Anyone else getting incredibly nervous before a game for the first time in almost exactly a year? Come Monday evening, our season will either be over or we’ll have the gut-churning fun that is the playoffs to look forward to. I am completely fine about this.
So to distract ourselves for a bit, why not take a look at a man who has turned out for both clubs?
I should point out that, as it’s the 50th anniversary of Sunderland’s glorious FA Cup triumph over Leeds, I was planning on picking someone from that day who also played for Preston, but incredibly, not a single player or manager involved that day has ever been affiliated with North End. So, that is not helpful in the slightest, but on we go.
If you want to find the definition of a footballing maverick, then you will probably do well to find a better example of it than former Sunderland hero Aiden McGeady – as a side note, it feels very strange to call him “former” now.
A product of the Celtic academy, Irish winger McGeady made his debut for the Glasgow giants as an 18-year-old against Hearts in April 2004, introducing himself to the Bhoys with a goal inside 20 minutes. Three more appearances followed at the end of the 03/04 season, which was apparently enough to earn him a Scottish Premier League winners medal, and he also made his international debut in the June of that year, a lovely old time for teenage Geads.
The 04/05 season saw him announce himself as a fully fledged first-teamer, as he made 37 appearances for Celtic, netting five goals in the process and picking up a Scottish Cup winners medal on the way. All in all McGeady’s stay at Celtic was an incredibly successful one, as in his six years at Celtic Park he won the SPL four times, the Scottish Cup twice and the League Cup once, scored in an Auld Firm cup final win, and nabbed Champions League goals against the likes of Benfica and Villarreal.
However, an all too public falling out with manager Gordon Strachan in December 2008 seemed to slow down McGeady’s rise, and with it Celtic failed to win the league that year, leading to the manager resigning.
Celtic’s next manager, our lovely Tony Mowbray, did not have a nice time in Glasgow, and they finished the 09/10 season trophyless for the first time in seven years. This spelled the end for McGeady’s time in Scotland.
In August 2010, a surprise move to Spartak Moscow came out of nowhere, as the Russian club paid £9.5m for his services, making him the most expensive export from Scottish football. His time in Russian was a mixed bag – filled with Europa League goals and a couple of tasty red cards, one of which was for striking an opponent, and promptly sticking the fingers up as he left the pitch.
A six-match suspension for this incident in May 2013 (where he was also accused of attacking…a door) was reduced to two.
The final year in Moscow saw McGeady banished to the youth team for ignoring the manager’s instructions in September 2013, and by January 2014 he made the move back to the UK. Everton signed McGeady for an undisclosed fee but was reduced to mainly sub appearances throughout the rest of his debut season on Merseyside.
A promising start to the 14/15 season (in which his goal against Leicester on the opening day was nominated for goal of the month) was scuppered in January when a knee injury ruled him out of long-term action, and Everton signed Aaron Lennon to replace him that same month.
A nightmare stint at Everton was ended with two loan spells, the first to Sheff Wed in February 2016. Again though, this would end in disappointment as he was left out of the squad entirely for the Owls’ play-off semis against Brighton and the final against Hull, owing to poor performance.
The second loan though, was to Preston North End, and was seemingly the season that brought McGeady back to life. An integral part of Simon Grayson’s (sorry) team, McGeady helped made 35 appearances in a single season for the first time since his last season at Celtic, seven years earlier. Eight goals, including a ludicrous 25 yarder against Huddersfield, an 11th placed finish and Preston’s Player of the Year was proof enough that McGeady had some of his mojo back.
So, when he finally escaped Everton permanently, would he return to Deepdale?
Of course not, as, in probably the only good thing Simon Grayson ever did for Sunderland AFC, McGeady signed for the Lads in July 2017. Now, that season was atrocious and we were relegated bottom of the Championship, but we’d have likely been gone sooner if it wasn’t for McGeady’s contributions to the team.
But McGeady took a little while to adjust to life in the third tier, presumably because most of the jobbers you’d find in League One were petrified of him, and tried to knack him if they could catch him. McGeady missed the first month of the 18/19 season, and it wasn’t until late October that he grabbed his first goal of the season, but that sparked a purple patch of seven goals in 10 games as Sunderland looked to make an immediate return to the Championship.
Naturally, we did no such thing, and McGeady’s injury at the end of the season will go down as one of the main reasons for that play-off final loss. He did, however, give us a top tier Limbs moment at Wembley, with his two goals against Pompey in the Checkatrade final.
The 19/20 season saw Sunderland sack Jack Ross and replace him with Phil Parkinson (sorry again), who naturally thought that the best way to stamp his authority on the team was to freeze out our best player.
So despite playing 20 times and scoring six times in the first half of the season, Parky shipped McGeady off on loan to the Championship with our play-off victors, Charlton. Our season fizzled out owing to COVID and Parkinson himself, and McGeady’s wasn’t much better, as he suffered relegation with the Addicks.
Still nowhere to be seen at the start of the 20/21 season with Parkinson sticking to his insane guns, McGeady didn’t make an appearance until Parky was sacked, and Lee Johnson (so, so, sorry) came in, selecting him for his first game in charge, as we lost 1-0 to a team of toddlers fielded by Wigan.
Although not too many goals came that season, McGeady did find the perfect formula for success; put the ball on a plate for Charlie Wyke. The striker hit 31 in all competitions that season, including four in the same game against Doncaster, where McGeady assisted each of them.
McGeady’s final year on Wearside was blitzed by injuries, reducing him to only 16 games, and preventing him from making even a single appearance under Alex Neil. He did manage to get on the bench for the play-off final, and even though we didn’t get to see him at Wembley again, he deserved his serenading from the Sunderland fans who were in the process of losing their minds in celebration after full-time.
After leaving Sunderland, McGeady reunited with Lee Johnson again, this time back in Scotland with Hibs. Yet to score a goal, and plagued with injuries, having not played since February, it’s possible his career is coming to a close, as he’s now the ripe old age of 37, but there is no doubt that in the bleakest period of Sunderland’s history, Aiden McGeady was a rare reprieve from the awful football in front of us.
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