Danny Galbraith admits there may have been a time when he’d have raised an eyebrow at the thought of a player quitting SPL football for the League of Ireland at the age of just 22.
“Crossing the water” has been a familiar journey for thousands of starry-eyed Irish youngsters for decades, arriving in Scotland or England with dreams of making the big time with, of course, many of them going on to realise their ambitions.
Former Hibs winger Galbraith, however, believes he’s made the right decision in moving the other way, ending what ultimately became a nightmare at Easter Road to sign a two-year deal with Limerick FC.
He insists he couldn’t have arrived in the south-west of Ireland at a more exciting time. His new club is back in the Airtricity League for the first time in 19 years, taking up residence in the 26,500 capacity Thomond Park and looking forward to their opening match, a Munster derby against Cork City. Such is the excitement that has been generated by the game, kick-off has been put back 48 hours, moved from Friday night to Sunday evening to allow it to be televised live. As a result, it coincides with the latest Capital derby, a fact not lost on Galbraith, who began his career as a teenager in the maroon of Hearts.
He said: “Edinburgh derbies are always massive games, they were always terrific matches to be involved in. Hopefully the lunchtime kick off will give me the chance to see it, as our game doesn’t start until early evening and I’ll continue to keep an eye on results back home.”
While he’ll be interested to see how Sunday’s match at Easter Road unfolds, Galbraith’s full focus will, naturally, be on getting the latest chapter in his career off to a flying start, revealing it was the persistence of Limerick’s new manager, former Hamilton coach Stuart Taylor, which convinced him to make the move to Ireland.
Having totally fallen out of the plans of Easter Road boss Pat Fenlon – his last match in a green and white jersey was in January last year – Galbraith and Hibs parted company as the winter transfer window closed, opening the way for him to join the new-look squad Taylor was building.
Galbraith told the Evening News: “To be honest, it wasn’t something I’d really thought about until Stuart got in contact with my agent. It took a fair bit of persistence on his part, as I probably had the same perception as most people [in Scotland] that going to the League of Ireland was something players on this side of the water might do towards the end of their careers.
“I hadn’t had a great time in Scotland for the last while, so I wanted to get away from that, to go where someone, first and foremost, wanted me. I’d rather be at the right club for me than a bigger team elsewhere.
“Stuart’s persistence was part of the reason I decided to go over to see for myself. I did so without any preconceived ideas and I couldn’t have been more impressed with everything he had to tell me, of bringing his own philosophy to the club and they way he wants to play football – a passing game, which is how I grew up and will hopefully suit me – of bringing in his own players, of bringing a professional approach to the club as they moved to full-time football and so on.”
In fact, so impressed was Galbraith with what he heard, he signed on for two years and nothing he’s seen or heard since has done anything to diminish his belief that having endured a frustrating time with Hibs, his immediate future is looking much brighter.
He said: “I’m living in the centre of Limerick, a lovely wee city, and there is a real buzz about the place because of the football. The club is in transition, but it knows where it wants to go and hopefully I can help them and be successful in the project they have going on.
“It’s their first time in the top league for 19 years. They’ve moved into a stadium which was built for Munster Rugby Club and playing in such an arena will give everyone a lift. I’m not saying we’re going to fill every one of the 26,500 seats, but the fact the game has been moved for national television in Ireland shows the interest there is.
“These are certainly exciting times for Limerick and while a first season in the top might be considered tough, I think it will be difficult for everyone. I think it will be a fairly even playing field and it will be up to us to try to have as successful a season as possible.”
Galbraith admitted a two-year contract is possibly longer than some might have agreed in the circumstances, but pointing out Stuart Taylor himself has committed himself to three years, he’s determined to repay the faith his new boss has shown in him. He will also have his fingers crossed for far more regular first team football than he did throughout his three-and-a-half years in a green and white jersey.
Agreeing his winner against Celtic in Glasgow, his first ever goal (pictured left), three years ago, was the highlight of his time with Hibs, Galbraith’s career in green and white was one largely spent with a club which was in turmoil, the winger revealing he signed from Manchester United for a manager who’d left Hibs before he even kicked a ball for him.
He said: “It was Donald Park, whom I’d known from Scotland youth teams and one of the best coaches I’d ever worked under, who brought me to train with Hibs. It was great to link up with him again and through him I got to know Mixu Paatelainen. It was actually Mixu who brought me in, but within a couple of days of me signing he was sacked.
“Those two were the reason I signed for Hibs, but suddenly I found myself playing for a manager [John Hughes] whom I’d never met before. When I scored that goal against Celtic, I thought I was going to kick on, but from that high I didn’t play another game for three months.
“I was young at the time and I don’t think anyone can show their full potential when they are only playing here and there. You need to get 12 to 15 games on the spin, but I found myself playing one week, out the next, back in and then out again.”
Galbraith’s frustration continued when, just as he was beginning to believe he was getting somewhere under Colin Calderwood, the former Scotland defender was sacked just 13 months after taking over from Hughes, and he found himself again becoming marginalised as the new manager Pat Fenlon set about trying to secure Hibs’ SPL future with a raft of loan signings.
Last year, however, turned out to be the worst in Galbraith’s career “by a long way” as he initially battled to play despite a groin injury, a problem which eventually required an operation at the end of the season. He returned for the new campaign to find he no longer featured at all in Fenlon’s plans, months of inactivity ending when it was decided a parting of the ways was in his best interest.
Now Galbraith is determined to put all of that behind him, declaring: “I have had enough time out, I’m looking forward to getting a full season of football. It’s a fresh start for me, but I’m hoping the fans and the players, who include some of my best friends such as Paul Hanlon, get the success they deserve and go one better in the Scottish Cup this year.”