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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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How Scottish-born McGeady and McCarthy ended up playing for Ireland

The pair will have the strange experience of lining out for an away international in their hometown if they feature on Friday.

McGeady (right) and McCarthy.
McGeady (right) and McCarthy.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

WHEN IRELAND TAKE to the field against Scotland on Friday night, there is a chance their starting XI could contain two players born mere miles from Glasgow’s Celtic Park.

Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy are sure to be on the receiving end of some verbal abuse from some sections of the Tartan Army with Scottish boss Gordon Strachan admitting that he has no issue with booing them as long as it is “pantomime humour”.

Ex-Scotland defender Gordon McQueen has stoked the flames even further by insisting that the Everton duo deserve to be on the receiving end of a “horrible reception” for choosing the nation of their grandparents over the country they were raised in.

It’s far from a new phenomenon. Celtic’s Charlie Gallagher became the first Scottish-born player to don the green shirt of Ireland way back in 1967 and McGeady and McCarthy are the latest names in a list which includes Ray Houghton, Tommy Coyne, Owen Coyle and current women’s striker Ruesha Littlejohn.

But how did their decisions to commit to the Boys in Green come about?

Paisley-born McGeady had always felt a strong connection to Ireland largely thanks to the influence of his father John, an ex-footballer who would bring the family to holiday at his parent’s home in Gweedore, Co Donegal, every summer.

As the clip below shows, the talented youngster supported Ireland as a boy and recalls watching Ray Houghton lob Gianluca Pagliuca at the ’94 World Cup.

When a rule preventing young Celtic players from lining out for Scotland’s Schoolboys led Packie Bonner to invite him the train with Ireland’s U15s, it felt like a an easy decision.

“An awful lot of people in the Scottish media tried to say that Aiden’s decision was a pragmatic decision based on getting to the World Cup,” explains dad John.

“At the time, Ireland had a better team then Scotland and they seized upon this thinking this guy has seen his future playing with Ireland, maybe getting to the World Cup because Scotland were in the doldrums.

“It wasn’t based on that at all. The decision was based on a very rich heritage of Irish culture passed down from father to son and from aunts to uncles and Aiden spent every single summer in Ireland from a child as I did. So he is very much ensconced in Irish life and he had a real deep unerring love for Ireland.”

Source: toitim67/YouTube

The winger impressed almost immediately and moved up through the ranks while also nearing a breakthrough at club level. He clearly made an impression on then Hoops boss Martin O’Neill and was given his first team debut at the age of 18 in April 2004.

Soccer - Bank of Scotland Premier Division - Celtic v Motherwell O'Neill gave McGeady his chance at Celtic. Source: John Walton

Two months later, a senior international debut followed during a friendly against Jamaica at The Valley. The decision didn’t sit well with the Scottish FA or many of their fans, who knew they were losing a talented player with huge potential, and inevitably McGeady was often singled out for abuse during his six years in the Celtic team. The reception at Old Firm rivals Rangers was particularly nasty.

If nothing else then, he and McCarthy have heard it all before.

“We were talking about who would get more stick,” McGeady told the BBC earlier this year. “I said him and he said me. You learn to deal with it. I am old enough now to deal with it. When I was younger, it got on my nerves.”

Aidan McGeady 2/6/2004 McGeady on his senior debut in 2004. Source: INPHO

Five years his team-mate’s junior, McCarthy’s story is a remarkably similar one. Both grew up in Glasgow as Celtic fans. Both were playing regular SPL football at a young age. Both have grandparents from Donegal and both have find themselves currently on the books at Everton.

James was just 15 when he made his first team bow at Hamilton Academical in 2006 and had already clocked up over 100 appearances for the club when Wigan Athletic shelled out €1.5m for the teenager three years later. Several top European clubs had reportedly been keeping tabs.

Soccer - Scottish Cup 4th Round - Hamiton Accademicals v Brechin City - New Douglas Park- McCarthy was a regular in the Hamilton team at the age of 16. Source: Lynne Cameron

At international level, McCarthy had been a regular in Ireland underage teams since the age of 16. It was the late Paddy Coyle’s dream for his grandson to represent Ireland and McCarthy made him a promise before his passing.

After being introduced to the player by St Patrick’s Athletic commercial officer Philip Nolan, Ireland youth team boss Sean McCaffrey helped him fulfill that wish.

“I have always wanted to play for Ireland and when the manager Sean McCaffrey picked me for these fixtures against Italy, I was delighted,” McCarthy said at the time.

“I know that I’ll have to work very hard to get a spot in the team because they are a good side. I was born in Scotland but my mother’s family are from Donegal. My grandfather, Paddy Coyle, was a big influence on me before he died and it was my intention to represent Ireland if I was lucky enough to be selected.

“I was a Glasgow Celtic supporter as a kid and my grandfather used to tell about the history of Celtic and the Irish International team. ”

James McCarthy McCarthy playing for Ireland's U19s at Whitehall. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Advances were made by then Scotland boss George Burley and the SFA to change McCarthy’s mind and before he made his competitive debut, some uncertainty remained.

Those concerns were finally put to bed when Giovanni Trapattoni brought him on as a substitute in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia.

Assured on the ball and full of energy, the midfielder has never looked out of place in the Premier League and his game has developed steadily under Roberto Martinez — both at Wigan and current club Everton.

Ireland have options in midfield these days but McCarthy is undoubtedly our best on current form, which makes the news that he could miss out on Friday due to a hamstring injury all the more difficult to take.

‘McGeady and McCarthy deserve to get a horrible reception’ – Gordon McQueen

McCarthy and Wilson injury concerns ahead of Scotland-Ireland clash

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Ben Blake

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