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Thread: Aiden McGeady interview

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    Aiden McGeady interview

    The Sunday Times

    The Big Interview: Aiden McGeady
    The Bhoy wonder has the world at his feet, and the drive to be a true great, writes Douglas Alexander

    When does a boy become a man? Women might argue that most males never cross this imaginary line of development and instead spend their entire lives hopping back and forth across the border to their childhood. Aiden McGeady made one such trip recently, although it was not a lapse into the sort of puerility that should concern Martin O’Neill. After Celtic’s 2-0 defeat by Hearts a month ago, he returned to the cocoon of his family home on Glasgow’s southside. As his dad left the house, McGeady asked him to buy a ball. When John McGeady returned and received the six quid it cost, his son went out into the quiet cul-de-sac and started to kick it around, as if just playing in front of 60,000 supporters at Celtic Park was a dream rather than a reality. A couple of kids blinked in disbelief. Was that really Aiden McGeady of Celtic out in their street, just mucking about with a ball?


    Yet as a child of five or six, McGeady would hardly have been as awestruck. He admits that, initially, football seemed less appealing than his Sega Mega Drive, the sort of story that makes youth coaches groan and pine for the good old days when kids ... kicked a ball about in the street. “I wasn’t actually interested in football, I wasn’t at all. Then, when I was eight or nine, my friend was going to train with a football team and asked me if I wanted to go. I went along and as soon as I started kicking the ball I liked it, but it was definitely a late start.”

    His father John, a former professional with Sheffield United whose career was curtailed by a cracked kneecap, was ambivalent to his son’s ambivalence to football. “I didn’t put any pressure on him,” he says. “I wanted Aiden to have a profession because of what happened to my career. It was really bizarre the way it first happened. My two brothers have both got sons that are football mad, Aiden’s younger than both of them and we used to go down to Cathkin for a kickaround. I said to my brother, Pat, that I’d take Aiden along to see if he was going to be interested in even kicking the thing. I bought him a wee pair of Maradona football boots and he went up to my brother with the ball at his feet. My brother is six foot and Aiden started moving about in front of him. I said, ‘What’s he trying to do, Pat?’ and Pat said, ‘He’s trying to beat me’. I don’t think he even knew what he had to do, it was just instinct.”

    Soon the late starter was making up for lost time. It quickly became apparent in games for Our Lady of the Missions primary school on Saturdays and Busby boys club on Sundays that a latent talent had been tapped. No ball was safe. Having mastered a football, McGeady was soon keeping up a tennis ball 500 times and a golf ball 200 times, after watching a video of his hero, Diego Maradona, doing so. At his father’s insistence, each juggling exercise involved both feet.

    “Maybe because I had played the game myself, I realised that Aiden had a gift and that the only way it was going to come to fruition was through proper guidance. I sat down one night with Elaine, my wife, and said, ‘Apart from anything else, I have got a major responsibility here’. There was never any danger of me living my life through him because he had far more natural ability than me.”

    John decided to raise the bar: it was time to move Aiden from the nice grass pitches that Busby played on where nice boys applauded each other off at the end. “My friend ran a team in the Gorbals and I thought it would be a good idea for Aiden to start playing with guys who could toughen him up, guys who were a bit streetwise.” Mick Gillespie, who ran Govanhill cubs, had been a schoolboy friend of John’s and played for Queen’s Park. He took responsibility for the next stage of Aiden’s development. “He used to make deals with Aiden before the game. He would say for the first five minutes play two-touch football, the second five minutes do what you like then two-touch again for five minutes. It made him more of a team player, more aware.”

    By the time Aiden started at St Ninian’s secondary school, others wanted to make deals with him. Arsenal, Celtic, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all made overtures. At United, McGeady stood out from the crop of boys brought from England, Scotland and Ireland and Wales to one trial. At Arsenal, John recalls that Aiden, who wore glasses then, looked like “Harry Potter” when handed a top with sleeves that swallowed his tiny arms. However, he didn’t look out of place in the ensuing match against a side from Auxerre in front of Liam Brady and Don Howe. “At the end, Brady came over and said, ‘He’s got all the ability in the world but he wants it too, he’s got that mental toughness’,” adds John. “‘He got kicked a few times but he got the guys back’.”

    Aiden was as impressed by Arsenal as they were by him. Of all the English clubs, they were the one who seriously threatened Celtic for his signature as a schoolboy. “I didn’t want to leave home because my dad told me he did it when he was 16 and was homesick, and I didn’t want to go down that path.” There was another factor. George Adams, now head of Rangers’ youth development, but then in charge of Celtic’s schoolboy scouting.

