Joining from St Johnstone in the summer of 2010, Irvine would play a part in our Dee-fiant season that nearly seen the club disappear only for everyone to pull together and ensure our survival. He would then be part of 'Club 12' that saw us promoted to the Premiership a week before the big kick off and Irvine would also play a major part in our Championship winning squad of 2014 before departing for St Mirren in 2016.
Ladies and gentleman, I give to you our next Ex Dee Interview with Gary Irvine.
Q. I believe you came through the youth ranks at Celtic and I also believe your also a supporter of the Glasgow club. How did that feel, pulling on the top of the club you have supported as a young lad?
If I’m being honest, I actually grew up an Aberdeen/Dundee fan. I followed my Uncle Brian wherever he played, and me and my granda never missed a match.
The change to supporting Celtic came because I was on Celtics books from a young age of 12 years old. So, I came through the whole youth system at that time, all the way until 16 years old, and left school to go full time. I managed to progress to the first team squad at the age of 20 and yes it was an amazing feeling to progress to that level and get involved in a few preseason trips and matches and play for Celtic. As I’ve played throughout my career, I’ve always supported the team I play for, but I would say the first score I check every weekend is The Dees now. Q. You secured a loan move at the start of the 2006-07 season to Ross County. From the bright lights of Glasgow to the Highlands is a big mover regardless of your age but was this a move that you wanted or did Celtic have the final say?
My loan was something that Celtic wanted for me. I was at an age where I had done a few years of developing in full time, playing 18s, 19s, Reserve football and also involvement in the 1st team pre-season trips to London and America for a couple seasons. So, the next step for me was to get myself out and experience 1st team football week in, week out.
It was a great experience up in Dingwall, me and Wee Midge (Michael) Gardyne were loaned together, so to have him with me was good. We were given a house to look after ourselves in, so it was a great experience for both of us, the football side and off the park side of things. It made us grew up quick. Q. County would be relegated after finishing bottom of the First Division but there was some success with County that year. You played every minute as Ross County won the Challenge Cup on penalties against Clyde. You even slotted home one of the penalties in the shoot-out. What was it like picking up your first winners medal and being part of the team that won the competition but also suffering relegation?
The playing side of that season on loan was tough, but good! I loved the first team dressing room and challenges that my loan gave me and of course winning a trophy.
That day was amazing. It was a hard fought game that went to penalties and I was lucky enough to slot one away (very nervously struck it into a top corner) but my loan was only 6 months and I didn't actually experience the relegation, even though I was gutted for County.
I went back to Celtic in January, this was a decision that I made this time. County wanted to keep me and as much as I loved lifting the challenge cup and playing every week and doing well, I felt there was a chance to go back to Celtic and challenge for a place in the Celtic squad as they had picked up a couple injuries in my position. Q. In 2007 you were on the move again but on a permanent basis with St Johnstone. Was it good to eventually be settled with a club instead of fearing you may be put out on loan at any-time?
It was a very hard decision for me to leave Celtic. I still had two years left on my contract and St Johnstone came in and offered to sign me. A lot of people would say I was daft to walk away from a contract at Celtic but the experience and feelings I gained from my loan spell at County made my mind up that's what was best for me and the stage I was at in my career.
I was 21 I couldn't sit around any longer, I had to get my career going now. I signed a 2-year deal and I loved working with Owen Coyle and then Derek McInnes at St Johnstone. Q. That year you managed repeat your heroics of the previous season by lifting the Challenge Cup with the Saints after a 3-2 win over Dunfermline. Despite not being a major cup competition, it was the first ever cup that St Johnstone had ever won. How did it feel to be part of that?
My first season at St Johnstone was brilliant. I was playing really well and enjoying my football and another Challenge Cup with another team back to back was something special for me. I’m still proud of that, especially being St Johnstone’s first trophy as well.
I had a good winning mentality from a young age coming through Celtic. I’ve got a league winners medal for every age group that I played at so the fact my career had started with two medals as well in the challenge cup made me very happy and proud that I had made the decision to sign for St Johnstone. Q. The following season seen another medal in your cabinet when St Johnstone won the old First Division. I think you missed one game in the league all season and played a major role in putting them back in the Premiership. From relegation with County to Champions with St Johnstone in a few years must have felt good?
Like I said previous, I was fortunate throughout my development and start of my career to pick up winners medal every season, so I believe that stood me in good stead for the rest of my career and It worked out that way when we managed to win the League the following season. I managed to play a big part in that season, only missing one game, and I managed to score my first senior goal that season as well (I still go onto YouTube and watch it, Messi would've been proud of this one!).
