“It was the only club I wanted to play for here,” said the 34-year-old former Irish international who came to prominence during five years at Leeds United before moving on to Barnsley, Cardiff City and, until just a few days ago, Sheffield Wednesday.
“I supported Rovers as a kid as my granddad Paddy Doran was involved as a physio with the manager then, Ray Treacy [in the early ’90s]. I saw them a lot at the RDS and I travelled with the team up and down the country so I know what it’s all about and what I am coming home to.”
A meeting with Trevor Croly was the final piece in the jigsaw, the Rovers manager’s ambition for the club tailoring perfectly with McPhail’s desire to be permanently reunited with his family in Skerries, his wife Michelle and two young children having moved back from Cardiff last summer.
“I signed a short-term deal with Sheffield Wednesday last year as I did not want the children to start school over there and then move them,” McPhail explained.
“So I was travelling over and back to the family. At Christmas, it was at the back of my mind that I would love to come home as being away from the family was hard. I met Trevor just after New Year. He gave me the lowdown on the club and where I would fit into it. I was happy with everything he told me.”
McPhail has always been regarded as a cultured midfielder whose talents earned him 10 Irish caps between 2000 and 2004 and who, in 2008, captained Cardiff to an FA Cup Final which they lost 1-0 to Portsmouth.
But just a little over a year later, he was back in the headlines for a very different reason, the football world shocked to learn that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the lymphoma. After intensive radiotherapy, McPhail was able to resume his career with the Bluebirds within just six months. And five years on, thanks to ongoing treatment, he is still able to report a clean bill of health.
“I went to see a specialist in LA and he gave me a treatment to go through and I have it every six months just to keep on top of the syndrome I have,” he explains. “That sort of squashes it and keeps it at bay. It’s just a day in hospital and I have a few days of recovery after that and I’m fine. I train within three days of the treatment.
“So I keep that going and, and just try and keep fit and healthy. That’s the main thing. And I feel really good.”
Stephen McPhail will be available to make his debut for the Hoops in the Setanta Cup game against Glentoran in Tallaght on Monday.