Jamie McGrath says he is “gutted” to leave Dundalk FC but admitted he feared in the long term he would regret not giving a career in the UK a shot had he not taken up the option now.
The 23-year-old put pen to paper on a two-and-a-half year deal with Scottish Premiership side St Mirren last week to bring his three year spell at Oriel Park to a conclusion.
In 118 appearances for the Lilywhites, McGrath won all there was to win in the domestic game including two league titles, two EA Sports Cups, an FAI Cup, a President’s Cup and a Unite the Union Champions Cup.
Now the 2018 PFAI Young Player of the Year will look to kick on under Jim Goodwin at St Mirren and he could make his debut for the Paisley-based side this Saturday when they host Broxburn Athletic in the Scottish Cup.
“I’m happy to get it done now,” McGrath told The Argus on Sunday evening.
“Obviously there was a lot of talk towards the latter part of the season. I’m gutted to leave Dundalk after what was such a great three years. It’s hard to let that go but I saw this as an opportunity. I wanted to give playing abroad a try and luckily enough I got the chance.
“Hopefully I can kick on. I didn’t want to look back in my late 30s and say I wish I had done this or that. It was something I did want to try just to say I actually tried it. When the opportunity came up, I had a few options so I just had to weigh up which was best at the time and this just felt right.”
McGrath said it would be a huge help for him in terms of settling in that he was joining at the same time as Conor McCarthy, who also signed for the Saints last week from old rivals Cork City.
“There’s no other Irish lads here so it’s always a help if you can go into a club and you’re familiar with someone.
“When I heard Conor was signing too it was great news. I didn’t know him too well before coming here but like most Irish lads we share the same sense of humour so it’s nice that he has come over with me. That was a little bonus.”
McGrath said he is hopeful of getting some minutes against Broxburn on Saturday in the hope of forcing his way into the equation for a possible league debut away to Rangers at Ibrox on Wednesday week.
“I hope so,” he said when asked if he’d be involved at the weekend.
“I only came over on Tuesday to sign. I got my stuff together then Wednesday and came back Thursday so I’ve only had one pitch session so far. We had a gym session on Saturday and we were off today but I’d say I’ll have a heavy week of training now.
“I’ve been ticking over in the off-season but I haven’t been playing matches so hopefully I will be involved on Saturday as it would be a great chance to get minutes into the legs.
“Ibrox and stadiums like that were a big factor when the opportunity came up. You get to play against the likes of Hibs, Hearts, Celtic and Rangers. There will be plenty of big days out and I’ll be playing in front of big crowds which is something you always want to do as a footballer.
“You want to play on as big a stage as you can and you might get that chance a bit more regularly over here. It would be a great way to start life over here to play against 40,000 or 50,000 under the lights at Ibrox next Wednesday week in front of Stevie G, who was my boyhood hero.”
While St Mirren’s primary concern is to avoid the drop this season, McGrath says he and his new team-mates are looking up as the 10th placed side currently sit just six points off fifth place in the table.
“It’s very tight. I’ve been looking at it now for the last week or so and one win could push you up a few places but on the other hand a loss could be critical.
“There’s so many teams in and around us including Hearts who are down at the bottom. They shouldn’t be down there but Jim is putting together a good side. He has signed myself and Conor and he has signed a guy on loan from Norwich as well so he’s not looking below us. He’s looking up and trying to break into that top six which is a good thing.”
Despite his time at Oriel Park coming to an end, the Athboy native said he would be a fan of Dundalk for life now.
“Definitely. I’ll be cheering on Dundalk every Friday night. All the lads have been texting me so hopefully I’ll get up to see a few games whenever I’m home.
“It was a hard moment telling all the boys and leaving the group chat. Just little things like that were difficult.
“I bumped into Gary (Rogers) in Applegreen in Navan last week when I had the deal more or less done and he was one of the first I told. He just wished me all the best. I was very close to him since joining at the start and I’ll miss the likes of him, his wife Linda and his daughters Bonnie and Layla but I said I’ll be over to the house for a catch up whenever I’m home. Hopefully then I can head up to Oriel too and meet all the boys again.”
A new life awaits McGrath in Scotland with coffee with former team-mate David McMillan already lined up but he leaves behind a wealth of memories he says he will never forget.
“I think my favourite memory would be the night after we won the FAI Cup final in 2018 when we had the bus tour through the town.
“That was just something I’ve never experienced before. It was an incredible night with all the fans who came out and all my family were there too including my granny and grandad. There were great celebrations after winning the double and it was my first league and FAI Cup as well so that is the all time high for me in my career so far.”
So far being the key words.
No doubt all Dundalk supporters will follow Jamie’s progress and hope he continues to shine like he did in his three years at Oriel.