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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 25 October 2020

15 months on, Aiden McGeady still aiming to disprove Roy Keane’s infamous criticism

The Sunderland winger will be hoping to be involved for Martin O’Neill’s side on Saturday.

Aiden McGeady's best moments in a green jersey have arguably come against Georgia.
Aiden McGeady's best moments in a green jersey have arguably come against Georgia.
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

HAVING READ ALL 292 pages of Bob Dylan’s 2004 autobiography Chronicles, The Observer’s Robert McCrum summed up the critical consensus when he wrote “much mystery remains” in reference to the singer’s notoriously enigmatic persona.

In a way, the same sentiments could probably apply to Aiden McGeady. Like McCrum with Dylan, Ireland fans have spent plenty of time getting to know the gifted winger, yet he remains somewhat of an unpredictable and elusive figure like the legendary songwriter.

At 31, McGeady has won 90 caps at senior international level. Of the current squad, only John O’Shea has more. In total, seven players have featured more times in Irish football history — Niall Quinn (91) , Damien Duff (100), Steve Staunton (102), Kevin Kilbane (110), John O’Shea (117), Shay Given (134) and Robbie Keane (146).

All those other individuals are beloved by the Irish public and most would be strong contenders for an all-time Ireland XI. The same cannot be said for the far more divisive McGeady, however. Saturday’s game against Georgia is a natural time to reflect on the Glasgow native’s career, because the winger’s best moments in a green jersey have arguably come up against the team that Ireland continue to boast a 100% record against, after eight fixtures between the two sides.

When Ireland scraped a win against the Georgians in 2009 thanks to two late Robbie Keane goals, McGeady was Ireland’s biggest attacking threat and was named man of the match for his performance.

Moreover, in 2014, he inspired Ireland to a 2-1 away victory in their opening Euro 2016 qualifier, scoring a brilliant injury-time winner — the kind of goal that few people in world football and no one else on the Irish team, would be capable of scoring. On the latter occasion in particular, Irish fans hoped it would serve as a launchpad to turn McGeady into the kind of frequent match-winner he has so often threatened to become.

Source: 2011ade/YouTube

Instead however, the star’s career has gone backwards after that unforgettable moment of magic. In Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign so far, McGeady has played 29 out of a possible 540 minutes. Since the 2014 Georgia game, he has started only four competitive matches for his country — the last of which was the 1-1 draw with Poland in March 2015. McGeady was ineffectual and looked half-fit on that night, perhaps owing to his struggles at club level at the time. He was replaced by James McClean after 68 minutes, and the West Brom winger made an instant impact. So perhaps unsurprisingly, McClean has gradually established himself as Ireland’s first-choice winger at McGeady’s expense since then.

Source: eirebhoy09/YouTube

And the two players make for an interesting comparison. McGeady is clearly the more naturally gifted of the two, but in terms of sheer endeavour, reliability and resilience, McClean has proven to be the superior footballer.

Yet if you examine McGeady’s career in detail, he has hit the kind of heights few if any players in the current Ireland squad can match — a senior debut for Celtic at 18, SPFA Players’ Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year simultaneously in 2008, three Scottish titles and two Scottish Cups, numerous Champions League appearances and high praise from Lionel Messi of all people.

Despite having had a pretty positive time overall at Spartak Moscow, who he joined from Celtic for £9.5 million in 2010, his career hit a standstill relatively shortly after an ill-fated move to Everton following a four-year stint in Russia.

He subsequently went on loan to Sheffield Wednesday, but this transfer proved disastrous, to the point that McGeady was allowed to train with Ireland before their season had ended, as he was not needed for the Owls’ vital Championship play-off fixtures.

Source: pnefcofficial/YouTube

Having been deemed surplus to requirements at Everton and Sheffield Wednesday, and having failed to impress in a pre-Euros friendly against Belarus, McGeady’s career appeared to be going downhill.

Ireland assistant boss Roy Keane, who famously is not one to mince his words, gave a stark post-Belarus warning to the under-performing star, commenting: “He can do better, maybe that’s the story of his career.”

Keane’s words attracted criticism at the time, with many deeming such a strong and public admonishment of the player inappropriate.

But you could make a case that these caustic remarks served as a necessary wake-up call. Indeed, since then, McGeady has looked revitalised at club level. He got his career back on track, winning numerous plaudits on loan at Preston, including the club’s Player of the Season award, before earning a permanent switch to Sunderland, linking back up with former Lilywhites boss Simon Grayson in the process.

And while everything McGeady has done at international since his 2014 Tbilisi heroics has paled by comparison, O’Neill hinted to reporters recently that he could be given an opportunity to thrive against the team he seems to love playing.

“If there’s anybody who should be thinking about it, it’s McGeady — it would be a great moment to repeat what he did for us out there a few years ago,” the Irish boss said.

“The club manager likes him as well and that’s good. He’s getting games, he should be match fit.

“He had done well in terms of fitness that pre-season and when he came to Georgia that was about as fit as I’d seen him for some time — and physical fitness is important for Aiden.”

The most painful aspect of those aforementioned Keane comments is that they rang true, regardless of whether the assistant manager was right to utter them or not. Yet if McGeady does go on to star against Georgia on Saturday, it will be quite the turnaround for the experienced winger, given that his career appeared to be in turmoil a little over a year ago.

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Paul Fennessy

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