McGeady: I was a lux­ury player who needed to change

The Herald - Herald Sport - - Celtic V Hearts - MARK WIL­SON

IT is the game that ev­ery­one con­nected with Celtic would prob­a­bly rather for­get, but Ai­den McGeady will al­ways re­mem­ber the Art­media Bratislava de­ba­cle as a wa­ter­shed for his ca­reer. The Park­head mid­fielder spoke at length yes­ter­day about how he had de­vel­oped his game from that of a lux­ury com­po­nent within the Celtic squad to a gen­uine team player. His pres­ence on the left flank is a cru­cial part of Gor­don Stra­chan’s schem­ing for suc­cess this sea­son, with McGeady work­ing as tire­lessly to aid his defence as he does to cre­ate at­tack­ing mis­chief.

Stra­chan’s in­flu­ence has been cru­cial in mould­ing a more rounded foot­baller, but McGeady also un­der­took some un­flinch­ing self­ex­am­i­na­tion early on in the man­ager’s ten­ure at Park­head. The in­fa­mous 5-0 de­feat in Bratislava in the 2005 Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fiers was Stra­chan’s first com­pet­i­tive match in charge. It was also to have a pro­found ef­fect on McGeady’s.

“There was a pe­riod af­ter we played Bratislava when I was out of the team for nine or 10 games,” said the 21-yearold. “I wasn’t even com­ing on from the bench. I re­alised in my­self that I had to change the way I was play­ing and look at parts of my game. It all started to come to­gether and I got back into the team. The man­ager maybe took more of a shine to me than he had in the past.

“I think I’ve im­proved on a lot of things, al­though I know I’m not the fin­ished ar­ti­cle and still have work to do. The main thing has been my de­fend­ing and track­ing back. When I was younger that wasn’t some­thing I con­cen­trated on. I sup­pose you could say I was more of a lux­ury player.

“Gor­don Stra­chan has changed my out­look be­cause when Martin O’Neill was the man­ager I wasn’t asked to do a lot of de­fen­sive du­ties. I re­alise now that it’s part and par­cel of the game and you have to do it for the team. It’s not the pretty side of the game, but it’s es­sen­tial.”

McGeady has found in­spi­ra­tion dur­ing his pro­gramme of im­prove­ment from watch­ing Cris­tiano Ron­aldo’s de­vel­op­ment at Old Traf­ford.

“He’s been a dif­fer­ent player from the one who first made his de­but at Manch­ester United,” said McGeady. “He’s added goals to his game, but you can also see that he works back for the team and gives them an ex­tra hand. He’s prob­a­bly one of the play­ers I look at, to be hon­est.”

McGeady was left out of the start­ing line-up in favour of Paul Hart­ley for the first leg of the Cham­pi­ons League third qual­i­fy­ing round tie against Spar­tak Moscow. The Rus­sians visit Park­head on Wed­nes­day night, leav­ing McGeady all the more keen to im­press against Hearts this af­ter­noon.

“I could un­der­stand why I didn’t play in Moscow, but it was still dis­ap­point­ing be­cause th­ese are the big games,” said McGeady. “The man­ager knew Spar­tak were strong at home and I think he wanted to go with a more de­fen­sive line-up. That was what he said to me. It was his de­ci­sion and I re­spect it.”

McGeady was promptly re­stored for last week’s 3-1 win over Aberdeen and a clear sign of his cur­rent con­fi­dence came when he briefly dis­placed Shun­suke Naka­mura from free-kick du­ties.

“Naka is one of the best around at hit­ting free-kicks but he very rarely scores them from the left-hand side of the box,” said McGeady. “I’m not too bad but I’m not at his level. There was one in the Falkirk game be­fore when I asked him if I could hit it and he said ‘No, next time.’That was the one he scored, ac­tu­ally. I thought ‘fair enough’ be­cause he stuck it in the top cor­ner.

“I asked him if he fan­cied the one against Aberdeen but he said that I could hit it be­cause it prob­a­bly more suited a right-footer. I was more than happy to take it, but I got stick from the boys af­ter­wards, ask­ing who’d said I could get in be­fore Naka. I tried to stand up for my­self and tell them he’d said it was okay, but they weren’t hav­ing it.”

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