Following yesterday’s Road to the Final 2009 we spoke to former Bairn Patrick Cregg about his time at the club, the rest of his playing career and making the move into coaching!
Patrick started his career as a youngster with two giants of the global game in Manchester United and Arsenal. After playing with the Old Trafford side as a boy he moved to London and moved through the age groups with The Gunners, even making three appearances in the League Cup in his last season at the club.
“The first team I went over to was Manchester United, I used to go over any time we had off school. Looking back, it was a great experience, but I probably didn’t realise at the time how big a deal it was!”
“I went full time at Arsenal from 16 and I got a really good grounding there from a development standpoint, again I probably didn’t realise how big it was till later on in my life. I’m extremely grateful for both experiences.”
“Even though my appearances were in the League Cup it’s something that I’m extremely proud of. I can say that I’m an Irishman that has played in Arsenal’s first team, there haven’t been a lot that have managed to do that in the last twenty years!”
Arsenal to Falkirk may not seem like a normal career progression nowadays, but former teammate at Highbury and fellow Irishman Stephen O’Donnell was a big factor in his move North of the border.
“Stephen was one of my best friends and we lived together at Arsenal. He went up in the summertime when I was still in London. I went and spoke to Arsenal coming up towards Christmas time. They had pushed one or two lads in front of me from the same age or younger and they basically said we don’t see you breaking through into the first team or pushing through to make an impact.”
“I had a couple of offers to stay in England, in League One. Doncaster and Blackpool both got in touch with me, but Stephen said that I should come up to Falkirk for a few days and have a look around. John Hughes then phoned me and told me to come up as well. He said it was for me to come up and see what they were about, but I think it was more them having a look at me!”
“I went up that December for a week’s training with Falkirk. We played a game, so it really was more of a trial even though it was worded differently to me! They wanted to sign me, I’d followed Scottish football when I was a kid, and when I weighed it up I decided I wanted to play in the SPL more than in League One in England.”
Even though he had only played three games of senior football at the time he joined The Bairns, the young midfielder’s time at Arsenal had him ready for the men’s game on arrival to The Falkirk Stadium.
“I was a bit taken aback by how modern the stadium and facilities were when I first arrived, I remember thinking ‘this is decent’! Where we trained at Stirling was very impressive and I really enjoyed the camaraderie in the group and how the manager was.”
“I hadn’t been out on loan or anything, so I’d never actually played senior football bar the three appearances for Arsenal, which weren’t full 90-minute games. I did the full preseason that year with Arsenal’s first team and I would’ve trained with men. Towards the end I was training with the reserves, but I still got called over when they were looking for numbers. Training with that level of player, the speed of play and their thought process was unbelievably quick, so you have to keep up with that. I think that stood me in good stead, because I had been used to such a high level.”
John Hughes was Falkirk manager when Patrick arrived, and Yogi soon made a big impression on the young Irishman!
“When I met Yogi, he was so infectious. When I was coming up to sign, he picked me up from the airport, which straight away makes you feel good because he didn’t have to do that. We were in the car going back to the stadium and he pulled over saying his tyre was flat and asked me to check it. I got out to check the tyre and he drove off on me! He was about 70 yards up on the hard shoulder and when I jogged up, he was sitting in the car dying laughing!”
“From that I obviously knew he liked a laugh, but from the first time that I came on and we got beat I saw the other side of him where he could be very demanding and very serious. That was an eye opener for me, I’d never experienced anything like that need to win.”
“If you look back at Falkirk’s history it was a very successful time. There were really good guys in the dressing room, and it was a great place to be, led by Yogi and his staff. In fairness to Yogi he was ahead of his time in regard to strength and conditioning and stuff like that, it was very professional for that time. There was a thought process behind everything, and it was all evidence based.”
Patrick came into the team flying, but reckons he dropped after a while at the club, a dip in form he feels he didn’t recover from, despite being very highly regarded by the fans.
“The first 18 months I probably got to a level I was very happy with. I was very self-assured on the pitch and comfortable in my belief in myself. After that I don’t think I hit that bar again on a consistent basis. I did in certain games, but not over a longer spell.”
“I was only a kid; I didn’t have the experience of having a little dip. If I’d went in and played the way I did in my third and fourth there probably wouldn’t have been as much expected from me and I’d have been okay but there were different factors within my personal life and I struggled a bit. Now that I’m on the other side coaching, I think those life lessons probably hold me in good stead helping younger players.”
The most dramatic of Patrick’s seasons at the club came in his final campaign, 2008/09. Outside the Scottish Cup action, the league went down till the last game, with a dramatic last day win up at Inverness keeping The Bairns up. A certain goalkeeper was the hero that day, and Patrick has fond memories of his Spanish teammate.
“That day was a massive relief! I think that was probably the only year we underachieved in the league under Yogi. That day the luck was with us and Dani Mallo made a couple of terrific saves.”
