Spurned by both Middlesbrough and Hearts, Jordan McGhee has finally found refuge at Falkirk.
The conversations confirming his time was up at both the Riverside and Tynecastle are still raw but, just six games in, he already feels at home at the Falkirk Stadium.
It is easy to overlook the fact McGhee is still just 21. Other defenders of similar age are still feeling their way into senior football. However, the Riccarton academy graduate has four years’ first-team experience, 20 Scotland Under-21 caps and the harsh reality of relegation behind him.
All of which made him something of a coup when Falkirk brought him down a division to the SPFL Championship, signing him for an undisclosed fee from Hearts on August’s transfer deadline day.
“I went to Middlesbrough on loan last year and it was a great experience, seeing how top professionals live, how they eat and everything,” explained McGhee. “It didn’t work out there. They told me in the end I was too good to play in their under-23s but I wasn’t going to knock a first team player out of the squad. Which I wasn’t. I know that myself.
“I went back to Hearts and Ian Cathro was great with me. He gave me a chance in the team, I played three games but then he got relieved of his duties. When Jon Daly took over as interim manager, he told me I wasn’t going to play. That’s when you know you have to do something. For whatever reason, my face didn’t fit.
“I contacted my agent and, three days before the transfer window closed, I was told Falkirk were interested. It was just down to how much Hearts wanted for me. Thankfully it went through but it was all a bit last-minute. My agent said Falkirk were a good club, that I would play regularly there and it would help develop my game.
“I knew it was the right thing to do. I couldn’t go on sitting on the bench or sitting in the stand. I needed to play. Falkirk have a decent support, some of the games are on TV and they play good football. I always remember the season I played with Hearts in the Championship. Falkirk were the only team to beat us at Tynecastle that year.
“They are always up there challenging so there’s an ambition to take the club further, which is important for me as well.
“I feel wanted again. Falkirk is a great club, they make you feel valued and that’s been a big thing for me. From Margaret [Laing], the chairwoman, all the way down. they’ve created a really positive atmosphere at the club. I came here to play week in and week out and I’ve done that so it’s definitely been the right move.”
He allows himself to jokingly wonder whether he is a jinx. Both Cathro and Falkirk’s Peter Houston were sacked after McGhee played just a few games for them.
“Nobody has said it to me but I was thinking that myself,” he laughed. “I said that to one of my mates: ‘Maybe it’s my fault.’ I was disappointed when Peter Houston lost his job because he signed me and showed faith in me. Alex Smith was in charge and now Paul Hartley is here, which I think is a good move.”
Hartley’s arrival is another shrewd piece of recruitment by Falkirk. Smith, the club’s 77-year-old technical director, oversaw wins and clean sheets against Morton and, on Saturday, rivals Dunfermline. Hartley is now officially in situ for this weekend’s league match against Inverness.
“I’m learning all the time here,” continued McGhee, who signed a one-year contract with the option to extend for a further 12 months.
“Paul Hartley has come in and he spoke to us before the game on Saturday. He told us to keep doing what we’d been doing all week, that clean sheets matter. It was good to get backing from someone like that and realise that he has faith in you.
“His training has been short and sharp with a lot of intensity so far. I’ve really enjoyed it. Obviously, we went out and got another good result and clean sheet on Saturday.”
All achieved with McGhee playing left-back. He stressed repeatedly in previous interviews with this newspaper that he was a natural centre-back, but winnning and not losing goals makes any defender happy.
“I’m more than capable of playing left-back and I’m enjoying it. Getting regular football was the main thing for me. We’ve picked up a couple of good results in the last two games so long my that continue.”
Saturday’s meeting with the Highlanders carries more Hearts connotations. Hartley and his opposite number John Robertson worked together at Tynecastle, while McGhee is facing another ex-team-mate from his time in Edinburgh.
“I’ve already played against Billy King at Dundee United and Gary Olvier at Morton. It will be good to see Brad McKay again. He was great with me at Hearts, always putting his arm round my shoulder and trying to help. Especially that season when we got relegated. He was just brilliant.”