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Dublin: 10°C Saturday 17 April 2021
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So, just why has Jamie McGrath left Dundalk for St Mirren?

“I had Steven Gerrard posters on my wall growing up, now he’ll be doing opposition analysis on me.”

Jamie McGrath has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with St Mirren.
Jamie McGrath has signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with St Mirren.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

JUST LIKE THAT, everything has changed for Jamie McGrath.

Where he lives, where he works, and his relationship. The future looks much different now. “It’s exciting,” the 23-year-old says. “It’s a challenge for me to rise to and be able to get better.”

So why doesn’t everyone else feel the same?

On Tuesday, McGrath took the 35-minute flight from Dublin to Glasgow. From there it was another 10 minutes in a car to seal the deal on the next stage of his career in professional football.

The destination was not Celtic or Rangers.

St Mirren, 10th in the Scottish Premiership and part of a relegation scrap, secured his signature when various other clubs in Britain were also interested. Jim Goodwin, the Waterford native in charge at the club, played a key role.

“It wasn’t because he was Irish or anything like that. Of course it helps but he was easy to talk to. He hasn’t made me any promises about playing, there are no guarantees with that at all because he’s told me what he expects, but he has also told me to be ready to play, that he’s not bringing me over just to sit on the bench and watch what’s happening.”

It all happened this week, even if McGrath knew in his heart of hearts after the FAI Cup final at the start of last November that his time at Dundalk was coming to an end. “My head was all over the place, to be honest. I needed a break from it all after losing to [Shamrock] Rovers and needed to think what I should do next.”

McGrath won two Premier Division titles at Oriel Park, had become a Republic of Ireland U21 international thanks to the guidance of former manager Stephen Kenny, and was a regular in a side preparing for another shot at European football this summer.

His decision to leave for a club struggling at the foot of the Scottish top flight caused some consternation among the League of Ireland faithful, some of whom viewed the move as a sideways, or even backward, step.

“It was hard to leave a dressing room with great people in it, when you’re playing all the time and so used to winning, you don’t just decide to walk away from all that without thinking about it. I’d always have regrets if I didn’t try it over here,” McGrath reasons. 

“I was comfortable at Dundalk, I was living at home [with his parents] and I felt like I needed a different challenge, something to take me completely out of my comfort zone and to challenge me to reach the next level in my career. I’ve come here because I want to rise to the challenge, I believe I can step up and kick on even more in my career.”

jamie-mcgrath-celebrates-after-the-game-with-fans McGrath celebrates winning the Premier Division title with Dundalk. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

McGrath was back home in Athboy, Co. Meath today. He began his goodbyes with friends and family, as well as his girlfriend Fiona who has just landed a job in Dublin and, perhaps even more impressively, somewhere to live in the city centre.

“She has already booked like five or six flights to come over and her job have been really helpful giving her time off on Monday mornings. So we’ll have to get used to that over the next while.”

His mother, Brenda, will watch her youngest son fly the nest tomorrow, following the footsteps of his older brother who emigrated to Toronto. “I’m sure Mam and Dad will be alright, it will be strange for everyone though because the house will be empty.”

And there has already been an emotional goodbye with Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers, a source of encouragement and confidence in the three seasons he spent at Oriel Park.

“And lifts,” McGrath laughs. “I didn’t drive for the first year and Gary was a huge help, he was always telling me to work hard and stick at it everyday. He made sure I did. I wouldn’t have been great for going to the gym before but he brought me to the extra sessions.

“I will miss him, and his two daughters Bonnie and Layla. I’ll miss them too. I met him at an Applegreen last week to break the news to him that I was going. We had a chat and we had a hug at the end of it.”

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McGrath will get the chance to form new bonds now, even if friendships in professional football are few and far between. Conor McCarthy joined the Scottish club from Cork City on the same day and the pair will become flatmates. 

“Something else to get used to,” McGrath adds. 

The club offered them the chance to get an apartment in Glasgow city centre but, after consulting with defender Sean McLoughlin, who has just returned to parent club Hull City after a six-month loan spell, they have opted for the quieter surrounds of Paisley on the outskirts of the city. 

The mid-season break means McGrath will get the chance to train with his new teammates for a couple of weeks before a potential league debut away to Rangers at Ibrox.

“That’s the added attraction of coming here, you will get the chance to play in big games at places like Ibrox and Celtic Park. Clubs like Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen, too. It’s a new adventure and a different platform to go and play, to hopefully do well. I couldn’t turn the chance to go away down, I want to give this a go.”

gary-rogers-and-jamie-mcgrath-celebrate-after-the-game Gary Rogers and Jamie McGrath formed a bond both on and off the pitch. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Family and friends have already booked in anticipation of his debut at Ibrox, where the chance to impress in front of his childhood hero is an added incentive. 

“I had a wall full of Steven Gerrard photos growing up, he was my idol since I was about four or five,” McGrath admits. 

“Playing against a team managed by Stevie G is only a perk. Inside I might be dying to get a photo but I’m not there as a fan. It’s funny to think he might be discussing me now when he’d doing opposition analysis but you can’t be overawed by that.

“If you let that swallow you up and get the better of you, you won’t be able to perform. And I want to show what I can do here.”

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