New St Mirren playmaker Gary Harkins says he may be a Greenock boy but he feels right at home in Paisley.
The former Kilmarnock forward endured a frustrating spell at Rugby Park last season after falling out with former Killie boss Kenny Shiels and finding himself banished to the bench. A January move to Dundee eventually proved to be his salvation but after the Dens Park side were relegated from the top flight, the 28-year-old has now settled with Danny Lennon’s Buddies.
And the player, raised just a couple of miles from the home of Saints’ bitter rivals Morton, claims he has found the perfect fit. Harkins – who will travel to Inverness for today’s Scottish Premiership opener – said: “I’ve still got some really good friends from my time at Killie, it wasn’t as if I was totally unhappy with things off the pitch. It was just different things here and there. But it is a big thing for me to feel wanted and I get that here at St Mirren.
“It’s been easy fitting in and the boys have made me feel very welcome. As a player, it is just as important that you feel happy off the pitch and around the dressing room as you do on the pitch. I’ve played a few pre-season games now and I’m starting to get a feel for how we play, so it’s exciting for me.
“It’s a great dressing room here. It’s a small squad with a lot of young boys that will need to step up to the plate. But I’m dead happy here. As soon as I signed and got in amongst it I thought, ‘Brilliant, I can feel at home here’.
Saints opened last year’s top-flight schedule with a 2-2 draw at home to Inverness. This time, the fixture has been reversed but Lennon will have little to go by from the sides’ three meetings last term after Caley Thistle manager Terry Butcher brought in 12 new players. But the Paisley boss – who has opened talks with Newcastle about a loan move for England Under-19 striker Adam Campbell – is not concerned. “We know what system Terry will go with,” explained Lennon. “If you look at any manager who has been in the game for four or five years now, you know what their style is. You don’t always have to look at their team.”
Butcher believes his squad is stronger in depth than before – and will certainly entertain. With the Inverness players clearly itching for St Mirren’s visit today, Butcher said: “I have my team settled. We have been working hard on it and I’m really pleased. The players have not been told but they have an idea. I think they know.
“What is encouraging, more so than ever before, is that there are great options on the bench now. I did not necessarily have that last year. Now I have players who can make an impact. There is great mobility in the team as well as good cohesion.
“They are hungry and fast and energetic. I think it will be a very enjoyable side to watch.”