Trendsetter. A word that Jamie McGrath jokingly used to describe himself as he sat down to chat with Irish Football Fan TV. But in a way, he’s not wrong. A year on from McGrath’s switch to Scotland and two more League of Ireland graduates, in Jaze Kabia and Aaron McEneff, have followed suit.
The League of Ireland is where McGrath crafted his trade and he fondly reminisces on his time with Dundalk, a club close to his heart. “I was there for three years and it was three of the best years I’ve had in football. I met some unbelievable people and shared a great dressing room with so many great players and personalities.”
It was a more than productive three years for the 24-year-old at Dundalk, winning two league titles, one FAI Cup medal, and two League of Ireland Cup medals while also picking up the PFAI ‘Young Player of the Year’ award for the 2018 campaign.
Nearly a year on since the move and McGrath admits he still keeps a close eye on Dundalk games when he can, particularly their run in the Europa League. “Obviously they had a great season in Europe. To get to the group stages is something that’s incredible.”
So any regrets in missing out on European nights against the likes of Arsenal? To many it may have been a shock to see Dundalk’s best midfielder leave for a lower table Scottish Premiership team on the back of one of the most successful seasons in the club’s history. Yet, there isn’t a tint of regret in McGrath’s tone as he goes onto explain his reasons for leaving, “I was coming to the age where I thought I needed a new challenge – just gone 23 – I thought it was great opportunity to try something new.”
For many young footballers in Ireland, the grass can always appear greener in England. Watching their footballing idols play week in week out in the Premier League triggers a burning ambition that this is where they need to be playing. McGrath had the opportunity to continue his development on English soil, but felt St. Mirren was the more appealing option.
Waterford man and St. Mirren manager Jim Goodwin played his part in convincing McGrath, “he made it clear that he really wanted me. I would be playing week in week out and that was something that really appealed to me. I didn’t want to go somewhere and waste a year of development. I thought that this move gave me that opportunity and so far it is working out well.”
“Well” is a slight understatement from McGrath whose modesty is on show throughout the interview. Since his arrival at St. Mirren, the midfielder has made over 30 appearances and contributed to 12 goals in all competitions this season alone, scoring nine and assisting a further three.
Two of those goals came against Rangers in a memorable win in the Scottish League Cup quarter-finals. Steven Gerrard’s men were yet to be beaten, including Europa League ties against the likes of Benfica and Standard Liège, when they arrived at St. Mirren Park on December 16th. It was a special night for McGrath who scored the first two goals before Conor McCarthy found the winner in the 92nd minute.
The team spirit and belief was there though. A strong Irish core at the club may have something to do with that. McGrath joined St. Mirren in the same window as fellow Irishman Conor McCarthy and they “clicked straight away” off the pitch. Add to that list former Dundalk winger Dylan Connolly, along with Joe Shaughnessy and Jake Doyle-Hayes.
The best win of the season so far may have been against Rangers, but for McGrath, the recent performance against Celtic outshines the rest, “I thought the first half we played was probably the best football we’ve played all year. We played some very nice football. Obviously second half was going to be backs to the wall job as Celtic started to pile on pressure but I don’t think our keeper had much to do on the night.”
Is an Ireland call-up next on the agenda? With Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign kicking off next month, there is a sense that a new crop of Irish players may emerge onto the international stage. However McGrath’s feet are firmly on the ground with all of his focus on St. Mirren and finishing in the top six. “Obviously to play for Ireland would be incredible and it’s something everyone dreams of. That’s why everyone plays the game but it’s not really my focus at the minute, I am just focused on playing and trying to keep my form and see what happens.”
Performances of this nature, particularly against Scottish giants like Rangers and Celtic, will definitely do no harm to his chances of earning that first senior call-up. Although he may refuse to admit it, an Ireland cap would certainly be the icing on the cake this season for Jamie McGrath who is quietly going about his business in Scotland.
You can catch the full interview with Irish Football Fan TV below;
YouTube – youtu.be/Zf_5lw7kD44
Apple Podcast – apple.co/39SCQXr
Spotify – spoti.fi/3cLdZXx