Swansea City: Danny Graham keen to get back on goalscoring trail
FOR many footballers, playing the sport professionally is the very essence of living the dream.
Danny Graham is one such player, and his eyes light up as he discusses Swansea City's match at Newcastle today.
A trip to St James' Park would usually be the season's highlight for the Swans striker, who grew up in the North East idolising Alan Shearer and fantasising about wearing the famous black and white shirt.
Graham realised a childhood ambition by playing on the famous St James' turf when Swansea drew 0-0 there last season but, this weekend, it seems he will have to live his dream vicariously.
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The 27-year-old has not started a game for Swansea since the 2-2 draw against Reading on October 6, and Michael Laudrup has hinted summer signing Itay Shechter could start up front this afternoon.
With Michu possibly dropping back into midfield to accommodate Shechter's inclusion, it may be that Graham will have to wait for his chance from the bench today.
"It's been hard," he admits. "I was last season's top scorer but I've never once in my career thought I'd be pencilled in first on the team sheet, no matter where I am.
"I'm just not taking my chances as well as I did last year. That happens in football.
"I've had a few chances throughout the season and missed them, and that's maybe led to the dip in form.
"But I just train as I normally train — I always give 110 per cent. I get on with it and don't let things beat me up."
Even if Graham does not start this afternoon, the match will still be a memorable occasion for his family — although their relation to the Swansea forward will not change their allegiance.
"It's a nice weekend going back home to Newcastle, the team I supported as a boy," he adds.
"It will be nice to see my family and friends but they'll all be in the Newcastle end, so I won't be speaking to them this weekend.
"I'll stay clear of them and hopefully get the three points, which is the most important thing."
This is a tough time for Graham, who has struggled with a back injury and found it difficult to reclaim his place in Laudrup's starting line-up.
It is the longest period Graham has been without a start for the Swans, but still the subject of dreams permeates our conversation.
Playing against Newcastle is clearly something the former Watford man would dearly like to do but, if there was one thing greater he could achieve, it would be to play for the Magpies.
Despite his frustrations, Graham is as amenable and humorous as ever.
One of his Swansea team-mates, Wayne Routledge, has had the distinction of representing Newcastle, a fact which brings a wry smile to Graham's face.
"I always joke to Wayne that he's lived my dream playing for Newcastle," he says.
"We live in the same apartment block and always have a bit of banter about it.
"I'm sure he wants to go back and prove a point for himself. Newcastle wanted rid of him and he's had a superb season, so it's up to him to show them what they're missing out on."
Routledge has been one of the stars of Swansea's current campaign, and somewhat surprisingly so.
The winger played only a supporting role last season, as he struggled to dislodge Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair after signing from Newcastle.
But this term the 27-year-old has featured in all 11 of the Swans' Premier League matches, and his transformation from bit-part player to first-team fixture is a reminder for Graham of how quickly one's standing in a squad can change.
"He's a top bloke, a down-to-earth guy. He's had his highs and lows as well," Graham adds.
"It's been tough for him. He's been on loan everywhere and it's hard to be in and out of teams.
"He scored at Palace and made a number of assists but, after he got that move (to Tottenham in 2005), he stalled. Maybe it was a bit too early for him.
"You need to be settled and enjoying your football, and I think that's what he's doing this year.
"He just needed that run in the team to get his confidence going, and he's rocketed from there. He's probably in the best form of his career.
"He seems to be settled now and he seems to enjoy the style of play here — maybe this style suits him more than the other clubs he's been at. He's been a revelation this season and hopefully it can continue."
Graham is not short of inspiration in his bid to reclaim his starting place in the Swansea side and, regardless of his recent misgivings in front of goal, he is not lacking in confidence either.
"I've missed chances and I'll continue to miss chances throughout my career," he says.
"I don't think it has affected my confidence. I'm not fazed by missing. Even if I miss ten in training, I always think I'll go and get the next one. That's just how I am.
"Earlier in my career — like when I was at Carlisle — there were times when I would hide away and wouldn't get in the box to get on the end of things.
"I definitely don't think it's the same now, and I'm always confident the goals will come."