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 it up after I retire.
After leaving Cherry Orchard, you moved on to UCD - The University College Dublin - who play in The League of Ireland. I think you intended to utilise their scholarship scheme and play football at the same time but that never transpired. What can you remember from that period? So I went to The Milk Cup with Cherry Orchard and I think we finished third; we had a really successful tournament. Manchester United knocked us out that year. I remember Andreias Perrierra playing midfield for them that day. He gave me my first eye-opener of what standard the best players were at. That was a great way to finish my time at the club but, after that, it was a case of finding the right path to becoming a professional footballer. It’s not like over here where you have academies with a route to the first-team. I think the year I went in to UCD was actually the first year of under-19 teams in Ireland. Before that happened, you would play with the likes of Cherry Orchard and just hope that a professional team would pick you up. At that time, I was fortunate to almost have the pick of which under-19 team I went in to and met up with the first-team managers of the clubs. In the end, I went with UCD. It probably wasn’t the most obvious choice but, as you said, I was looking to utilise the scholarship scheme. They also tend to bring through a lot of young players at the club, so it was ticking all the boxes for me. I had another opportunity to go to an English academy at that time as well but, again, I didn’t feel like I was ready for it. I think it would have swallowed me up if I went over there at that age, to be honest. I then done my Leaving Certificate year with UCD - which is probably the equivalent to Highers over here. At the end of that year, though, I realised I didn’t want to go to UCD, the actual college itself. I made the decision to do a different course at Maynooth University as it was closer to home and my friends were going there; I just felt I would be more comfortable in my surroundings if I went to Maynooth. Once again, it was probably a case of being shy that made me not want to move to Dublin so I looked to stay at home. I ended up getting in to the university and they have a scholarship partnership with St Pat’s Athletic, who were really successful at that time. So I spoke to the manager of the first-team and he told me I would be training with the first-team so it was a no-brainer for me. I went in, played with the under-19’s, won the All-Ireland Cup - I actually scored two in the final - I then made my senior debut at 17, my European debut at 18 and then got a call up to the national team with the under-19’s, so it was a really good time for me.
And how did you find playing and studying at the same time? I missed a lot of lectures! I was lucky that I could catch up online. The club were really good with me as well; they would give me time off to sit exams and things like that. But I had been used to having to work long hours with my studies even at school. With being at Cherry Orchard from the age of 12, I would travel up to Dublin, which was an hour away, train, travel home and then do my homework. And that was three times a week. So I was almost used to it by the time I went to university. My lecturers were very good with me as well; they all knew the situation I was in and they worked with me to ensure I was up to date with the coursework. But it was very tough. I remember this one time actually… Back home in Ireland, most of the matches are played on a Friday night and I had an exam on the same day as a game. I was rushing to finish it, I think I got out at four o’clock and we had a match up in Dundalk at seven! My mum and dad came to collect me, raced up to Dundalk, I just made the warm-up, started and ended up scoring a hat-trick - my first and only ever hat-trick! - I should probably do an exam before every match! (Laughs)
With being a student at the same time as your friends who also went to university, was it difficult for you to remain professional during that period when all your peers would be going out? I think that was one of the main reasons I never moved out! So the decision to stay at home was a footballing one. I would have liked to have maybe sampled it and got the full college experience but it’s just something I had to sacrifice if I wanted to be serious about football. But, as we’ve touched on, with our summer schedule, our season would finish in November, so I think I had the best November or December I could possibly have! (Laughs) So I had the best of both worlds.