    “He was a genuine guy who said what he thought. He would come and watch me play and then phone afterwards to say he was still interested.”



    COURTED by clubs but also by countries. There was an interested spectator when McGeady played in that trial at Manchester United. Darren Fletcher had been attracted by the hype that had accompanied McGeady south. “He completely ran the show and stood out a mile against all the best young players in the country,” says Fletcher. “Andy Perry, the chief scout at United, told me he was special and he wasn’t wrong. Afterwards, I met him and told him all about United and what it was like to live down there. I was about 15 or 16 at the time and ready to sign, but he was 12 or 13 and going round a few clubs.”

    Fletcher and McGeady shared another dilemma. Whether to play for Scotland, the country of their birth, or Ireland, the country of their heritage. Fletcher had to contend with Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane as aggressive ambassadors for each cause but was always going to choose Scotland despite the fact that his mother, Bridget, is from County Mayo. McGeady slipped through Scotland’s system because Celtic, at that time, forbade their signings from playing schools football of any form for Scotland but had no problem with Ireland, whose sides of the same age were run by the FAI.

    “I come from an Irish background, I go over there for holidays [to Gweedore in Donegal where his grandmother, Kitty, lives] but it’s not really anything to do with that, that’s just the way I was brought up,” explains McGeady. “When I was 15 I wanted to play for my country and because I didn’t play for my school, Scotland schoolboys wouldn’t let me. I thought, ‘Fair enough, I’ll just go back to playing normal football with Celtic’, but then Packie Bonner [the former Celtic and Ireland goalkeeper] phoned and asked me to go over for training and I thought, ‘What’s the harm in that?’.

    “It was a sort of get-together of the teams. I did quite well and got asked back and was involved with all the teams — 15s, 16s, 17s. After that, I knew the set-up really well and all the boys. When I broke into the first team at Celtic there was all the drama about why I had picked Ireland rather than Scotland, but the thing was I already knew the set-up and wasn’t going to change my mind.”

    Despite this assertion, officials at the Scottish Schools FA insist they were innocent and that other players from club sides, who didn’t play for their schools, were selected for the international team at that time. Berti Vogts later made a personal plea for a switch of allegiance in his office at Hampden but it was too late and Brian Kerr has since fast-tracked McGeady into Ireland’s senior squad, giving him his full debut against Jamaica last June. Ireland have a deeper pool of talent than Scotland right now and are therefore more likely to be at the big tournaments that McGeady craves, but the downside is that holding down a place in their squad will be more difficult than if he had opted for the country of his birth. “I have had a few games here and there but I would really like to break through and become a regular. First, you have to do that at your own club. The thing everybody wants to do is play at a World Cup against the best players in the world. I have still got loads of time left to do that but eventually I would like to. 1994 was the first one I watched and I remember Maradona running to the cameras to celebrate his goal against Greece before he was banned.”

    One of his uncles went to see an 18-year-old Maradona destroy Scotland at Hampden in 1979. Alan Hansen, who played against him that day, jokes that he is still untying the knots from his legs, but a reminder of this match brings a smile from McGeady for a different reason as he sits talking at a table in the Room restaurant in the salubrious surrounds of One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow’s west end. “My uncle was at the game with his friend and said, ‘What do you think of that boy Maradona?’ and he said, ‘Nah, I don’t rate him’.”

    McGeady lacks the stocky explosiveness of his hero or Wayne Rooney but he is a box of tricks, perhaps the closest thing Celtic have unearthed to Jimmy Johnstone since ‘Jinky’ tormented defenders in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He has been used largely wide on the left this season by O’Neill, a position which allows him to cut inside onto his slightly stronger right foot, as he recently did to score a memorable goal against Dunfermline, his fifth of the season.

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    Part II

    JOHN McGEADY’s career at Sheffield United was starting as Johnstone’s was ending at the same club and both were right-wingers, although different in style. McGeady senior’s main asset was speed. “I made my debut when I was 17 in the equivalent of what is the Premiership now, the old First Division, on Boxing Day 1975 and I played 11 first-team games on the trot. Then we played Manchester City just after they had won the League Cup. There were a couple of minutes to go and I was going down the right wing at pace. I went past Willie Donachie and all my weight was on my left foot and he came in and his studs caught my left knee cap. It was an accident, he didn’t mean it, but I heard a crack and when I went for an X-ray they said my kneecap was broken. I wasn’t looked after properly, I think the specialist made a few bad decisions because I broke it another three times and eventually had it removed.” He made it back to the first team before heading to the United States, where the money was better than the football, then came back to briefly play in Scotland, but his injuries had robbed him of his pace and he worked for his father in the building trade, which he hated, before training to become an English teacher, which he loves.

