Jon Daly on being an Irish Catholic Rangers player

Jon Daly is champing at the bit to play for Rangers in the Second Division. Picture: SNS

Jon Daly is champing at the bit to play for Rangers in the Second Division. Picture: SNS

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JON Daly has a refreshingly simple take on becoming the first high-profile Catholic from the Republic of Ireland to sign for Rangers.

If it doesn’t bother him, why should it bother anyone else? The 30-year-old striker declared as much yesterday when he showed up at Ibrox to talk about his move from Dundee United.

Of course, Rangers can rightly point out that they have signed Catholics before, and indeed Irishmen, but that combination of religion and nationality has never manifested itself in a transfer of such significance. Make no mistake, it will be something of a culture shock to hear Daly’s lilting Dublin accent down Govan way.

Which is good, of course. You can argue that it’s sad to still be talking about religion when Rangers sign a player or you can congratulate them for being responsible enough to break the mould. After all, there are doubtless other target men – even in the Scottish Premier League – they could have pursued had they been at all wary of the political context.

“I don’t see why it should be an issue,” said Daly. “Obviously, there’s still a few people out there who probably think otherwise, but I’m just coming here to play football and do my job on the park. And hopefully, if I do that, maybe I can change a few people’s minds. It’s 2013. Times have changed.

“There’s a lad here already that’s Irish – young Alan Smith, the goalkeeper – so I don’t see it being a problem. If people are not signing for a club because of issues like that, then that’s disappointing. I don’t look at things like that. I just want to play for a big football club. And you don’t get much bigger than Rangers.”

Daly is a product of Cherry Orchard, the Dublin boys’ club that has produced a long line of professional players. He was a regular in the Republic of Ireland’s under-age teams. If it goes well for him at Ibrox, he could pave the way for compatriots to follow. All of which might be a matter of regret to a few Neanderthals, but you know what? That’s their problem, not his.

“I don’t really know many fans. I’ve not spoken to any. The people that matter to me most are my family and friends. They’ve all had nothing but encouragement for me. They’re all looking forward to coming and watching me play here. If any other people have different opinions, that’s fine. It’s my family that matter, not their opinions.”

In truth, the real question mark over his decision to join Rangers is a professional one. If, as he says, he is still ambitious and still wants to develop his game, why move to the Irn-Bru Second Division? If Rangers can only return to Scotland’s top flight after his two-year deal has expired, what is the attraction?

Ally McCoist, the Rangers manager, was one. “When I spoke to him, I knew this was the right place to come. I still feel I can develop as a footballer. And who better to learn from than Ally McCoist, a fantastic striker in his day?”

The Rangers project was another. “Obviously the SPL level is going to be better than the Second Division, but it’s playing under a manager that I have lot of respect for and playing for a massive club with a massive fan base. It’s the challenge of trying to get the club back to the SPL. I want to be part of that. I want to help the club back to where they belong.”

At this stage of his career, Daly also had to think about his family, and how best he could provide for them in the long term, but he insists that his decision was not a financial one. “Of course, you do look at that, but I had a more lucrative offer from abroad so that didn’t really come into it. I just went with the biggest club that came in for me and that was Rangers. I spoke to my family about it and they’re all delighted with the move and looking forward to coming here.”

In six years with Dundee United, Daly won the Scottish Cup, scored 72 goals in 203 appearances and wore the captain’s armband, but the chance to play for Rangers, at any level, doesn’t come along very often. Ian Black, David Templeton and Dean Shiels, all SPL players, seized their opportunity last season. This weekend, Cammy Bell, from Kilmarnock, and Nicky Law, from Motherwell, are also swapping the top tier for a slow climb through the leagues.

“I’m not surprised,” says Daly. “It’s a massive club. Cammy Bell’s a fantastic goalkeeper, a great addition to the squad. I’m sure he’s the same as me, champing at the bit to get started. Nicky Law has been a revelation since he came up. He looks a really good player, someone that I’m looking forward to playing with.”

All three will have to wait, however. Under the terms of a transfer embargo, imposed on Rangers by the Scottish Football Association, the new signings will not take effect until 1 September, by which time the new season will be well under way.

“When you sign for a new club, you want to play, you want to hit the ground running as early as you can, so it’s frustrating that you can’t play. But that’s the situation we’re in and there’s no point in worrying about it. I just have to get myself in as good shape as I can through pre-season so that, when the time comes, I’m ready to go.”

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