(Photo: Action Images)
By Luke Baker
BY HIS own admission, Aiden McGeady was falling out of love with the beautiful game while trapped at Everton.
But, with regular playing time, assists, goals, a player of the month award and potentially a late play-off charge, he is a man revitalised at Preston.
Following just 14 league starts in two and a half years for Everton, McGeady had surpassed that total with North End by the end of January after joining on a season-long loan last summer.
The midfielder could hardly have got off to a better start at Deepdale as he scored 64 minutes into his debut against Barnsley in September, but he has gone from strength to strength ever since.
His form culminated in a spectacular February, when he helped the Lilywhites to three wins and two draws, including a virtuoso display of two goals and an assist in the 4-2 triumph over Brentford.
And, after being named Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month for February, the 30-year-old is feeling on top of the world again.
“I’m just happy to be playing every week because I’ve had a stop-start couple of years at Everton,” said McGeady. “I was out of the team, not in the squad and lost the love of football a little bit. But I’ve been revitalised this season and that’s credit to the manager (Simon Grayson) and the club.
“I’ve been enjoying my football and there has been no added pressure on me to do things I don’t do. I can just go out and play.
“It’s nice to be training all week and looking forward to Saturday again. It has been good to get that feeling back again.
“It’s always nice to be recognised with awards, so I’m delighted to pick up the player of the month as well.”
McGeady has made no secret of the fact he believes his Everton career is over. If he has it his way, the Republic of Ireland international’s loan will become permanent and he will be with Preston for the long haul.
“I’ve still got a year left at Everton, which is a problem we’ll have to overcome in the summer,” explained McGeady. “But I’d like to stay here if everything could be agreed. I’m playing the best football I have done in a long time and I think next year could be really special.
“We’ve got a good squad, a lot of young players and the recruitment has been pretty shrewd.
“We maybe don’t have as much money as other teams in the division, but we’re performing well. So, a couple of new additions in the summer and there’s no reason why we couldn’t be pushing for those promotion places.”
A run of just four defeats in the last 21 games ahead of the weekend has pushed Preston to the fringes of the play-off conversation, a year ahead of schedule.
But, while he hasn’t completely given up hope, McGeady acknowledges that a 3-1 loss to fellow top-six chasers Fulham last weekend has left them with an uphill struggle to pull off an unlikely promotion.
“We’ve quietly snuck up to where we are now – not too far off the play-offs,” added McGeady. “If we’d had a bit more luck in terms of turning a couple of draws into wins, we’d be in there. But the top six teams have been consistent all season.
“I’m not saying the play-offs are definitely out of our reach but the Fulham game put a bit of a dent in it.”
*This article originally featured in The FLP’s 12 March 2017 edition.