'I had to leave Wigan Athletic for sake of my international career'

Former Wigan Athletic midfielder Jamie McGrath is targeting a major scalp as he attempts to make the most of his belated chance to shine on the international stage.
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The 27-year-old Aberdeen midfielder has travelled something of a circuitous route to make his way into Stephen Kenny’s squad having waited until June 2021 to win his first senior cap, and he will hope to play a role as Ireland end a disappointing Euro 2024 qualification campaign in the Netherlands on Saturday.

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It has been a feature of Kenny’s reign that he has promoted players from the under-21s ranks.

Jamie McGrath has seen his Ireland chances improve since leaving LaticsJamie McGrath has seen his Ireland chances improve since leaving Latics
Jamie McGrath has seen his Ireland chances improve since leaving Latics
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But McGrath was largely passed over at that level and had to bide his time before being handed the opportunity he craved.

He said: “I barely had any caps up until the 21s, played a bit of 19s, a small bit of 21s, so I think the bottom line is to keep going, keep believing how good you are.

“It only takes a good three to four months to change everybody’s opinion – football is like that.

“If you score a good few goals in a short amount of time, it can bring you to places, or a few good performances week after week can totally change everyone’s outlook.”

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McGrath, a League of Ireland winner under Kenny at Dundalk, started his career in Ireland with St Patrick’s Athletic before earning his move to Oriel Park.

But it was in Scotland that he first rose to prominence, scoring 17 goals for St Mirren during the 2020-21 season, a return which won him a first senior appearance in a 4-1 friendly victory over Andorra.

That form prompted League One Wigan to make a move for him, but that simply did not work out and his lack of football saw him briefly slip out of Kenny’s thoughts.

However, after a loan spell back in the Scottish Premiership at Dundee United last season, he joined the Dons this summer and scored a stunning equaliser in last week’s 2-2 Europa Conference League draw with PAOK in Greece to underline his form.

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Asked about missing out on Ireland squads during his spell at Wigan, he said: “That probably was the lowest, not getting called up to the squad.

“But it was impossible for the gaffer to pick me because I hadn’t played in months.

"That’s football, you can have your highs and lows.

“I obviously experienced some of that at Wigan, but you have to remember what you’ve achieved so far.

"You have to have that underlying confidence in your own ability no matter how hard it gets. It’s a ruthless game.”

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McGrath is understandably loyal to Kenny and is desperate to end a difficult campaign on a positive note in Amsterdam whatever the future may hold for the manager.

He said: “Every time you play in the green shirt, you have to do the jersey proud.

"But of course we always give our best for the gaffer, and personally, he’s been really, really good for me and my career.”