That squad was a brilliant squad of boys, experience, young talent, good footballers, very close. We had a great dressing room that helped us win that league. Q. The next season in the Premier, you missed out on the bulk of the first half of the season. Was this because of injury or had you fallen down the pecking order?
Yes, I signed again for another season in the Premier League. I signed a year deal, even though St Johnstone offered two (agents promising moves to England!), but that Pre-season I choose to get a tidy up operation on my ankle as I wanted to have a good go at the Premier League injury free and that ankle/Achilles was something that had been starting to bother me. So, I got the op and it took longer for me to come back from it. I missed the start of the season and then kept breaking down with it and if I’m being honest, it took me most of the season to get back to playing at the standards I knew I could. Q. The summer of 2010 seen you released by St Johnstone and then snapped up by Dundee on a one-year deal who were managed by Gordon Chisholm. Everyone has a story on how they signed for the Dee. What’s yours?
So yes, I left St Johnstone and that Pre-season was tough because the agents that I mentioned briefly before now had went very quiet on me for a reason I’m still not sure of and I actually done my deal to Dundee myself.
I had heard whispers that Dundee where interested (From Harkins, my best mate), but I never had an agent to negotiate or talk to clubs for me so I actually got a call directly from Billy Dodds asking if I’d be interested in signing. So obviously I went up and trained a couple days, then done the deal with Gordon Chisholm myself. Q. You targeted a quick return to the top flight but in October of 2010, that was shattered when Dundee announced they were to enter administration for the second time. Were there ever any hints from within Dens that it was all fallen apart in the boardroom?
Signing for Dundee was a big thing for me. I was delighted to get the deal done and it was something that was close to my family having grew up following them as a young boy but that joy quickly turned to worry and devastation for what happened to the squad as players we were only finding out the same as everyone else, maybe hearing slightly before like in the morning before it was official released that the club was struggling and were getting the administrators in. Q. Many players and staff members lost their jobs as the cut backs started happening to try and save the club. It must have been horrific to witness this?
When the day came for the administrator to talk to the players and staff of the club, it was one of my worst experiences in my career. We were told to sit in the home dressing room and we got individually called into the boardroom with the administrator and the chief executive to either get told if you were released or staying. The nerves waiting to hear if you had a future or not was horrible. It was equally horrible being one of the players that got asked to stay on as well and walk back through to a dressing where players were still waiting to know their fate and some that had already been told they were released and you were coming through and saying I’ve been kept.
It was a horrible and emotional experience for everyone! Q. The management team of Chisholm and Dodds was replaced by the rookie Barry Smith. With everything happening around the club, how did the players react to Smith taking over?
The remaining players were totally fine with Baz taking over. Baz was always around the club and the dressing room before the administration because he was coaching the U20s full time, so everyone got on well with him. We all knew how hard a situation it was and we knew we were the fortunate ones that still had a job and money coming in. We just had to knuckle down and stick together through the points deduction and the cut backs that club had to make to try and survive, because even though we were kept on, there was still the rumours that the club wasn’t going to survive past January I think it was. Q. We were also hit with a massive twenty-five-point deduction along with a transfer embargo. The points deduction must have been deflating for the squad considering it put us bottom of the league on minus eleven, twenty points behind the nearest team Morton?
The 25points was unbelievable. We were very angry about it but still couldn’t do anything. I can’t remember previous club’s punishments, but I think 25-points was the highest ever issued. But like I said previous, we just had to knuckle down and try stick together and keep upbeat and do the best we could with what we had. But what we did have was a very good side.
The chief executive and administrator obviously sat down and picked a squad of about 15 players that they thought could still compete and give ourselves a wee chance of survival. In my opinion, they picked a small squad but it was the best in the league. The quality we had from the remaining ones was unbelievable. Top players but most importantly it was the right type that knew what had to be done to try save the club on the park! Q. What happened next was quite remarkable. The administrator gave us a 50/50 chance of surviving past Christmas never mind making it to the end of the season. On the pitch though, results started to pick up and in the stands, the fans turned up in numbers and gave a backing that many probably haven’t witnessed at the ground before. Every home game was met with waves of encouragement rather than moans if a pass went astray or a goal was conceded. How much did this help the players who were sometime running on empty and or even carrying injuries?
When we started to hear positive things coming out in the papers and from the staff around the place every day, it obviously gave us players a lift as well but we were all that focused on what we had to do anyway. We had been in great form, digging out unbelievable results every week with our small squad and one of the main things I remember about that season and time was our home games.
