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.
Dundalk FC returned for pre-season training on Monday with midfielder Jamie McGrath not part of the group who began preparing for the season opener at home to Derry City on St Valentine’s Day.
The 23-year-old Athboy man’s contract expired at the end of last year and while he was offered a new deal to extend his tenure at Oriel Park into a fourth season, he also had four offers from abroad.
It is understood that the former Republic of Ireland U-21 international will complete a move to Scottish Premiership side St Mirren in the coming days with the possibility of making his league debut at Ibrox against Rangers on January 22nd.
Speaking to The Argus after returning from a family break in Fuerteventura on Sunday evening, Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth said he had no update on McGrath’s future but admitted he was eyeing up further midfield enforcements despite the signings of Will Patching and Greg Sloggett before Christmas.
“Nothing has changed. There’s no update. He has offers from ourselves and other clubs so he has yet to decide anything. Until he does we remain hopeful but there’s no doubt we’ve been trying to get replacements in that position.
“We’re very strong in central midfield. We believe that when you list our central midfielders of Shields, Sloggett, McEleney, Murray, Flores and Patching that we’re very, very strong and you’d like to think we’re not going to pick up the same injuries as we did last year.
“We’re very strong in that area but we are looking to strengthen in that position. Whether Jamie stays or goes we may look for another in that number 10 position because we see Patrick playing a little bit deeper for us next season.”
Perth said there was nothing imminent in terms of new arrivals at Oriel Park outside of the aforementioned Patching and Sloggett, as well as full back Darragh Leahy, but said he was hopeful of adding one or two more to his squad this month.
“The amount of work gone on throughout November and December means that there is a hell of a lot going on in that sense but there’s nothing on the way,” said Perth.
“The January window is just open and we’re going to have to work out of that window. The first three or four days were shut down days in terms of it being New Year’s Day and the day after. Albeit I’ve been away but for the last three days my phone has been on fire. The work I’ve done is thankfully paying off in terms of people getting back to me with different bits and pieces.
“We do believe we need to strengthen our squad to give some of the players a hand with people who can help them achieve their goals. We will strengthen over the next two to three weeks, of that there is no doubt. We’ll see how that goes.
“A couple of lads will come in and see us as much as we’ll see them as well over the next week or two. We’ll try to sign one or two directly but we’ll certainly have a look at players as well.
“Once the window is open clubs will release players whereas that wasn’t happening in November and December.
“We’ve a big squad signed already but we’re just looking for one or two more to help us achieve our goals. It could be four, it could be five but it will most likely be one or two more into that group,” he said.
The club announced the first details of their pre-season schedule over the weekend. The first confirmed fixture is at home to UCD on Friday January 17th. The club will then depart for Spain the following Monday where they will face CFR Cluj on Wednesday January 22nd and CSKA Moscow on Friday January 24th.
Perth revealed that he was excited at the prospect of his side testing themselves against sides with Champions League and Europa League experience.
“I worked really hard on them,” he said of the fixtures.
“I wanted them for the club and for the players. From the board to the players, they were shocked when I broke the news to them about two days ago. Shocked in a good way and excited about it because we’ve got to test ourselves against these clubs.
“It is early for us, of course, particularly against CSKA because they’ll be in season. Their season shuts down but they tend to go to Spain for training camps. We’ve been in the same complex as them in the past but never been able to get a match against them so I really worked hard on that. The Cluj game then is a massive opportunity for our players and our club to see where we need to get to if we’re going to be serious in the next two to three years of competing against these clubs.
“When I sent the email to everyone on the board there was a general excitement that we had managed to get these friendlies. I know the players are really excited about them and really looking forward to them.
“I worked on it on my own through a contact and the thinking was that I just wanted to test ourselves and see their set up as a club. There would be a fear that the game going against us but no matter what happens in the game, whether we win 1-0 or lose 10-0 we’ll get loads out of it and see where the benchmark is. It’s a brilliant test for the players.”
Perth said he hoped to confirm up to four further friendlies shortly.
“We’ve definitely Longford pencilled in and we’ve another two to come that we just have to finalise. I’m just not 100% sure of the exact date for the Malone Cup against Drogheda but we’ll arrange that. We’re also trying to finalise a date to play Bray as well.
“It’s a very difficult time of the year to be organising fixtures but I’m very happy with the work we’ve done. We are looking at the possibility of organising a third friendly in Spain as well. I’m just waiting on that to be confirmed over the next couple of days so we’ll see where that goes but we’re in a really strong position,” he said.
The 43-year-old’s title was changed on the club directory over the Christmas break from head coach to manager but when questioned about the change Perth said he was unaware of it.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said when asked if he was now being referred to as manager.
“I’m entitled to be called manager now but it’s not something that has formally been discussed. There was a relaxation of the rules as everyone knows towards the back end of the season. I think the rule has changed for the start of next season but we don’t see it majorly changing in that sense.
“To be honest with you I really like the title of head coach because I think it sums up what a manager’s job is at a club like ours. That’s what you would hear around a lot of the European clubs now. Obviously we’re not as big as a lot of European clubs so there would be a lot more managerial responsibilities in Ireland compared to at other clubs but the title didn’t bother me this time last year and it won’t bother me now going forward.
“I didn’t even know it had been updated but I think everyone knows who the manager of the club is,” said Perth.
The boss also said he was happy with the club’s preparations for pre-season.
“We’ve all been together already so they’d have met already and that was the advantage of getting together before Christmas. We feel we’re a bit more down the road from where we were last year and the year before in particular in terms of having that week or four days together before Christmas.
“That was the design of it. This time last year there had been a difficult six weeks in the off season for different reasons but this year we’re very much further down the road and there has been a huge amount of planning done in October, November and December which we hope will pay off over the next week or two.
“A couple of lads will stay away from the group for maybe the first week who are coming back from injuries. We fixed a couple of issues lads had in the off-season so a few will stay away and do more cardio work for the first week to 10 days. Then it will settle itself down and everyone will be in together. We’ve been discussing it all for nearly two weeks now so there’s a plan in place for people for the next 10 days.”