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An Interview with Graham Gartland: From Drogheda to St. Johnstone

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Getting ready to watch St.Johnstone from the sidelines tonight in their final home game of the season against a battling Hamilton Accies side desperately trying to escape relegation, St. Johnstone defender Graham Gartland talks to Scotzine.com. Currently sidelined after undergoing a hernia operation last week, Graham talked extensively about his time in Perth, his career at Drogheda, missing out in a Full International cap for Ireland and the possibility of manager Derek McInnes leaving St.Johnstone.

On tonight’s game against Hamilton, Graham stated: “Hamilton have a lot more to play for than us. Fighting for their SPL status next year. We have that secured. But since the Semi Final, we have not performed the way we can, but we need to finish the season right and do everything properly, like the fight we have shown against Hibs and then the result against Aberdeen, winning quite comfortably up there.”

He added: “A lot of the lads individually have a lot to play for, even if the team do not.”

With the news that manager Derek McInnes could ultimately make the move away from McDiarmid Park in the summer, Gartland said: “He would be a massive loss, obviously with Owen Coyle and then the gaffer now, they have galvanised the club and gave it a sort of youthful image of up and coming players and the club needs to follow along those lines and get somebody that is enthusiastic about the job.”

“That’s the biggest thing the gaffer brings, his enthusiasm and drive to want to do well, and that’s why other teams are interested in him. Because he does bring a forward thinking way, pushing the club on.”

“He hasn’t got a great budget, but he has attracted some big names to the club and given guys who have something to prove a chance, whether they are at the end of their career or at the start, he has to be admired for that.”

“But he could be a big loss. I’m not sure how far down the road he is to leaving, if he does, then we just have to cross that bridge when it comes.”

Graham joined St.Johnstone on the opening day of the January 2009 transfer window, initially until the end of the 2008/2009 season, after an impressive career in the League of Ireland, with Drogheda United amongst others.

Gartland played a key role in the club’s First Division championship win and gaining promotion to the SPL.

He said: “It was weird. I got offered a medal but I never took it, because I didn’t play the quota of games to get a medal, I just didn’t feel right in taking one. Obviously to be part of the squad that gained promotion was brilliant, great for the club and something that everyone was driven towards.”

“It was a good achievement for the club, breaking the unbeaten record and the team spirit and togetherness from winning league, going into the SPL the following season, gave us the enthusiasm and a freshness to play football. Working hard to get to the places we wanted to play at, such as Parkhead and Ibrox, even Tynecastle and Easter Road. It is something we need to get back for next season.”

Commenting on the standard of competition between the SPL and the First Division, Gartland said: “When somebody beats somebody in the First Division, it doesn’t come as a shock, but when Celtic or Rangers get beaten by anyone its a shock.”

“The SPL is a two-horse league but everyone has a pop and everyone tries to do the best that they can, but given Celtic and Rangers’ fan base and structure they have, it is hard for smaller clubs to compete. But they have worked hard to get that as well, it just hasn’t been handed to them.”

He added: “Most Big leagues in Europe, are won by the same teams year in year out, but it is highlighted more in Scotland because there is such a great rivalry between the two.”

But he is somewhat frustrated at the coverage the Old Firm gets compared to the smaller clubs in the league. For example on Tuesday and Wednesday, Rangers and Celtic are once again on Sky Sports, yet Hamilton are fighting against relegation.

He said: “Outwith the Old Firm there is some great games. Last season we were involved in some crackers, like the 2-2 game against Hearts, the 2-2 game against Motherwell and the 3-2 match against Dundee United. There has been some great games which the Old Firm have been involved in.”

“It’s a Catch 22 with the Old Firm, on the one hand they are criticised [for their dominance] but on the other, they are the main industry in Scottish football.”

He also had a slight dig at the moaning that comes from Old Firm fans over refereeing decisions.

He commented: “It’s funny hearing Old Firm fans complaining, about how they don’t get enough of this or enough of that. When your with one of the teams that isn’t one of the old firm you don’t get much at all.”

After his time in Ireland with Drogheda United, Graham Gartland is held in high esteem by the club’s fans not only for his impressive performances and goals, but also his continued help to raise funds for the club who have been hit hard because of the financial crisis in Ireland.