The number of fans that turned up every week to give us support and encouragement was amazing. Everything was encouragement, praise and optimism and that rubbed off on us out there on the pitch because we knew we had a massive backing that believed in us! Q. The team then went on a twenty-three-match unbeaten run, smashing the previous record set by the 1962 League winning team. Did you ever bump into any members of that ’62 team and if you did, what did they have to say about this achievement?
The record we set with unbeaten games was unbelievable really. To do it under the circumstances, tiny squad, trialists playing for games to help, players coming out of retirement to help, it should be made into a movie.
It’s a great achievement and something I’m very proud to tell people about. I used to love speaking with Pat Liney during my time at Dens, and I’m sure we would’ve had a conversation about the record at some point. Pat loves the club and is always about the place and to hear all his playing day stories was always something I enjoyed.
Q. The administrator managed to secure a CVA as the club battled back from the brink and along with the teams outstanding run, survival was secured off the field. That campaign was named the Dee-Fiant season. What memories stick out the most from that period, good or bad?
The Dee-Fiant season is my greatest achievement. Even though we’ve spoke about trophies and leagues that I’ve won, this is my biggest achievement!
Under the circumstances and positions, we were put in and the way we fought back is something I’m so proud of. I could speak about hundreds of highs about that season and lows but looking back at it now and obviously staying at the club and going through so much more with them and getting a real love and passion for the club, I feel so proud that I played a massive part in its survival. So that’s the HIGH of my career not just from that season! Q. The following year we finished second in the league with Ross County easily winning the Division. We then started building on what we had and in my eyes, a team that could win the title. Then with weeks to go until the start of the campaign, we took Rangers place after they were liquidated. As exciting as it should have been to play in the top flight, did you think we were vastly unprepared?
The following year was a season I enjoyed, we finished second, played well and I was rewarded with the player of the year awards, think it was 15 in total. Again, that’s something I’m very proud of.
I was buzzing to get straight back into the new season again and I agree we strengthened again after a good season. We signed good players that would’ve set us up to compete for the Division One again but the situation we found ourselves in was surreal.
We were actually coming to the end of our pre-season trip down in Kendall and we were due to start our season in a week or so and then everything happened to Rangers and our whole plans had to get scrapped as we were now in the Premier League with two weeks preparation I think it was. Instead of preparing for a Division 1 game, we were going to Rugby Park to play Killie in the Premier League.
The club tried their best to get players in quick to try strengthening for the Premier League but it was so difficult to get the right ones in at such short notice. There would’ve been little scouting, I’d imagine it was “right we have a few weeks, who’s available, and who’s going to help us compete in the Premier League!” Q. It was a hard time for us in the Premiership and it eventually cost Barry Smith his job and he was replaced with John Brown. As much as I did hope we could beat the drop, it was always going to be a thankless task. What was your views on Smith’s departure and Browns appointment?
I personally think it was so harsh on Barry Smith and didn’t agree with it. I was gutted as I had struck up a good relationship with Smith and enjoyed working with him and he showed a lot of faith in me, giving me the captaincy a lot. So, I personally felt I’d let him down.
As players, we were trying our best and the circumstances made it so hard for us to hit the ground running really, plus trying to gel with even more new players coming in throughout the season to try give us a chance, It was such a hard task he had and I think he should’ve been shown a lot more support and understanding and given the full season. Q. So it was straight back down for Dundee despite a late revival near the end. We would welcome new owners in the summer and the team seemed set up to go straight back up. Was this the goal set out by the new owners and Brown?
The following season, it was clear to everyone that immediate promotion was our goal. A large amount of that squad stayed plus good experienced players were added so the club showed their intent to go straight back up. Q. You signed a new deal with the club despite interest from a few Premiership clubs. What made you turn them down to stay at Dens and what teams had shown interest in you?
I eventually got my deal done, as I had other offers that summer from Ross County and Mansfield and supposedly Hibs we’re keen also. Ross County actually made it very hard for me. The deal they offered was very good, a lot more than what I signed at Dundee for, but my head and heart was happy where I was and that was that. Q. We did endure a sluggish start but we eventually got going and were right in the mix of it. A few results went against us and there was to be yet another managerial change. This time it was Brown out and Paul Hartley in. Much like a few questions before hand, what was your views on this change?
We had a very strong squad for this season and the majority of the season we done well. As always though, the New Championship/Division 1 proved to be a tough season. Q. There were a few nervy moments when it seemed that we had throwing it away but come the last day of the season against Dumbarton, we were in pole position. What was the week leading up to that match like, especially after coming off the Alloa match?