    So what does he think when he watches his son teasing experienced defenders? Does he not worry that one day Aiden will also fail to get up from one of their challenges? “Not at all. I didn’t have great balance, but Aiden seems to. When he does get kicked, he absorbs the impact and gets up and gets on with it. Jimmy Johnstone had that, so did Johan Cruyff. Cruyff never had one knee injury in his whole career, just the odd pulled muscle. Nobody got kicked more than Jimmy but he never had a serious injury. I don’t worry because if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

    It already has to another promising young Celtic player. John Kennedy has required a series of operations to rebuild his left knee after a shocking challenge by Ioan Ganea of Romania when he made his Scotland debut last March, and the defender will not return until 2006. A reminder of how precarious football is as a profession to McGeady, if it was necessary after his father’s misfortune.


    “It was terrible for John, because he was playing so well at the time and had broken into the first team, but he’s a resilient guy. I think he’ll come back and do well.”

    The number of youngsters pressing for first-team places is perhaps reminiscent of the early 1970s when a group, collectively dubbed the Quality Street Kids and including the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari, George Connelly and Vic Davidson, were pressing Jock Stein for first-team places at the expense of the Lisbon Lions. It remains to be seen whether McGeady, Kennedy, Ross Wallace, Shaun Maloney and David Marshall, who was taught English by John McGeady for two years, can make such an impression on O’Neill’s established team. “Only time will tell really,” replies McGeady, wisely, to this possibility. “We have only played a handful of games between us. It would different if we were all in the team together and playing well.”

    He has learned to play patience. His father described him to me as “petulant” in his first year as a professional at Celtic when we spoke a year ago, and McGeady now accepts that he expected too much, too young. “I was 16 and saying to myself, ‘I am going to play in the first team this season’, but I wasn’t ready. If you think I am small now, I was a lot smaller then. I think I was just kidding myself on. Ross [Wallace] played in a testimonial when he was quite young and I just wanted to do the same. Tommy Burns [Celtic’s director of youth development] always says it’s not about when you make your debut, it’s if you stay there. I’ve sort of needed a clip round the ear every so often and I’ve had it off them. The coaching set-up is good at Celtic and I think there’s going to be a few more coming through.”

    When McGeady was initially called into first-team training, he hardly distinguished himself. “I had an absolute beast because I was just so nervous. The ball was coming to me and going under my foot and everyone was shouting at me.”

    He is aware that a player with his trickery — his favourite is an improvised version of the Cruyff turn — can easily earn a reputation as a show-off. “If I am keeping the ball up that’s just to improve my control, I would never do anything like that in a game. Sometimes Ronaldinho is described as doing too many tricks but as long as there is an end product then nobody can really complain. Earlier in the season, I would get to the byline and my crosses wouldn’t be as good as I thought they should. Lately, since I have come back into the team, I have been setting up more goals from those positions which is pleasing because that’s really your job when you are playing left or right midfield.”

    It is easy to forget that it is only a year to the week since he made his debut for Celtic, in which he scored against Hearts at Tynecastle. Already, he has seen off Juninho, who failed to consistently provide the extra flair O’Neill was looking for and has gone back to Brazil. Then, just when it seemed McGeady might have tied down one of those precious first-team places, Craig Bellamy arrived on loan from Newcastle to provide another alternative of speed and movement to Celtic’s manager. He has had to be content with a place on the bench for the last two Old Firm games, despite good form in the run-up to them, but appreciated O’Neill taking the time to explain his omission to accommodate Bellamy.

    His most striking performance so far was against AC Milan in the Champions League, at Parkhead in December, when he terrorised Fabricio Coloccini, the Italians’ makeshift right-back, and left a lasting impression on Paolo Maldini. “He has talent, a good personality and calmness,” said the great man afterwards. “Celtic lack a player who can beat people, who can do something different to alter the course of a game and perhaps he can become it.” McGeady glows when this compliment is relayed to him, the mask he keeps on his emotions slipping for perhaps the only time in an hour or so of chat. “The AC Milan game was the first Champions League game I played in where I realised I could maybe cut it at this level. It’s unbelievable to get a compliment from a player like Maldini. He’s been playing at the highest level for near enough 20 years.”

