Dundee’s Greg Stewart: From part time to big time

One to savour: Greg Stewart has had 15 opportunities to celebrate a goal this season. Picture: Kenny Smith/SNS

One to savour: Greg Stewart has had 15 opportunities to celebrate a goal this season. Picture: Kenny Smith/SNS

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This time last year he was working in an oil refinery. Now Greg Stewart is vying for player of the year

GREG Stewart hasn’t been immersed in the life long enough to become either a merchandising prop or a wannabe boyband member.

As the PFA Scotland Player of the Year candidates met up last week, his peers were decked out in clobber their PR people could have plucked straight from the shelves in the club store or the designer street gear that screams celebrity. The Dundee striker looked like he had dashed to the venue straight from a lunchtime kickabout with his mates down the park. He looked normal.

This time last year, he was just a normal guy. One who had grown up with dreams of making it and shown potential but instead of making the grade was making a crust operating a high pressure water jet at Grangemouth refinery and playing part-time with Cowdenbeath.

Plucked from that world by Dundee manager Paul Hartley, Stewart has rewarded him with the kind of performances that deliver goals, points, a top six finish and individual recognition. It has been a season the 25-year-old could only have dreamed about a year ago. But as good as it has been, it could get even better tonight, when the PFA Scotland Players’ Player of the Year is announced at the annual awards dinner in Glasgow.

One of the four men shortlisted, Stewart has struggled to take it all in, fearing it was all a prank to begin with. “The gaffer phoned me and said I’d been nominated in the top four. I didn’t believe it and I thought someone was at the wind up.” Chatting to the media, he discovered that Celtic’s Stefan Johansen, the front runner for the accolade, voted for him.

“It’s surreal,” says the Premiership’s third-top goalscorer. “I’m just trying to take it in, how I’ve managed to make it. I actually voted for him as well. I’m just delighted I’ve managed to get in the top four.”

Johansen is one of many who insist he is there on merit. “In the games against us, he showed he is a great footballer and I think he has had a great season,” said the Norwegian. “He was my choice. I am impressed with him. Of course, Adam Rooney and Aberdeen have also had a great season but my vote was for Greg and I think he deserved it, he has been great this season.”

It’s a season the former Rangers and Hearts youth player feared he would not have the chance to experience when he was released by the capital club a few years ago.

“It was obviously a sore one to take when I left but that’s just what happens in football. It’s just one of those things and luckily enough, I’ve managed to let that go and kept pushing and pushing and I’ve taken my chance.

“When I left Hearts, I went about a few clubs such as Stirling Albion and Falkirk but I didn’t really enjoy it. I just went back to playing amateur football with Syngenta Juveniles in Falkirk, scored a few goals and enjoyed it and I managed to get picked up by Cowdenbeath. That got me enjoying football again.

“I always wondered if I was ever going to get that chance again but, luckily enough, Paul gave me it. He signed me on a pre-contract and I’ve managed to kick on from there.”

Living a “normal” life where dreams are threatened and early morning starts and evening training are part of the package, Stewart understands just how big an opportunity he was handed by the Dens Park gaffer and attributes his dedication to a desperation not to blow it and have to face a return to ordinary life.

“I was basically getting up for my work at 6am then rushing home to make training on a Tuesday and Thursday night. Playing part-time football, it was difficult during the week and I wasn’t getting as much rest and I was only training twice a week. To come this far in a year, I’m obviously delighted.

“I’ve felt the benefits this season from being full-time. I’ve got a lot fitter and stronger and I’ve learned from playing with better players and from the gaffer as well. Hopefully, I can just kick on again next season.

“Hopefully, I can just keep scoring as many goals as I can and help the team. Getting into the top six this season, hopefully we can push for Europe next season. If the gaffer can bring in a few more bodies and I can score the same number of goals next season as this season, I’d be happy.”

Regardless of whether he wins the award tonight or not, the fact he has made it into the top four of all the players nominated by his peers is an achievement in itself.

But he is still aiming higher. With his dreams back on track, he sees no reason to dilute them. He wants what he has always wanted – a career at the top and a Scotland cap. “It’s always something you want to do as a kid, play for your country, and if I just keep working hard and scoring goals, hopefully one day I might get that chance.”

PFA SCOTLAND SHORTLISTS

Premiership Player of the Year

Virgil van Dijk (Celtic)

Stefan Johansen (Celtic)

Adam Rooney (Aberdeen)

Greg Stewart (Dundee)

Young Player of the Year

Ryan Christie (Inverness CT)

Jason Denayer (Celtic)

Sam Nicholson (Hearts)

Jamie Walker (Hearts)

Championship Player of the Year

Scott Allan (Hibs)

Morgaro Gomis (Hearts)

Alim Ozturk (Hearts)

Jamie Walker (Hearts

League 1 Player of the Year

Willie Gibson (Stranraer)

Declan McManus (Morton)

Jamie Stevenson (Peterhead)

Alan Trouten (Brechin City)

League 2 Player of the Year

Bobby Linn (Arbroath)

Simon Murray (Arbroath)

Shane Sutherland (Elgin)

Paul Woods (Queen’s Park)

Manager of the Year

Ronny Deila (Celtic)

John Hughes (Inverness CT)

Derek McInnes (Aberdeen)

Robbie Neilson (Hearts)

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