I think we got ourselves in front and had a little points cushion between Hamilton but we had a period where our results allowed Hamilton to claw it back and that’s when the decision was made to replace Brown.
Hartley came in and I do believe it was the correct decision and correct time. I was also pleased that the change happened if I’m being honest because since Brown came in I never performed to the levels I had previous and it’s something that still annoys me to this day that I let him down a bit. I played nearly all his games in charge and I’m forever grateful for that but I wish I performed better for him because as soon as Hartley came in, my performances went back up and I was back enjoying it again.
You see it in football all the time, some players perform completely different under different managers. I could probably say the same for a good few of the boys that season actually. Our performances picked back up at the right time which seen us through to the end to eventually win the league. Q. So it came down to this. A win would secure the title and even a draw would be enough considering our goal difference being superior to Hamilton. When did you first hear that the Accies had been hammering the goals past Morton to make it a must win for us?
The Dumbarton game was such a good game to be involved in. We never once thought about Hamilton clawing back the goals in which they did. All we thought about was going out and winning the match. It was a nervy game but we scored a couple good goals, I was pleased to assist Peasos goal that day, but at no stage during the game did we ever know what Hamilton were doing to Morton and how tight things where getting. Q. We were two-nil up and cruising but then conceded after Dumbarton were giving a penalty. Did the nerves start kicking in?
The last 10 minutes were so nervy. Dumbarton were having a right go and the cross and header from the Prunty chance which ended in the best save I’ve seen a keeper make in my career, especially in the circumstances from big Kyle, was unbelievable. It was like slow motion which is my memory of it, like a ‘Banks’ for England kind of save when it’s actually past him and he still managed to dive backwards and claw it away. Q. Kyle Letheren pulled of a world class save at the end, all our hearts skipped a beat and then the full-time whistle went. It was celebration time. How did it feel to win the Championship?
It was amazing! Q. We started off life in the Premiership well, surprising even our fans I think with a Top 6 finish.
Yes, back to the Premiership, and Hartley made big changes to the squad bringing in good experiences players. We started well and the squad had a very good feel about it. I actually think that squad should have remained together a lot longer than it did. To achieve Top 6 on the first season promoted and show some very good performances and consistency was something that could’ve been built on. Q. We then went eight games undefeated after that match which seen us pick up five wins and three draws. You on the other hand started to be a bit prolific in front of goal. As a defender, scoring isn’t a regular thing to do unless your Roberto Carlos. What was it like to break the mould and get a few goal bonuses under the belt? Yeah, I managed to hit good form and get on the score sheet. Think I was 4 goals in 5-6 games. It was weird, I was going into games with a feeling I was going to score every match. Confidence was so high and I think because I was switching between right and left back during that period it made the feeling of scoring goals even better.
Two with my left and two with my right. Its an easy task that ‘sticking the ball in the net’ I used to say to all the strikers to get a bite. Q. A knee injury side-lined you’re for most of the remaining games. How frustrating was it to sit so much of the season out considering how well we had been doing?
The knee injury was so frustrating. It came at a time when I was on such a high and so was the team and for it to be such a freak accident, it was actually Thomas Konrad that landed on my knee and I damaged my Ligaments, I knew it was bad as soon as I got up. I had usually ploughed through most injuries throughout my career, but this was a feeling I couldn’t get by with, my knee felt so loose and unstable. I had to come off and it kept me out for ten weeks I think it was. Q. Hartley was never shy with his summer signings and in 2015 more new faces were being brought in. You found yourself on the bench most of the start of the year. Did you know your time was up at Dens?
Yes, another pre-season and a lot of new faces again. The squad was big and there was 2-3 players to most positions. The season before I played a lot at left back so a natural left back in Kevin Holt was brought in, which was fair enough and yes, I found myself in and out the team as the manager tried to suss out his best 11.
It was when the season was creeping towards Christmas time that I was getting frustrated not playing every week. Throughout my career I’ve always played a big part in teams and managed to play most games in a season, so as much as I hated the thought of leaving Dens, I knew the feeling I had was that I wanted to go get Football every week and play a big part for a team somewhere. Q. It was a sad day when it was announced that you were leaving Dundee. You were the last member of the Dee-fiant team to exit the doors at Dens. Harkins may have still been in the squad but he left and came back while you stayed. What was your feelings about leaving?
