Preston North End new boy Ali McCann excited to face Championship challenge after his move from St Johnstone
Ali McCann completed his move to Preston North End with five seconds to spare but then had a 10-day wait to fully become part of the Deepdale squad.
To say the last fortnight has been a whirlwind for the 21-year-old midfielder would be an understatement.
It was only at teatime on transfer deadline day that North End had a £1.2m offer accepted by St Johnstone for McCann’s services.
McCann was in Belfast with the Northern Ireland squad at the time, his agent was in Glasgow, PNE officials were at Euxton and the Saints were dealing with matters from Perth.
The fact it was an international transfer which needed to be registered both with the EFL and UEFA, just added to the drama.
Once the transfer went through, McCann had to focus for the following 10 days on playing for Northern Ireland – he qualifies through his dad – before finally arriving at North End last Friday.
He got one training session under his belt and was then on the bench at Bristol City, coming on for the last 20 minutes.
On Tuesday, him and his PNE team-mates are on the road again, this time the slightly shorter trip to Bramall Lane to take on Sheffield United.
Reflecting on the last couple of weeks, McCann told the Lancashire Post: “It wasn’t a case of me forcing my way out of St Johnstone.
“I was happy to stay if the offers weren’t there but when Preston came in I thought it was the ideal opportunity for me to come down here and challenge myself.
“I was buzzing when it got over the line but then it was a bit weird because it was going to be another 10 days before I became part of it.
“I knew in 10 days I would be going into a completely different team in a different country, down the road from where all my family was.
“I’ll admit it was all a bit daunting but ever since I walked in here, the lads have been brilliant with me and I’ve settled quickly.
“After I signed, I put my full focus on Northern Ireland’s games – we got some good results – and then when those had been played, the nerves kicked in a bit about moving here and what I needed to sort out.”
McCann joined North End on the back of a wonderful 2020/21 campaign which saw St Johnstone lift both cups in Scotland.
Winning the Scottish FA Cup took them into Europe where they face Turkish side Galatasaray in a qualifying round for the Europa League.
After a 1-1 draw in the away leg, they were beaten at home 4-2.
The European adventure didn’t end there, the Saints dropping into the Europa Conference League where they met LASK from Austria.
Again they drew away before losing at home.
Masterminding the Saints’ cup exploits was Callum Davidson who spent eight years as a North End player.
McCann can’t speak highly enough of Davidson.
“He only had good things to say about Preston when the move was happening,” said McCann.
“Obviously he wasn’t delighted that I was leaving but speaking as a football person rather than as a manager, he said if the move was right he wasn’t going to stop me doing anything.
“He said everyone here was great, this was a brilliant football club and it would be a good move for me.
“Last season was the stuff of dreams at St Johnstone, you couldn’t have imagined it happening. It was brilliant to be a part of.
“Playing in Europe was a nice way for things to end for me there, we had a couple of great nights with a full house.
“We played Galatasaray and while the away leg wasn’t in their normal stadium, there were still about 10,000 fans in which was a great experience.
“They were whistling and giving you all kinds of abuse when we touched the ball.
“We drew 1-1 out there which was a great result and then McDiarmid Park was packed for the home leg. Galatasary knocked us out and then we played LASK in the other competition.
“Again we were a bit unfortunate.
“We drew the first leg away but then lost at home.”
Not too long before those European games, McCann got a close-up view of his future employers. St Johnstone and PNE played a pre-season friendly in July, McCann featuring for 72 minutes of it.
Two-and-a-half months later, he would be changing sides.
“Preston came up the road to play in pre-season and that night I could see the standard,” said McCann.
“They moved the ball well and it was quite early in pre-season for us.
“St Johnstone played well that night and it was a good game for our fitness. It was a draw but in pre-season the result is not the main thing.”
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