Hibs: Aiden McGeady on Lee Johnson 'mind games', coming back to Scottish football, and Sunderland experience
It has been 12 years since Aiden McGeady played his club football in Scotland.
Twelve years that took him to Russia with Spartak Moscow, then the English Premier League with Everton and loan spells in the Championship with Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday, before a permanent move to Sunderland where he started off well, was exiled to the under-23s by Phil Parkinson, and brought back to the Black Cats starting XI by the same man who brought him back to Scotland when he signed a one-year deal with Hibs last week.
Wednesday’s pre-season friendly against Hartlepool United was the first time McGeady has featured in a match since November last year, a medial ligament injury reducing him to just 16 appearances in all competitions.
"I had a few setbacks at Sunderland,” he explains, as he speaks at Hibs’ summer training camp in the Algarve.
"I was fit for probably the last two or three weeks of the season but not anywhere near the fitness I needed to be at and I never played so it was good getting back into it.
"I've only trained two or three days and then had the game – it's pre-season, but you want to get as much out of it as you can."
The injury is fully healed – "medial injuries are a funny one with footballers because you pass the ball a lot; if it was another ligament you might not use it as much but I feel good now” – and the wideman admits to feeling flattered that there was interest in him as the end of his Sunderland contract drew nearer.
"I was quite... not surprised, but I felt I was in quite a privileged position that I had interest at my age, especially considering that there are so many other players out of contract across England and Scotland,” he adds.
"I had a few teams after me so that was great, a big compliment. There's that doubt at the back of your head, that you might have to retire because a team might not take you, or you might have to go on trial somewhere but it was great; as soon as Lee Johnson got the job he was onto me straight away about coming in."
It was Johnson’s predecessor Shaun Maloney – a former team-mate and friend of the winger – who got the ball rolling over a potential move to Easter Road. After more than a decade away, the aim was always to head back to Scotland.
“My family are in Scotland, my mates – obviously you make friends everywhere you go. My wife and kids were moving back up the road anyway,” McGeady says.
“I didn’t really look at all in England. I just thought about Scotland and seeing what the best scenario was up here. This was the best fit for me.
“I spoke a little bit to Shaun beforehand with the intention of coming this season. Unfortunately he ended up losing his job after three or four months so I was back to the drawing board not knowing what was going to happen,” the 36-year-old continues.
“When there was talk of Lee Johnson getting the job here I thought it might work out well. All the pieces fitted into place.”
Prior to the deal being inked, Johnson described McGeady as a ‘maverick… a challenging but inspiring character to have around any squad [and] a fantastic player with unbelievable feet’, and suggested that the former Celtic youngster had nothing to prove, but also lots to prove.
McGeady’s brow furrows as he contemplates what his manager might have meant by that.
“I saw the comment. I think he’s maybe playing his mind games with me! It’s a phrase; you’ve got nothing to prove but if you still have the hunger you have everything to prove,” he muses.
“Proving to yourself you can still do it because of the age I’m at. For instance, if I get injured, people straight away say it’s because of my age but if a 24-year-old gets the same injury it’s nothing to do with his age; if I miss a chance it’s because I’m past it.
"Maybe it’s along those lines. I don’t have anything to prove really – maybe just something to prove to myself, almost."
McGeady is a big-name signing; nearly a century of caps for the Republic of Ireland and a raft of career honours back that up. But a marquee signing?
The player isn’t so sure.
“How am I a marquee signing at 36, on a free transfer? I know what I’m capable of but I just never thought I’d be a marquee signing – I’d probably use that for someone who cost three or four million pounds, or a younger player who has come in,” he responds.
“It’s 12 years since I left Celtic so I’ve not played in the league for a long time.
"But I suppose it’s a compliment.
The competitive season kicks off on Saturday July 9, at home to Clyde in the opening match of the Premier Sports Cup group stages. Fans will be keen to see what McGeady can do and there is a sense that the attacker is champing at the bit to get back out on the pitch and get regular games once more – even if he does have nothing, and everything to prove.
“Ideally for me from a personal point of view it would be to perform as well as I can, play as many games as I can and take it from there,” he finishes.