    Indeed, he is old enough to be McGeady’s dad. That may have been the night when the boy wonder became a man, although he should still be permitted a few trips back to his childhood with a ball when the mood takes him.

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    McGeady slipped through Scotlandís system because Celtic, at that time, forbade their signings from playing schools football of any form for Scotland but had no problem with Ireland, whose sides of the same age were run by the FAI.

    Is that how it really was?

    Playing him in a full competitive match would be a big gamble but he should have seen more friendly action by now IMO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stuttgart88
    Is that how it really was?
    yep.

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    Interesting!

    I thought it was that the SFA wouldn't have chosen him regardless of who he played for, because he played for a pro club rather than his school. Good old Celtic. Looking after the Motherland!

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    I've been trying to get an article by some chap called Alan Campbell called "Who's to blame in sorry tale of the one that got away?" about McGeady. I think it was for a Scottish paper called the Sunday Herald. I was told it reflects the typical view in the Scottish media of the whole thing. The paper charges for its archives, however. If anyone happens to have a subscription to it, it would be interesting to read it.

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    The Daily Record printed a bilious article on McGeady at Christmas time. Poorly researched & totally bitter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stuttgart88
    The Daily Record printed a bilious article on McGeady at Christmas time. Poorly researched & totally bitter.
    unlike the daily record .....

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    Lets be honest if it happened that an Irish lad went and played for Scotland or England we would be fuming too.
    In Trap we trust

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    Quote Originally Posted by NeilMcD
    Lets be honest if it happened that an Irish lad went and played for Scotland or England we would be fuming too.

    at this point no one can really fume if an Irish born player decided to play elsewhere, it'd just be hypocritical. I'd learn to live with it, turnabout is fair play and all that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NeilMcD
    Lets be honest if it happened that an Irish lad went and played for Scotland or England we would be fuming too.
    We had better get used to it. Without wishing to get too political, if this country doesn't change sharpish, the next few decades will see a rash of talented kids playing around Dublin and then getting to 18 and declaring for Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and the Ukraine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Donal81
    Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and the Ukraine.
    ...and the rest!
    See here.
    Have Boot Disk, will travel

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    Thats a question I often ask people when they are been racist. Ask a taxi driver, which country has the highest amount of emmigrants in Ireland and see what he says. England and Wales and the USA are by far the highest.
    In Trap we trust

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    Quote Originally Posted by NeilMcD
    Thats a question I often ask people when they are been racist. Ask a taxi driver, which country has the highest amount of emmigrants in Ireland and see what he says. England and Wales and the USA are by far the highest.
    Very true although 61,000 from the EU accession states have registered with tax authorities since May 2004, 30,000 from Poland, 15,000 from Latvia (The census was from 2002).

    We'd want to be a bit more inclusive by the time Polish-Irish kids start growing up and not only for sporting reasons.

    I'm focusing on this end of it as I reckon that English, Welsh, American, Australian immigrants' kids would assimilate better into the general population. Just a perception...

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    Well I am all for lots of girls coming over from Poland and Latvia etc the more the merrier in my view.
    In Trap we trust

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    Quote Originally Posted by NeilMcD
    Thats a question I often ask people when they are been racist. Ask a taxi driver, which country has the highest amount of emmigrants in Ireland and see what he says. England and Wales and the USA are by far the highest.
    It's not racist per se to question immigration policies. If someone is honing in on one group then that's fine to point out the defficiencies but calling someone racist just because they think there is too much immigration to Ireland is untenable.
    There is no such thing as a miracle cure, a free lunch or a humble opinion.

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    Isn't there some Nigerian born player making waves for us at underage level??

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    Quote Originally Posted by dr_peepee
    Isn't there some Nigerian born player making waves for us at underage level??
    Emeka Onwublko?

    Don't know anything about him other than he scores a few.

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    Reading that census is sobering reading. What a massive change in less than 10 years. Some may view this as a good thing whereas some see it as a bad thing but the change is profound.
    There is no such thing as a miracle cure, a free lunch or a humble opinion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fergie's Son
    Reading that census is sobering reading. What a massive change in less than 10 years. Some may view this as a good thing whereas some see it as a bad thing but the change is profound.
    Most economists will tell you its essential for continued economic growth

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