After leaving St Pat’s you moved on to Dundalk. I saw you perform some sort of jinking, weaving run with St Pat’s against your future employers on YouTube, do you think that had anything to do with your move? Yeah, so I think that was about a year or so before I signed for Dundalk and it was actually one of my first appearances with St Pat’s. I’m sure we were getting tanked two or three - nil at home when the manager put me on up-front! I had never really played there before. But he told me to just go out and be brave on the ball. I went on with the attitude that I had nothing to lose and just tried to impress - especially as Dundalk were the biggest club in the country and had played in the Europa League maybe the week before. ‘Let’s try and play against the big boys here’ was what I remember thinking. Like you said, I picked the ball up and thought I’d go on a run when I saw there was no-one supporting me. I beat a few boys, laid it off to my teammate but, unfortunately, he missed it! Otherwise, it would have been a nominee for the Puskás Award, no doubt! But yeah, it probably was a big part in me getting my move! Stephen Kenny, who was the manager at the time, came up and spoke to me after the game. I knew he liked technical footballers, so I knew I had done myself no harm at least. But, even when Dundalk came in for me, it was another case of thinking ‘Am I good enough to go there?’. I was so nervous about it; I wanted to stay in my comfort zone. I was becoming one of the main players at St. Pat’s but Dundalk had just been in the Europa League so I wasn’t sure if I could break in to the team. I remember being in the college library one day when my agent rang me and told me that Stephen Kenny wanted to sign me. I was just like ‘What?!’ (Laughs) He asked me what I made of it and I said I wasn’t sure. ‘What do you mean you’re not sure? The best manager in the country wants to take you to the biggest team in the country!’. But I just wasn’t sure I would play. But I met the manager and he sold the club to me and he told me that I would play. He did tell me that I did need to bulk up, right enough! Dundalk were known for being the fittest and strongest club in the league and that stemmed from the manager. That’s one thing I neglected at Pat’s because of studying. When I met Stephen Kenny he just stared me out; looking at my arms, my legs - I don’t think he was impressed! (Laughs) But I knew that, if I was serious about progressing, I had to make the move. I went in for the first day of training and the kitman took me to get my gear. He gave it to me and I noticed I was number 10. I thought it was a mistake! I was taken aback by it. It showed me the confidence the manager had in me to come in and make an impact. He was very tough on me in my first six months though; he was always at me to get in the gym. I had head-loss for a spell during that time as I felt like I was being singled out. But, looking back on it now, he was just pushing me to be the best I could.
Just on that, for people who have yet to see that clip or watch you play, how would you describe your style of play? Erm, I’m not sure how I would describe my style of play. First and foremost, I am a hard worker. I give my all every match and in the stats from matches I tend to be the player who has ran the furthest. I just try to be as fearless as possible; I remember one of my first Europa League matches I did a Bergkamp-style turn on the edge of the box, beat the defender, then hit the post. if that had went in, it would have been the best goal I ever scored.
You keep saying that don’t you? (Laughs) Yeah! I never score them! But I like to just try things off the cuff. I also like to dribble, tackle; I’m a mixture of everything really. ‘Hardworking number 10’ would probably be the best fit. But, saying that, I have played on the wing, as a false nine, a number eight. So yeah, a mixture of everything, but with some flat when I can!
Did you have a football inspiration growing up that you tried to mould your game on? It was always Steven Gerrard, without a doubt. Especially growing up in a family of massive Liverpool fans - I’m named after Jamie Redknapp and my brother was named after Craig Johnston! My house is called Anfield House… it’s a bit extreme! (Laughs) So yeah, growing up it was always going to be Steven Gerrard for me. He was a monster of a man to me. I even got my hands on his boots when I was young. So he was my footballing idol and a huge inspiration for me so to meet him a few weeks ago with St. Mirren was mad; a dream come true.
Just on footballing inspirations, I want to talk about fashion for a bit - do you look to any players for any style tips? Not really. I think that, coming from such a small town, you don't get to see certain things. The clothes I have now are broadening my horizons - if I wore certain things, I have in my wardrobe back home I would be shot! (Laughs) But being in an environment with footballers just opens your mind to new things so that has been good for me. But none of my teammates have provided me with any inspiration so far!
And how would you describe your own style? It's just chilled out; laid back. I don't like to be the centre of attention so I tend to keep it quite conservative.
Do you try to shop for clothes that reflect your personality? Yeah, big time. I don't want to be in the limelight too much. I'll leave that to the other boys! (Laughs)
On that, what would be your go-to shops if you needed a new fit? Probably Zara and places like that. I'm not massively in to brands. I've seen some of the boys wearing some bad designer gear - I wouldn't be spending £500-600 on a t-shirt... I wouldn't be able to live with myself! (Laughs) But it just stems from not being in to that scene growing up as we've spoken about. So I just like to keep it chilled out - I think the most expensive thing I've bought recently are a pair of Yeezy's.
