WHEN it came to defensive role models to look up to when he was a young player starting out, Matt Kilgallon certainly did not have far to look.
In his formative years at Leeds United, the Bradford City centre-half had the likes of Michael Duberry and Paul Butler to watch his back and also learn from.
A bit further on in his career when he moved down the M1 to Sheffield United, playing alongside one of the game’s more hardened and unforgiving central-defensive operators in Chris Morgan – a figure who did not suffer fools gladly and quickly let you know what he demanded of a team-mate – continued that education.
There have been several others, too.
After soaking in as much footballing knowledge as he could, Kilgallon, who turns 34 in January, has clearly now paid his dues on the defensive front.
He is now cast as that senior dressing room figure; the sort who he used to look up to. It is as if his career has gone full circle and it is he who now imparts his footballing knowledge to others.
On the evidence of his feats so far this season in the claret and amber of Bradford City, he is leading by example on the pitch, too.
On his new role as a ‘senior statesman’ in footballing terms, Kilgallon told The Yorkshire Post: “It does change, really. You don’t do as many silly things as you do when you are younger and you are a lot safer.
“The main thing when you get older is the talking and organising. It comes a lot more easier. When I was younger, I had someone doing that for me and it was all about listening and trying my best.
“Now it is the other way around and I am talking to all the other lads and keeping them concentrating and that. The concentration was the big one on Tuesday as we were both playing really good stuff.
I always remember who helped me when I was young and hopefully the lads will remember me when they get a bit older in how I tried to help them.Matthew Kilgallon
“They (Oxford) weren’t really hurting us, even though they were passing it about. We were really good in shape and solid. Concentration is massive and the main thing is helping others.”
Explaining the importance of his earlier grounding in the game, he added: “I loved being involved with the older lads and having a laugh and listening to their stories. I wasn’t a shy lad, but wasn’t cocky either. It was quite natural to me.
“When I was at Leeds, Michael Duberry wasn’t getting into the team and was playing a lot of reserve games to keep himself fit. He spoke through the whole match and he would shout at me if I didn’t tell him that someone was on his shoulder or whatever.
“There was him and then I played with Paul Butler when I was young at Leeds. He was a big, big figure who spoke all the time and made me do it as well. It went on.
“When I got to Sheffield United with Chris Morgan, we were both very loud and it just came natural then. I played with John O’Shea at Sunderland and he was a good talker. I wouldn’t be able to be quiet now.
“I always remember who helped me when I was young and hopefully the lads will remember me when they get a bit older in how I tried to help them.
“The young lads are all good lads now. They are not like they used to be. They all come back in great nick in pre-season!”
As an experienced player approaching the twilight of his career, Kilgallon admits to feeling blessed at barking out the orders in front of the sort of 20,000 crowds that he has been used to for virtually the entirety of his career.
He may be 33, but the York-born defender is clearly not intent on winding down his career just yet and still harbours ambitions to fulfil, especially after a frustrating campaign in 2016-17.
His defensive nous has come to the fore impressively this season, with the benefits of playing the ‘long game’ quickly apparent too.
Gloss has also been provided by way of a rare goal, with his strike in last weekend’s 3-1 victory at Peterborough United being his first since finding the net for Blackburn Rovers in their win against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s in April 2015.
Kilgallon, who has adeptly stepped into the experienced centre defensive void vacated by Rory McArdle in the summer, said: “It is good to say I play in front of 20,000 every week. It is great to play your football here.
“We are doing well at the minute and I am playing, which is the main thing.
“It was hard for me last season. But I knew if I got the chance, I would do my best to take it and try and keep my shirt and that is what I am doing at the minute.”
City are ticking along nicely, with a return of 14 points – two points per game – from their opening seven league matches and just one defeat along the way allaying fears of a potential hangover after last season’s play-off final heartache.
After grinding out some of those results in the opening few weeks, Stuart McCall’s side are now winning points for artistic merit, exemplified by the fine performance in their last home outing against Bristol Rovers – which has whetted the appetite for this afternoon’s derby against another form horse in Rotherham United.
Kilgallon believes things are coming together nicely too, with the portents set fair ahead of today’s all-White Rose affair.
He added: “We had a little bit of a slow start. We were winning games, but not playing that well. But I thought that was quite a good sign actually.
“Now we are starting to actually gel together and play some really good stuff and it looks promising.
“Bristol Rovers was a really good performance and probably our best of the season so far. It was good that it was on Sky and we put a few markers down for the people who were watching.
“I think they all know what we are like at home and that we can really play some good stuff. But we didn’t really do that against Blackburn or Blackpool. We got a win against Blackpool, but we were miles better against Bristol.
“We have new players getting used to the stadium and not a lot of lads have played in front of 20,000 every home game.
“It is new for them, but I think they are starting to relish it now.
“Saturday will be a good game. They got a great result on Tuesday and they are scoring a lot of goals and so are we – so it is going to be a good game.
“It is two Yorkshire clubs, so it is all good.”