When I heard St Mirren had phoned and enquired about me, Hartley and Dundee actually said they were happy with me and wanted to keep me but he understood my frustration, and also the security that St Mirren were potentially going to offer me. A 2.5-year deal was offered and that was hard to turn down. A good club, with a great set up and 30mins from my home, so as much as it was very hard decision for me to leave Dens after everything I had been through with them, St Mirren was a good option for me. Q. Dundee announced you were leaving and then an hour or so later, you were a St Mirren player. It would seem like the club had basically told you if you find a club, you were free to leave?
Like I said previous, it was actually St. Mirren (Alex Rae) that had phoned and enquired about me. It happened very quick right enough. I think it was all done within a week because I think St Mirren were short of defensive players and needed me in, so I had a few days to think about things, then agreed towards the end of that week. Q. Last year must have been a rollercoaster for you after looking dead and buried for most of the season to finishing seventh on goal difference. Can you explain the Jekyll and Hyde season that put the fans through the ringer?
Last season was so tough, we got off to the worst start ever. Obviously, the new manager came in and we still struggled all the way up till January time. The manager obviously made a lot of changes, 5-6 players were brought in and a few went out as well.
We eventually got going and the finish to the season we had was amazing. We reached the final of the challenge cup just to lose out to United and then to secure our position in the championship for the next season, going all the way to the last game against Hibs at Easter Road was amazing. I think it was 10 maybe even 12 points we were behind going into the final third of the season. We got a lot of plaudits that last part of the season. We were written off by everyone and we kept grinding out results against the top of the table teams. United, Hibs, Morton and even our performance against Celtic on Sky brought us great confidence as we were one of the few teams last season that gave Celtic a scare and gave them a good match, Brendan Rodgers words! Q. This season you have started off strong and look impressive. What’s the aim for this term? Minimum of fourth place or challenging for the title?
This season we’ve started brilliant and got ourselves to the top of the table. It’s going to be hard work to stay there now but we’ve got a good squad and I think we’ll be up there challenging come the end of the season. That was our aim at the start of the season and the manager has made that clear as well, promotion. Q. Coming back to Dundee, you must have a few stories after spending many a year with us. Did you ever find your shoes nailed to the floor, suit cut in pieces or Gary Harkins just being Gary Harkins towards you?
Jeebs (Gary Harkins) is my mate in football and we were always kind to each other I suppose. Probably because we knew if a prank got done, there would be a definite retaliation from each of us and then it would be never ending, no one wanting to back down.
A story about me and him that we used to have banter about would be all through our careers we kept count of the amount of nutmegs on each other. Mainly games against each other and training ones as well. We used to like bragging rights to that. I used to have the upper hand believe it or not but I’d say the last few seasons he’s clawed it back and took over.
He’s megged me a few decent ones that I’m raging about! Q. You found yourself nicknamed the ‘Whit Cafu’ by Dundee fans and there was even a flag made up in your honour by the Big Rabbie D’s Supporters group. Did your teammates ever acknowledge the nickname in training?
The White Cafu, I loved the nickname and so proud of it. I used to love seeing the flag every game and I’m very thankful to The Big Rabbie D’s Supporters Club. I still keep in touch with Big Gary and Wendy Knight via social media and love catching up with them when I go back to Dens for games.
They actually presented me with the flag when I left because they knew how much I loved it. It was after St Mirren went to Dens in the cup and it was actually on show in the stand for that game, even though I was playing for St Mirren. I even heard my song during the game from the Derry, another proud moment and great memory for me.
The flag was presented to me after the final whistle. It was my first time back playing against Dundee and I got a great reception afterwards, even though we beat Dundee and the Dundee fans still clapped and cheered for me as I went and got the flag from Gary Knight. If I’m honest I was emotional and it was an amazing gesture from everyone so Thank You!
The flag is now proudly in my (man cave) football room at home. Q. Your time at Dens was never boring. From administration, to being club 12, to relegation, becoming captain, to winning the league followed by mimicking Ronaldo for a few weeks. You were always an important member of the team and will also be remembered for being an integral member of the 2010-11 squad and the Championship winning team. How will you remember your time at Dens?
My time at Dens is the highlight of my career. I class myself as a Dundee fan and I still love the club. I went through so much with them, nearly everything you could experience in football, highs and lows.
I followed in my uncle’s footsteps, from watching him and supporting Dundee as a young boy with my Granda, to playing just shy of 200 times, winning POTY awards, winning leagues. Playing and captaining in top flight football is something I’ll always be proud of and hopefully one day I’ll be back at Dens in some way to continue my journey