For someone in the eye of a looming Scottish storm tomorrow night, Glaswegian Aiden McGeady is vowing to ignore the furore and concentrate on steering Ireland’s voyage towards France in 2016.
Celtic Park seems all the more likely to stage just one of Ireland’s Scots, as James McCarthy’s fitness battle enters extra-time, yet the sulphuric reception that awaits him doesn’t concern McGeady.
His stance doesn’t stem from being insulated from the outside world this week at the squad’s base in Portmarnock.
The former Celtic winger, who pledged his allegiance to Ireland over Scotland at the age of 15, has heard and read his name figure prominently in the narrative around the build-up and not even Gordon McQueen’s public call on the home fans to subject the prodigal son to a “horrible” homecoming has bothered him in the slightest.
“If you just break it down and think about this, it’s just another game of football, isn’t it?” mused the Everton winger last night in an interview with FAI TV.
“Obviously, there is all the other things, people coming out in the press and saying their bit and myself and James (McCarthy) getting booed or whatever.
“This week, especially, you hear little things here and there. And you read them in the press.
“That’s part and parcel of football; it’s going to happen. That the way I look at it.
“To be honest, I’ve just tried to distance myself from that. Not get too caught up in it and treat this as just another game.
“All I have to do is go into the game, try and play the way I can and help the team get a positive result.”
As the 28-year-old points out, he’s already sampled the experience of making a return visit to Glasgow, albeit in slightly less charged circumstances to this occasion.
“Parkhead is where I grew up. I’ve played the majority of my career there, so it’s a place that I’ve got a big emotional bond with,” explained McGeady.
“When I was at Spartak Moscow, we played Celtic in the Champions League (2012) so I kind of know what it’s like to be on the away team.
“This will be different because it’s a Scottish home game and the majority of the crowd will be Scottish because obviously there are not many tickets going for the away section. But it will be a really good atmosphere.”
Of all the Ireland squad, McGeady is most familiar with the opposition, to the point that “he probably knows every one of their players”.
That he’s not amongst the home squad counts as the trigger for the jeers he’ll endure from the Tartan Army but the player says the reason for his decision was simple.
He said: “I’ve spoken enough times about what happened and how I ended up playing for Ireland. When I broke through at Celtic, a lot of people were asking why I wasn’t playing for Scotland.
“But I’d already been representing for Ireland for three or four years by then and my mind was made up.
“I was comfortable with the Irish set-up. I knew all the lads and didn’t want to change at that point. So that’s the way it came about.”
Despite his undoubted technical prowess, the erratic graph that accompanied McGeady’s subsequent international career has only displayed signs of stabilising over the past year through the reunion he’s encountered with his former Celtic boss, Martin O’Neill.
His late winner away to Georgia in September got Ireland’s campaign off to a flyer, preceding the role he played in John O’Shea’s equaliser in Germany last month. Such a strong start to the qualifiers is all the more admirable given Ireland’s previous record of one win in the first seven matches of O’Neill’s reign.
“We didn’t do as well as we could have in the summer games and friendlies before that,” he reflects, “so maybe everyone was a bit apprehensive about what it was going to hold for us in the campaign.
“But the fact is we got a draw against the world champions. Since I’ve been involved with the Ireland team, we’ve never gone away to Germany or somewhere like that and got such a good result. So everyone felt we turned a corner.
“If we can continue playing like we’ve done by getting a good result in Scotland like a draw or win, it would be fantastic.”
Whether McGeady has his fellow Glaswegian and club-mate McCarthy alongside him tomorrow remains uncertain. The tightness the midfielder felt in his hamstring hadn’t eased sufficiently yesterday to allow him to even jog in training and he underwent a scan at Cappagh Hospital last night to ascertain the latest medical condition of the problem.
Hopes of his involvement were receding last night.
“Yes, I think he would have to do a bit of training,” was O’Neill’s reply when asked yesterday if McCarthy’s participation in the derby depended on him joining in on preparations today before the squad fly to Glasgow tonight.
“He’d have to do something because it’s a muscle injury more than just a knock.”
Glenn Whelan’s surprise recovery from a chipped bone, too, could still restrict his minutes on the pitch. If O’Neill’s training match yesterday was anything to go by — and it has proved an accurate guide in the past — then Darron Gibson, Jeff Hendrick and Stephen Quinn will be deployed in the centre-piece of a 4-5-1 formation.
Scotland v Ireland: In numbers
1 — Aiden McGeady is the only player to have featured in every Ireland match under Martin O’Neill.
2 - Ireland have won on their last two visits to Glasgow (1-0 in February 1987; 2-0 in February 2003).
3 — of Robbie Keane’s 137 caps won while playing for Glasgow Celtic in 2010.
4 — wins for Ireland in nine meetings with Scotland (2 draws and 3 defeats).
7 - different Ireland managers since Jack Charlton’s team won in Glasgow 27 years ago: Mick McCarthy, Don Givens (caretaker — twice), Brian Kerr, Steve Staunton, Giovanni Trapattoni, Noel King (caretaker) and Martin O’Neill.
9 - different Scotland managers since Andy Roxburgh’s team lost to Ireland in Glasgow 27 years ago: Craig Brown, Berti Vogts, Tommy Burns (caretaker), Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley, Craig Levein, Billy Stark (caretaker) and Gordon Strachan.
15 — matches played by Scotland under Gordon Strachan (7 wins, 3 draws, 5 defeats).
32 - of Aiden McGeady’s 72 caps won while playing for Glasgow Celtic (2004-2010).
34 — matches played by Robbie Keane for Gordon Strachan at Coventry City (1999-2000).
37 - Scotland’s current FIFA World Ranking (Ireland are 61st).
- compiled by Paul Kelly
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved