SSE Airtricity League Premier Division

Infectiously likeable Jamie McGrath bouted with Dundalk FC's 'second season syndrome'

The 21-year-old received some international recognition recently

Caoimhín Reilly


Caoimhín Reilly


Infectiously likeable Jamie McGrath bouted with Dundalk FC's 'second season syndrome'

Dundalk FC's Jamie McGrath. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)

It may just be that Jamie McGrath has contracted Dundalk's unique dose of 'second season syndrome'.

A trait of Stephen Kenny's signings has been there ability to perform better after a 12-month period with the likes of David McMillan, Ronan Finn, Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney evidence of this theory.

In current form, McGrath is likely to break the half-century of appearances as the summer months approach and it's striking just how much he has grown, in stature, in confidence and in his on-field persona, since arriving from St. Patrick's Athletic last season.

Watching Sligo struggle to get near him on Saturday night brought back memories of his second-half hat-trick against the Bit O'Red last May. Big things were expected from him thereafter, though, understandably so, it wasn't until the latter end of the season, in the FAI Cup semi-final replay with Shamrock Rovers, where he really brought his levels consistently up a notch.

McGrath is also a very bright lad having graduated from NUI Maynooth during his debut campaign. Ironically, it was during a week of exams where he scored that hat-trick almost a year ago. His manager quipped that night that they may have to organise more exams for him if such virtuoso displays were to come as a result.

Physically, the 21-year-old feels it took him time to adapt to the heralded dietary and fitness regimes at Oriel Park. However, having grown accustomed to the methods of Graham Byrne and co., he is a walking example of its benefits.

"The first season, last year, I wasn't used to much weights or that. I hadn't really done much of it before and it took me a while to get into the rhythm of it, and then I hit it hard in the off-season. The results are starting to show now, I think," McGrath said after the victory in Sligo.

"You were also coming into a team of serial winners. Everybody had experience playing in the Europa League and winning leagues so, obviously, it's a bit of a change coming into that environment, but the boys were very good to me coming in last year."

The fact that he praised those around him for accommodating him - as is arguably their responsibility - is a portent of the Meath man's nature; gentle, friendly and never-without a kind word. But his demeanour on the pitch has become more aggressive as he's settled in and bulked up. He's now a player in the physical exchanges, that's when the opposition can get close.

He was named in the Irish U21's preliminary squad for their match with Iceland and is on standby for Tuesday night's game against Azerbaijan. He admits that the acknowledgement is nice, not just from the international set-up but from opposition clubs who are now paying him due complement on the pitch.

"I'm just trying to improve myself with every single game and people then might take more notice the better you get. But, like I said, the main thing is consistency. There's no point being good one week and not (so good) the next. I think so far this year I've done a pretty good job at that and I hope that'll continue."It's nice to have them things being said but you never know next week you could be the worst in the world! 

"(The international call) is not the be all and end of all. My focus is on getting in the team here (because) you see the strength we have on the bench, Dylan (Connolly) and (John) Mountney just in my position alone; the competition is fierce and once you get your chance you just have to take it."

Asked if his League of Ireland status hinders him in attempting to gain an international call, McGrath pointed to Seánie Maguire's situation, where it took for him to move to Preston North End from Cork City to gain entry to Martin O'Neill's senior squad.

"You seen with Seánie Maguire, he was unbelievable last year in the league and he never really got his chance with the Irish team so maybe there is a slight aspect of that, but I'm not really concerned about it. It's nice to be considered and in the mix, but if I keep working hard the results will come."

It's also interesting that he doesn't consider himself as an "out-and-out" winger as the right flank is the berth from which he has shown his best form for The Lilywhites. And, long may that continue for one of the league's most infectiously likeable players.