That's not bad! Yeah, it's not bad! But, as a footballer, you are expected to be dripped out in brands!
As well as promising footballers, there are also some wavy artists coming out of Ireland right now with Rejjie Snow and Hare Squead, but who do you like the sound of? In terms of Irish artists, I really like Dermot Kennedy. I actually had tickets to go to his shows in both Glasgow and back home. But then the virus put a pin in that. So he would be my favourite Irish artist. Overall, though, it would be Post Malone. I stuck on my Post Malone jumper to come and meet you today! (Laughs) I've been to two of his shows back home so, yeah, I'm a fan of his.
Is that sort of vibe different to what you'd play before a match? I do have a playlist before matches. Post Malone is on there. Migos are on there. But I have a lot of different vibes on that playlist - you could get Tiesto, Linkin Park... anything! (Laughs) I'll just stick it on shuffle and see what comes on. Khalid is another one; I really like Khalid.
We’ve discussed cultural differences between Ireland and Scotland, but how does the music in the changing room here compare to back home? It's pretty similar. Obviously guys from different nationalities like different music but Scotland and Ireland are pretty similar overall. To be fair, the kitman at St. Mirren has a playlist full of absolute bangers that he puts on! Junior Morias is also one for putting on some mad tunes when he's on the decks! But, other than that, it's quite similar.
Going back to Dundalk, the club had great success in Europe the season before you joined and are a dominant force in The League of Ireland; but just how big a club are Dundalk and, if you could, who would you liken them to in Scotland? That's a difficult one. I think that the top two teams back home - Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers - would be similar to Celtic and Rangers in terms of the gulf between the rest of the league; there's quite a big gap between them. Those two clubs, in my opinion, would be able to compete in the Scottish Premiership. Where would they would finish, though, I'm not so sure.
Given the club’s success - both domestically and on the continent - what inspired your move to St. Mirren? I had won the league twice, I had won all the cups, won Young Player of the Year... I don't want to sound like Jay from the Inbetweeners but, you know! (Laughs) But when I was growing up, you knew about Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen; you knew they were all huge clubs in Scotland and that the standard is very good. I was aware that the league had a better reputation than back home as well - better teams, better players, better stadiums - I just felt like it was the natural next step in my career. The only thing I hadn't done with Dundalk was play in Europe beyond the qualifying rounds. But domestically, I had won everything, so I wanted a new challenge. I had a few offers from League One in England, but the money and facilities at those clubs werent matching up with Scotland. As well as that, the managers down south weren't making me feel wanted. But, when I spoke to Jim, he told me everything that I needed to hear and, in the end, it was an easy decision.
One other factor would be to enhance your chances of breaking in to the senior Irish set-up if you can impress against the bigger clubs in the Scottish Premiership. You’ve already represented your country at Under-19 and Under-21 level, as well as having a relationship with manager Stephen Kenny. Was that something that crossed your mind when you signed for The Buddies ? You're right in what you're saying but, to be honest, I'm not really focused on that. Obviously it's in the back of my mind. Especially knowing Stephen and having worked with him for so long. But to play with the senior team you need to be putting in serious performances. I know I'm not at that level yet but it is one of my aims to reach it. I know players in this league have been called up before, so it's definitely a possibility.
Lastly, a nice easy one for you to finish, if you could choose to replicate the success of one Irish player in Scotland, who would it be? Oooh. Let me think ... ... There's surely a few. I can't get Anthony Stokes out of my head here! (Laughs) But I would have to say Aiden McGeady. Or Paddy McCourt. I know Paddy is Northern Irish but I actually played with him when he came on trial with Dundalk. Wow. What a player. But, yeah I would say Aiden. He's had an unbelievable career. He probably didn't get as much success with the national side as he'd have liked. People back home were always very critical of him for his final ball, but I loved him growing up because he was the only one who brought a bit of flair to the team. So yeah, to answer your question, I would say McGeady.
Words: Scott Kelly
Photography: Connor Stewart
Location: intu Braehead