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JAMIE MCGRATH - Grace Notes

Updated: Dec 17, 2020


A Little Ireland situated on the suburbs of Glasgow? I'm sure I've heard that somewhere before. Nonetheless, that is exactly what Jim Goodwin and his Buddies are creating on the Renfrewshire border of Scotland's largest city.


Jamie McGrath made up part of a League of Ireland double swoop back in the January transfer window of this year as the former Dundalk playmaker joined compatriots Sam Foley and Conor McCarthy at St. Mirren Park. The Three Musketeers. Although it was perhaps more a case of Two and a Half Men, according to Jamie. You'll find out why soon enough.


That total has since doubled to five with two more summer additions as Jim Goodwin looks to build bridges over The Irish Sea. And, so far, it looks like it's working. So we thought we'd speak to the mercurial McGrath as one of the founding members of The Famous Five. Although I'm not sure it's going to stop there. Anyway, here is what we discussed over a coffee and a milkshake (no comment on who had which) at intu Braehead last week. 

Let’s start with St. Mirren. Has the presence of the Irish guys at the club made it easier for you to settle in Scotland? Yeah, definitely. The gaffer himself was one of the main factors in me coming here. When my contract expired with Dundalk at the end of last year I had a few options and a few conversations with different managers, but when I spoke to the gaffer, he really sold the club to me and what he could offer me as a player. Obviously him being Irish was an extra connection as he knows what it’s like to come over to Scotland as a younger player - I'm sure he was only 16 when he signed for Celtic. He’s probably a bit more lenient towards us as well! He’s been good for me if I want to go home and things like that. But, when I first signed, Sam Foley was the only Irish lad at the club… well I say that, it’s only his grandmother or something who is Irish so I’m not sure if he fully counts! (Laughs) But Conor McCarthy signed at the same time as me; knowing that was a big help. I had played against Conor before as well so I knew who he was, but we got in touch when we knew we were going to be signing. We are roughly the same age, coming over from Ireland, we were talking about living together - so being pretty much in the same position was definitely a help for both of us. The gaffer has since added to it with Joe Shaughnessy at the back - you can’t get too many good guys in I suppose! (Laughs)


Scottish and Irish people are pretty similar, but have you noticed any cultural differences between the countries since you came over? Not really. I think the biggest cultural shock I had coming over here was moving from a really small town to a city. Even when I went to college I never moved away from home; I was always a home bird. But that was another reason why I wanted to sign for St. Mirren, I wanted to experience something new and move away from home. I actually didn’t know that St. Mirren were on the outskirts of Glasgow before I signed, so it was a surprise!


Oh really? Where did you think they played? I actually just never knew at all! (Laughs) But the gaffer told me all about the location when we spoke on the phone and that was another lure for me to come over here. So moving from such a small town where everyone knows one another, all your friends and family are there, to Glasgow was definitely a culture shock for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a really tough decision for me to leave home, but I’m really enjoying it over here now that I’ve settled. I actually thought I would be a lot more homesick than I have been, but I’ve really embraced being on my own and I’m loving it.


One main difference between Scottish football and The League of Ireland is the structure of the season, with Ireland favouring a summer league set-up. You’ve only had to endure one Scottish winter so far, but having experienced both, what have you preferred? Well I grew up a Liverpool fan, so you’re used to watching football in the winter and you become accustomed to that football calendar. But when you become a professional in Ireland you know you’ll be playing throughout the summer. It does have it’s upsides. The weather, for instance. You don’t get too many games called off during the summer! I remember we had a few matches postponed when I first signed for St. Mirren which was frustrating. It’s also a benefit for the Irish clubs in Europe as we would have half a season under our belts by the time the European qualifying games came around. We would be firing on all cylinders, whereas clubs from other leagues would just be back for pre-season and we knew we could catch them off guard.

You have arrived in Scotland a bit later in your career as a 23 year-old. But it is common for Irish players to make the move over the Irish Sea during their teens. Despite not doing that, I believe you had the opportunity to do so; tell us more about that. Yeah, that’s right. I think I went to my first trial when I was 14 with Brentford. So I spent three or four days training over there before playing in a match. They then invited me back for a second trial but, deep down, I knew it wasn’t for me at that time.

So that was your decision not to move over at that stage or was it a decision you made together with your parents? To be fair, I probably never told them about that.


So they never knew about the trial?! No, no; they knew about the trial - my dad came over with me. But they never knew that I didn’t want to go at that time. I actually didn’t even want to go on the trial at all, but I just went as it was a nice feeling to have the trial and to be recognised. I was very shy at that age and was extremely nervous going over to Brentford. A lot of people won’t admit that but, yeah, I was shitting myself! (Laughs)

Were there any players in the Brentford youth-team from your trial that we’d know now? There probably was but I can’t really remember. They scrapped their academy recently but, back then, it was very successful. They were looking to get the A* Academy grade so it was a top set-up. In the end, they invited me back and offered me a contract, but the club I was with back home wanted too much money - so I was a little relieved!


That club you mentioned are the well renowned Irish boys’ club Cherry Orchard. They have nurtured multiple talents over the years including some familiar names in the form of Jonny Hayes and Anthony Stokes. Does playing for Cherry Orchard give you the belief that you can go on and have a career in football or is it still too early to comprehend at that age? Well, before that, I was only playing for my local team in their second division. Even before that, my dad was actually the manager of my brother’s team, who is five years older than me. I used to just tag along to sessions when I was three or four and my dad saw that I had something when I was there. So he threw me in to sessions with these guys who were pretty much double my age! But when football started for my age group at around seven or eight years old, I signed for my local club and scored five goals on my debut. So I think my dad noticed I was maybe a bit stronger than the other players at that age group. But I never thought anything of it; to me, it was just playing football with my mates. I then played a year of 11-asides with that club before my dad told me I should look to sign for a club in Dublin as that is where the best players are. But, similar to Brentford, I was a bit shy, I was low on confidence and I didn’t think I was good enough. But I told him I would do it… shitting myself again! (Laughs) So I went up and had a trial and, after the session, the manager at the time came over to tell my parents that I should stay at my local club for another year to develop. But, my dad being my dad, he said ‘Ah he’s not really training at home, would you be able to train him maybe once a week?’ - spoofing his way through! (Laughs) I then went back the next night and signed, so he done alright! From that point on I never really looked back. It was a huge jump in standard from playing with your mates to playing with the best players in the country.


Just before we move on, I wanted to ask you about Gaelic Football. I heard you speaking on an Instagram Live recorded during lockdown in which you mentioned you played the game during your younger years. Did you ever have to choose between the two sports? No it was always football for me. It’s just common to play it in school.

But the crowds in Gaelic football far outweigh the crowds in The League of Ireland. If you are talented at both sports, what is the most common decision that Irish players make? You’d definitely be in the minority if you chose football.


Are the crowd sizes reflected in the earnings across both leagues? All the boys in Gaelic football are amateurs.


So they don’t get paid at all? They don’t get a cent, and it’s the most supported sport in the country! It’s mad. Even from my own county, it’s very much a Gaelic Football county. We never had someone from our area represent Ireland up until about five years ago. Which is pretty astonishing as it’s a big enough county and it’s close to Dublin. Although, saying that, I did play Gaelic Football over the summer when I was at Cherry Orchard so I could keep my fitness up and I did really enjoy it. I used to just do Cruyff turns and stick it over the bar for a point. But the common perception is that Gaelic football people don’t really like soccer players; they see it as a foreign sport. But I still really enjoyed it and I might try to pick i