Mark Russell: Greenock Morton, Falkirk and Finn Harps

Going back to when you were a boy, you grew up in Paisley and played youth football before you went on to sign your first contract with Greenock Morton. How did it all come about?

“To begin with, I played with St Mirren boys club, but we joined together with Gleniffer Thistle. So, from there I just played all through my youth days until Morton approached me. They asked me to sign for the Under 17’s, and that was just one of those things where I bit their hand off and went for it”.

Were you still at school when you signed your first contract?

“Yeah, I think I was in fourth year or something. I’d signed for the Under 17’s and the year later I went full time”.

Was that a surreal feeling, leaving school and going straight into full-time football?

“Yeah, because I didn’t know what was coming. So I still had to apply for apprenticeships and stuff like that because I wasn’t sure if I was getting into football full-time. So, that was why I had to just go for it when the opportunity came up”.

That must’ve felt good signing your first professional contract?

“Yeah definitely. At that time I didn’t drive too so I was still getting the train from Paisley through to Port Glasgow, then I’d walk round to Parklea from the train station. To be fair, there was a few of us doing that, so we all just helped each other.

After replacing Dougie Imrie as a substitute on your debut, you then went on to play over 100 games for Greenock Morton. How was it breaking into the first-team?

“Well, it just really started through enjoying my football at the time and playing for the reserves. Allan Moore then spoke to me about coming into the first-team squad, which I was buzzing about. Then going onto then make by debut that day was a brilliant achievement for me and my family, and of course all the games after that”.

What was your most memorable moment playing with Greenock Morton?

Credit: Greenock Morton Fans Page

“Probably the first time I was ever in a squad, that was the Celtic game where we beat them 1-0 at Parkhead. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. But there’s loads of memories for me because I was there for so long, getting to the Semi-Final was brilliant too, and of course winning the league”.

That changing room must have been buzzing after the win over Celtic?

“Absolutely. I was only 17 at the time so I didn’t even really know what was going on. At that point we were struggling a bit in the Championship, and to go to Parkhead and get a win was such a surreal feeling”.

After that season you went onto make a really strong impact and earned your way into the 2014/15 Season League 1 Team of the Year. Were you expecting that?

“Nah not really. Once I got into the team I was just trying to play my best football and really enjoy it, and with us aiming to win the league that year I was just trying to play as well as possible. Then at the end of the season I found out that I got into the Team of the Year. So, I was buzzing with that, and it was another great achievement for myself that year.

After your time with Greenock Morton, you were looking for a new challenge and signed with Falkirk. Did you get any backlash for that move?

“Yeah, at the time I decided to leave it was towards the end of the window and a lot of teams were starting to have their squads in place. When the Falkirk opportunity came up, it was one that I wanted to take and I felt that I needed to try something new.

“Unfortunately, the change of Manager kind of dampened it a bit, and it never really worked out for me after that”.

Is that why it never worked out for you at Falkirk then, after buying into playing with them under a certain idea and philosophy one minute, and for all that to change with a new manager coming in?

“Yeah, that was it. It was Paul Hartley who wanted me in, and he wanted me in for a while. But I was waiting to see what was happening with other things. But I eventually signed and I’d missed a bit of pre-season, so it was a case of trying to catch up and get myself fit, and after that I few appearances and I was really enjoying it under Paul Hartley. I think I’d only played four league games under him before he was sacked.

“Then with the new manager (Ray McKinnon – Ex Greenock Morton Manager) coming in it never really worked out for me”.

You then moved onto Finn Harps after trialing with them, what about the club made you want to sign for them?

Finn Park. Credit: League Of Ireland

“I just got a phone call out of the blue one day because my Falkirk contract had finished in the January, and I wanted to get a full season under my belt because I felt like I’d lost six months out of my career.

“So, after the phone call I went over to see what it was like and played a game there. After that they offered me a contract and sorted me out with a house, so I couldn’t complain with that. That was great”.

You had a really impressive season last campaign with Finn Harps, what about the club has brought out some of your best football?

“Well, when I first went over I was made to feel really welcome. I can’t lie, I did struggle at the start when I left my family and friends. But once I got into the team I just started really enjoying it which made me re-sign for that season just there. I can’t complain, I got well looked after.

“I really enjoy it, with all the players and all the staff. As long as I’m happy, that’s the main thing”.

You can play pretty much anywhere on the left side of the park, and you can even play striker as well! Whereabouts on the park would you say you play your best football?

“I don’t know really. I’d signed originally to play as left-back/left-wing-back in a 3-5-2 so that was suiting me. But we were struggling for goals at a point, and I had even played centre-mid for a few games. Then I was asked if I fancied playing striker, so I said yeah.

“So, before I knew it I was on a run of games playing as a number ten and upfront. I enjoyed it, it gave me a new lease of life trying new positions”.

So, if someone asks you what your position is, what are you saying? Everywhere?

“Utility man I’d say!

“I’m only joking. I’d probably say left-back or left-wing. That’s where I’ve played mostly”.

How would you compare the standard of football playing with Finn Harps in Ireland to your time in Scotland with Greenock Morton and Falkirk?

“A lot of the teams are quite similar in the way they play. There’s a lot of good players in Ireland, which actually goes under the radar.

“A lot of the teams are really decent, and the football is a really good standard. It’s only going to get better”.

Who’s the best player you’ve either played with or come up against since you moved to Finn Harps?

“There’s a player at Shamrock (Rovers), Jack Byrne. He played at Scotland at one point as well. I’d say he’s the standout player. I think he’s going to move on at the end of the season”.

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