On his time at Drogheda, Graham mentions: “It’s funny, people say to me that you’ve got a good rap-ore with the fans at the club with fundraising. But I wasn’t just someone who didn’t play just trying to help the club, at the four years I was at Drogheda, it was the most successful spell the club has ever had, we won four trophies in four years, we played three years in Europe, we were quite successful in the four years. I had the most appearances for the club within those four years, someone told me that I had the most appearances in Europe for the club and the most goals scored in Europe also.”

He even went unpaid at Drogheda for a while to help the club out, and because of that he still struggles to an extent with bills from his property back home.

“Helping the club was something that I felt I should do. I enjoyed my time there and wanted other people to realise that. And I didn’t want the club to fold. If you respect the club, they respect you it goes a long way.”

As Graham mentioned during his time with Drogheda, he won numerous honours and played in Europe. Season 2006/2007 saw Drogheda play in the UEFA Cup and beat HJK Helsinki 4-2 on aggregate, which was to be United’s first ever win the competition. A Game in which Gartland scored also. But in the next round, the club went out to IK Start of Norway.

The following season they took to the UEFA Cup once more, beating AC Libertas of San Marino, before narrowly losing to Swedish opponents Helsingborgs, and it was this match when Gartland faced the player he rates the best he has ever faced – Henrik Larsson.

On Larsson, Gartland said: “For somebody that had such a great career and a massive name in world football he still worked hard on the pitch, it was scary.”

However he rates Rangers’ Steven Davis as the top player in Scottish Football. He said, “He is an example of how Old Firm players should behave. He’s top-notch. People say he hasn’t had a great year, but he is on course to win the league and cup, he has been ever-present in that so he isn’t doing that bad.”

United took their place in the UEFA Champions League for the first time ever in 2008, as champions of Ireland. The club took on unknown team FC Levadia winning the first leg 1-0 away in Estonia, and at Dalymount Park they won 2-1 to progress and Gartland scored in that tie also. A result that set up a tie against the mighty Dinamo Kiev. They lost 2-1 at home in the first leg, and were unlucky to draw the second leg with Kiev 2-2.

Gartland once again scored, in the second leg, but despite scoring the equaliser (before Kiev took the lead again) United missed a late chance as one of his team mates just fired wide and it was a bitter-sweet moment for Gartland.

“I wasn’t happy going out, but everyone was saying well done, great result. It was a bit annoying, you were getting pats on the back, even though you went out. Looking back you go jeez we drew 2-2 kiev in kiev. For a small team like Drogheda with 2000-3000 fans it was a great achievement, but at the time I was a bit gutted we lost.”

His performances with United led him to being called up into the Ireland squad to go on a summer tour of Amerca a couple of years ago, after a number of players had pulled out. Unfortunately for Graham he had went out for a meal and left his phone behind and lost out, the only time he felt let down by the club.

He said: “I had went out for a meal and didn’t have the phone on me and got a call to say that I was going into the First team. It was the only time that I felt let down by the people in charge at the club at the time. Because I felt they should have done more to try to get in touch with me. And could have said, listen, we can’t get in touch with Graham but he’s gonna go, put him down to go.”

“But they were waiting on what I’d say, it was a little more complicated than that, but they drafted in somebody else. It would have been good, it would have been something to say that I got, but it’s the one thing that would upset me from my time at Drogheda, the one thing that really annoys me when I look back. It would have been nice to say I was a full international. I can’t see it happening again, I think I had a window of about 18 months, where it might have happened, but I think it’s a step too far for me now.”

As I stated at the start of the article, Graham is out injured due to a hernia operation, but this season he has had a number of injuries before going out on loan to Ross County for a month.

Gartland said: “I’ve probably had the hernia longer than they had realised and it caused a few injuries, and then I done my knee and that kept me out for nearly ten weeks.”

“I went out to get games [Ross County] but I was a bit unsure whether it was me leaving on loan with a view to moving on or just to get games, but it was just to get games.”

“There could be a few changes at the club next year regarding personnel and that’s why I was getting the operation now so I would be ready for pre-season. To give it a go and plan on fighting and trying to get into the team and do whatever I can to do that, giving myself every chance to do that.”

“I feel the games that I have played in for the club, I’ve done well, you have to be humble, the lads that have played this year have been excellent, its been tough but I’ve never complained about not playing as they have been doing well. It doesn’t mean I am happy about not playing but it’s just the way it goes sometimes. Next year hopefully I will get fit over the summer, and give it a good go.”

Graham has one year remaining of his contract and said: “I have a year left obviously like to stay in Scotland and play more regularly in the SPL and go from there, not to prove it to anybody else, just prove it to myself.”

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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