“I was lucky to play with quite a few real good goalkeepers at Falkirk and Dani was right up there with them. Kaspar Schmeichel and Tim Krul were young and went on to have great careers, but Dani was just fantastic and probably one of the reasons we managed to stay in the league. He was a key player for us. He probably got fed up with me asking about Deportivo all the time, but I was fascinated by it and he was a really great guy.”
As we saw yesterday the run to the final had its own drama, but the one that stands out for Patrick is the final against Rangers. Despite the Ibrox side winning through an outrageous Nacho Novo goal Falkirk gave an excellent account of themselves and could have easily won the game with a bit more fortune.
“The game that stands out is the final. It was a massive honour to play in a Scottish Cup Final, as a kid I grew up watching Rangers play Celtic in those games, so to play against Rangers was something I had dreamt of as a kid, although I probably dreamt of playing for Celtic back then! I didn’t dream of playing for Arsenal or Manchester United in the FA Cup final, it was always the Scottish Cup when I was younger.
“I remember us being in the hotel and Yogi being very relaxed, there was very good mood within the group. We were very excited, and we honestly felt we could have won the game. Performance wise we were the better team, but you need luck and the big moments to go your way. Kris Boyd going off and Novo coming on to score in that way, what are the percentages of that going in!”
“They definitely got the luck on the day. They had a far better team, but I really think our performance merited the win.”
Patrick left the club following the cup final to join Hibs. Despite leaving with a loss he only has good memories of his over 100 games played as a Bairn.
“I loved it, off the pitch I made a load of great friendships. We were young lads enjoying life and enjoying football! It was a period in my life I’m blessed to have experienced and extremely grateful for.”
“I stayed in Linlithgow, so we’d go out in Falkirk and Stirling and bump into fans. Unless you’ve played there, I don’t think you realise how well supported Falkirk are in the numbers at games and the people coming up to speak to you!”
After moving on to Hibs Patrick spent a season in Edinburgh before moving on to St Mirren. Before signing for the Paisley club, he spent time training with Morton, and even played a game for The Buddies arch-rivals! After St Mirren a move to England and Bury followed.
“When I went to Hibs I did just okay, nothing more than that. I probably didn’t play as much as I would’ve wanted, I started okay but never got into a real rhythm when I was there. I did enjoy it and learned a lot; I would’ve liked to be there longer, but it wasn’t to be.”
“What happened with Morton is one or two things fell through and the season had already started. The Morton manager asked me to come in for fitness and I told him I had something lined up, but he said I could come for a game. They wanted to sign me, but St Mirren came in with something concrete, so I signed for St Mirren!”
“My life away from football and frame of mind at that time probably didn’t give me the best chance to do well in football, and it was the same when I went down to League on in England and Bury. It was a great opportunity, you do well and you’re in the Championship, but it was one of those if you could do it again you’d be better prepared for it. It was more lessons learned than achieving what I wanted to achieve.”
After struggling to find his form for several years Patrick finally regained his top level when he moved to St Johnstone. In two very successful years at the club he was involved in their historic Scottish Cup win, as well as an impressive third place finish in the league.
After leaving The Saints Patrick returned to Ireland to play and returned to Scotland for part time football while preparing for a coaching career. In his time in the lower leagues he even found another playing experience that rivalled his time at Falkirk!
“It probably wasn’t until I went to St Johnstone that I really had the hunger back and got my form back on a consistent basis. I had two of the best years of my life at St Johnstone, I met my wife that I just married a few months ago, as well as won a Scottish Cup and finished third in the Premiership. For a club the size of St Johnstone it really was two remarkable seasons. It’s a lovely part of the world and somewhere I’m really fond of.”
“When I came back after playing in Ireland, I moved part time while I focused on doing my badges and getting into coaching. The other club I’d put up there with St Johnstone and Falkirk would be Montrose. Although it was part time the season I had up there, and the second season before I retired were great. It was an unbelievable dressing room with amazing staff, brilliant at their job and brilliant lads.”
Patrick retired from playing and now works as assistant manager under former teammate and Bairn Stephen O’Donnell at Irish Premier Division side St Patrick’s Athletic. The team finished 6th in last season’s Covid struck campaign, something they are looking to build on this season.
“The transition has been challenging but I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in, I’m thankful to Stephen for giving me the opportunity. I’m very obsessive with it, the way I was from 16 to 21 with the hunger to improve and learn. It’s been very difficult with Covid, and we’ve made mistakes, but we’ve also learnt loads in the time.”
“Last season didn’t go as well as we wanted, but there was definitely a massive shift in performances towards the end of the season. Rovers and Dundalk are the benchmark, so we’re looking to close the gap on them and look to finish in the third or fourth spot. I’m really excited for next season, and excited to become a better coach.”