Wednesday, March 28, 2007

McGeady's Time Comes

As a player who has made his fledgling reputation through trickery and guile, you'd think timing would have been one of Aiden McGeady's strong points. Possibly, when he chose to represent Ireland schoolboys as a 15-year-old at Celtic youths, with the Irish senior team on their way to a World Cup and the country of his birth at its lowest ever footballing ebb, he might have reckoned he was hitching a ride on a gravy train of international success.

Instead, just as the young Glaswegian came to footballing maturity, he found his boxcar chugging to a halt down a rusty siding.

Of course, McGeady didn't quite - as is generally perceived in Scotland - 'snub' the country of his birth for the promise of glory in that of his grandparents. The winger had intended to play for Scotland schoolboys; however, because Celtic did not allow their youth players to play for their schools, and Scotland in turn did not select schoolboys who did not actually turn out for their school teams, the call of Erin beckoned McGeady.

Well, more accurately, the dulcet tones of Packie Bonner, he of Burtonport in Co.Donegal, just a matter of miles away from the McGeadys' ancestral home. Bonner, then goalkeeping coach to the Irish team, persuaded McGeady to try out for the Irish U-15 squad, and he remained largely anonymously involved with Ireland's underage teams until his sudden success at Celtic brought upon him the ire of Scotland's more self-righteous football observers.

Although McGeady's decision to pledge his allegiance to the FAI rather than the SFA could be excused on the technicality of the dilemma presented to him as a 15-year-old, it is probably inaccurate to rule out the role of personal ambition in his decision. Certainly, had Ireland and Scotland's relative positions at that stage been reversed, one wonders whether the ember of Irish patriotism would have burst so completely aflame.

Still, have no doubt that Scotland's loss will become ever more apparent over time, regardless of the general performance of the two nations. Stephen Staunton has turned to McGeady as part of the panacea to the malady that has laid Ireland's national side so low in recent times. Along with Kevin Doyle, the Celtic winger is one of two changes to the team that lulled 72,000 people toward an afternoon siesta last Saturday. The aim is clear: an improved performance, yes, but a little bit of excitement wouldn't go amiss either.

Already Staunton's friends in the media are nursing a Stephen Hunt shaped stick with which to beat the manager should McGeady not impress, and Ireland underperform again. Certainly, the Reading man's continued exclusion is harsh in the extreme, given not only his positive contributions in his two brief international cameos, but also the fact that he has been one of the Premiership's most consistently eye-catching performers (too eye-catching as far as Petr Cech was concerned). Hunt's innate enthusiasm would seem ideally suited to lifting the often mopish mood that afflicts the current Irish team.

However McGeady will not be lacking in enthusiasm either. His dribbling wizardry and attacking nature will provide a well-deserved entertainment factor for the long suffering Ireland faithful. Just as importantly, his control, ball-retention and passing ability will be invaluable in a team for whom such basics often looked alien on Saturday.

Three years on from his Celtic debut, 20-year-old McGeady remains a player of gigantic promise, rather than a finished product, for all that his ongoing improvement as been consistent and tangible in that time. Celtic supporters - aware of the fact that manager Gordon Strachan continues to spare the winger the more attritional of SPL conflicts - while delighted at the call-up, will worry that the carefully tended prize of their garden has been requisitioned to feed the malnourished Irish team, and that its ongoing turmoil might afflict him also.

Still, McGeady's manful display against AC Milan in the San Siro a few weeks ago suggests that he could be reaching the sort of maturity which relishes such challenges as this evening's. Perhaps his country's timing in picking the man could prove better than the man's in picking his country.

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