Tough love from Kenny in Dundalk days helped shape me, says Jamie McGrath

JAMIE MCGRATH WANTS to use this week to show Stephen Kenny that he can be the answer to Ireland’s creative conundrum.

The Meath man starred in midfield for St Mirren this season, scoring 17 goals and winning the club’s Player of the Season award.

That stellar season earned McGrath his first senior call-up as Kenny assembles his squad ahead of the upcoming friendlies against Andorra and Hungary.

The 24-year-old played under Kenny at Dundalk where they won a league and cup double together in 2017 before defending the Premier Division title in 2018.

And McGrath says that some tough love from the now-Ireland boss helped to bring the best out of him and shape him into the player he has become.

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“Stephen signed me as a 20-year-old,” McGrath said after linking up with the squad this week.

“I’d be very familiar with how he plays and he’d be very familiar with how I play, so yeah, it’s probably a help to be honest coming in and knowing the manager. It’s been a great few days so far, so looking forward to it.

He added: “He must have seen something if he signed me. My focus was on doing a job for the team at the time. I probably did take a season to bed in [at Dundalk]. I was coming into a changing room full of winners, big physical men, so I had to adjust to that side of it.

“After my first season there, I took off from there, we had a fantastic 2018. I really enjoyed working under him.”

While McGrath took some time to find his feet during that first season at Dundalk, Kenny was encouraging him to embrace his creative instincts.

“He obviously thought I had bags of ability. He was probably hard on my case because he thought I was playing things safe and not showing my true expression, not playing with freedom.

He added: “I think it was more of a learning curve, a big side, a big reputation, I just wanted to keep the ball, I didn’t want to give the ball away.

“He changed my mentality through that first year and I am thankful for that.”

After three seasons at Oriel Park, McGrath sealed a move to the Scottish Premiership after catching the eye of St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin.

The former Ireland international’s attitude from the outset convinced McGrath that this was the right move for him.

“I was coming out of contract at Dundalk and I wanted to try something new. There was a few teams down south and, from speaking from the managers at that, I don’t know, I wasn’t getting a good vibe off any of them to be honest. I wasn’t sure if I’d play regularly, if they were kind of taking a chance on me if I was free so.

“Thankfully it has worked out for me so far. I’m really enjoying it.”

St Mirren finished seventh in the Scottish top flight although their campaign will largely be remembered for their cup runs which came up just short with semi-final defeats in both the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup.

McGrath was the only player to hit a double-digit goal tally this season, adding seven goals from play to his 10 from the penalty spot, and now he hopes to bring more of the same to the Ireland set-up.

“I work hard like everyone else, I like to do the other side of it as well, but I just hope I fit in, and maybe add a goal or two.

“I hit 17 this season, I know a few were from the spot but when you’re feeling it, you’re feeling it.

McGrath’s form has inevitably seen him linked with a move away from the Paisley club, prompting Goodwin to insist last month that he would only consider an approach if accompanied by an ‘outrageous bid’.

“It’s not on my mind,” McGrath said of his club future.

“I was just delighted to finish the season off injury free and hitting a bit of form. It was nice to see the season out that was.

“I was focused on getting a break and then I got word I was coming in here, which was unbelievable news so I have not been focused on that.

“My sole focus was on this trip since I got word. Whatever happens after this, happens.”

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