It’s hard to believe Aiden McGeady had endured a tough time before his arrival at Preston North End.
The 30-year-old fell completely out of the reckoning at Everton with a disappointing loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday then failing to reignite his career.
It has been a different story at Deepdale though with the Republic of Ireland great relishing the freedom given to him by PNE boss Simon Grayson.
Having been on the fringes for a couple of years McGeady is now one of the main men for the Lilywhites, his undoubted quality on the ball shining through in the agonising FA Cup defeat to Arsenal last time out.
“The manager’s been really good with me, letting me go out and express myself,” said the former Celtic and Spartak Moscow man.
“I’m not worrying about making mistakes, giving the ball away or things like that.
“I’ve enjoyed the atmosphere in the group as well.
“I’ve come in and there’s a good set of lads, I’ve just enjoyed everything about it.
“I’m playing again and looking forward to Saturdays because the last couple of years has been quite stop-start for me.
“I’ve not really played that much at Everton and then at Sheffield Wednesday I was in and out.
“I know the manager’s got a lot of faith in me.
“He wants me to go out and play my own game.
“From my first game against Barnsley he said ‘do what you were doing four or five years ago’.
“That’s kind of stuck with me.”
In recent seasons this would be the time of year where McGeady might start to get twitchy, the winger wondering where he would be playing his football at the end of the month.
But having signed a season-long loan when he arrived from Goodison Park on deadline day in August, his next move is the last thing he will be thinking about during this transfer window.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted to come on loan for the whole season,” said McGeady.
“Sometimes the life of a footballer when you’re not playing can be really unsettling.
“You’re here, there and everywhere.
“It was good to know I had a full year to go and play and get my head down and get back to enjoying football again and up to now I’ve been doing that.”
That was clearly in evidence against Arsenal last Saturday, one piece of skill sticking in the mind of those at Deepdale or watching live on TV.
In the run up to Callum Robinson’s early opener as PNE dominated, McGeady charged at the Gunners defence before an eye-catching Maradona turn, a pirouette on the ball, took him beyond Aaron Ramsey.
A through ball then nearly released Jordan Hugill with the ball breaking kindly to Robinson who made no mistake to send Deepdale into raptures.
“You can’t really explain how it happens, it’s instinct,” said McGeady.
“It was there to do and it worked out well and obviously the goal came from it. When you look at it like that it’s great.
“Personal things like that are good but ultimately the main thing is we play well and we definitely did that.”
The Irishman’s piece of trickery was arguably the highlight of a memorable first 45 minutes in front of a packed house.
Things didn’t go North End’s way after the break, goals from Ramsey and Olivier Giroud sending the Gunners into round four.
“We did enough to win the game in the first half,” said McGeady.
“We didn’t take our chances and that came back to haunt us.
“We can hold our heads high, we definitely showed ourselves in a good light.
“We can take a lot of confidence from it.
“Arsenal are a top team and we can take a lot of heart from the game, especially the first-half performance.”
There is no let up for Grayson’s men with top of the table Brighton in town this Saturday.
McGeady believes North End can take plenty from both the Arsenal showing and previous games against the Championship’s big boys ahead of the meeting with Chris Hughton’s Seagulls.
“This season when we’ve played the so-called bigger teams we’ve played really well,” he said.
“We’ve taken a lot of points. There was that period in October when we had Villa, Brighton and Norwich.
“Against the top teams we definitely raise our game.
“Brighton are the league leaders and they’re there for a reason but I think on our day we can take points off anybody.”
The winger knows that continuing that trend against the sides near the summit of the division and demonstrating the qualities they did against Arsenal on a regular basis would result in a very interesting second half of the season.
“I’m not saying there’s nothing to fear from Brighton, they’re well organised, they play good football,” he said.
“But if you can play that way against Arsenal and do that every week then who’s to say we shouldn’t be right up there.
“It’s all about consistency and carrying on that level of performance.”