and star at the very highest level - Gylfi Sigurdsson, Hal Robson-Kanu, Jem Karacan, Simon Church and Alex Pearce have all forged incredible first team careers at Reading, while the likes of James Henry played in an FA Cup semi-final for Millwall this season and his good friend Tom Hateley continues to impress north of the border with Motherwell.

Goalkeepers sometimes have to wait a long time for their chance - but after brief spells of work experience or loan stints at Woking, Cambridge United and Aldershot Town - he guarded Yeovil Town's goal for the full 2009-10 season, playing (on loan) in 44 of the Glovers' 46 League One games and keeping 12 clean sheets.

Meanwhile, his international career had begun. In August 2010, McCarthy replaced Frank Fielding as a second half substitute for the England under-21s in a friendly win against Uzbekistan at Ashton Gate.

Then, on 19th February 2011, his Reading chance arrived - and he took it with both gloves! Adam Federici hobbled off with a knee injury towards the end of a 1-1 home draw with Watford and McCarthy spent six minutes protecting the club's point.

He stayed between the sticks while our Aussie recovered and, as the last line of defence, he starred in a 12-game unbeaten streak in the league, taking Brian McDermott's men into the play-offs with a run of nine wins and three draws. He had also kept a clean sheet at Goodison Park to earn Reading a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals! In that win, he produced the first of many memorable saves, somehow denying Jermaine Beckford an equaliser with a Peter Schmeichel-esque save that earned Reading a trip to Manchester City in the final four - a save Kevin Keegan called one of the best he's ever seen as he watched on in awe from the ESPN studio.

A fit-again Federici had been kept out of the side by the Football League's Young Player of the Month for March and, although the Aussie international returned for the end of season finale, McCarthy had certainly impressed the Royals faithful.

Internationally, he was selected in England's under-21 squad for the European Championships in Denmark and, the following season, he was afforded more minutes, this time on loan with Leeds, where he stood in for the injured Andy Lonergan to great effect - and more experience was gained during a spell at Ipswich later that season. In fact, his performance between the posts against Nigel Adkins' Southampton at St Mary's in March earned Town a draw and ultimately allowed Reading to celebrate the title later that season! Former goalkeeper Adkins said that day, "We had a lot of good chances and could have been well ahead by half-time. Adam Lallana could have had two or three but their goalkeeper made some magnificent saves." He, amongst others, had spotted Alex's talent.

Now too old for the under-21s, McCarthy was on Stuart Pearce's shortlist for Team GB last summer, but just missed out on a place in the final 18-man squad.

Meanwhile, Reading had reached the Premier League and McCarthy wanted a piece of the action. He made his top flight debut only four games into the season, starting at home to Tottenham in September 2012. And he turned in some exceptional performances, most notably in a 2-2 draw at Swansea City the following month, before a cruel blow struck - diving for a shot that was sailing just wide in the very last minute of a 1-1 draw at Loftus Road, he clattered into the left post and hurt his shoulder.

He needed surgery and initially it was thought his season might be over, but the 6'4" starlet worked hard to recover quickly and he returned to the team with Nigel Adkins at the helm in a goalless draw at home to Liverpool.

This time last year, McCarthy was stunning PGA pro Ben Curtis with his mammoth golf drive, playing at Wentworth alongside fellow Royal Jay Tabb and ex-Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish. A year on and the current Reds manager, Brendan Rodgers, was quoted as saying McCarthy's display against his side was the best goalkeeping performance he had ever seen! And it was stupendous - he pulled off point blank range saves from Suarez, Sturridge and England skipper Steven Gerrard to name a few, to somehow earn Adkins his first point as Royals boss.

And, as he prepares for his 13th appearance of the season in our final game of the campaign at West Ham, incredible goalkeeping displays have become commonplace with McCarthy between the posts - on Tuesday night he thwarted Manchester City's Carlos Tevez time and time again before getting a big pat on the back from his opposite number and now England colleague Joe Hart at the final whistle.

Reading Football Club is exceptionally proud of its Academy and we are extremely proud of England international Alex McCarthy.

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