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As they scrapped at Dam Park, Steven Naismith and Aiden McGeady seemed implausible future allies . . .

IT is a footballing partnership that was not made in heaven but forged on the battlefield of Dam Park.

Everton's Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith have come a long way in seven years, when they played for Celtic and Kilmarnock. Pictures: SNS/Getty
Everton's Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith have come a long way in seven years, when they played for Celtic and Kilmarnock. Pictures: SNS/Getty

"The first conversation I had with him after he signed was to say that I wanted to have a square go with him after a Kilmarnock-Celtic under- 13 match,'' says Steven Naismith, 14 years on, of his first encounter with Aiden McGeady, his Everton team mate, on the playing fields of Ayr. They are now friends as well as colleagues and are part of an Everton side that is flexing its muscles for a crucial season in the Barclays Premier League.

Naismith, who was in Toxteth yesterday distributing tickets to the jobless under a scheme he has financed, has found increasingly meaningful employment at Everton. "The first season I was just trying to fit in, trying to get a game. Last season went better for me,'' he says.

It certainly was and it had its spectacular moments. He scored the winner against Chelsea and then had man-of-the-match appearances against both Arsenal and Fulham.

He also pushed Romelu Lukaku out to a position on the wing. Everton's new £28m striker was thus relegated to a supporting role by the Scottish forward.

He chuckles when this is pointed out, insisting that it was merely another successful strategy from his manager, Roberto Martinez.

"He has the ability to surprise opponents with his tactics and they have a high success rate,'' he says.

Lukaku, the 21-year-old Belgian striker, has come north from Chelsea after a fine loan spell at Goodison and represents a significant change in Everton thinking over transfers.

"Rom is a revolutionary signing for this club. He shows the faith the board has in the manager after his first year in charge. This is both an ambitious and a confident signing. But as important as Rom's signing is, Gareth Barry coming on board after his loan is absolutely massive. He is a great player, experienced and able to do the simple things well and contribute consistently to the team.''

But what of his old sparring partner, McGeady, who came from Spartak Moscow in the January transfer window?

"The square go comment was to show how we have always battled against each other through our careers. When I was at Kilmarnock we were always up against each other in young player of the month awards or young player of the year awards. Then we had the Rangers- Celtic thing.''

However, he says of his Dam Park rival: "This is a big season for Aiden and he can and will make an impact.''

He points out that the former Celtic player came to the club in mid-season, adding that it is difficult to adapt immediately to life in the most glamorous league in the world.

"There is a big change in him,'' he says. "He had four games for Ireland and that kept him fit and he has done a lot of work in the gym over the summer so he has come back in good condition.''

Naismith, too, pointed out that McGeady filled a gap at the club. "He is probably the only out and out winger we have. Kevin Mirallas can play wide but he is not a winger in the traditional sense. Aiden is an old-fashioned winger, with the quickest feet most of the squad have ever seen. It will be a big season for him and he will contribute a lot.''

The talk of the Ranger-Celtic rivalry also extends to two other of Naismith's team-mates.

Naismith's cv sparked some ribbing from full-back Seamus Coleman and midfielder James McCarthy, who both play for the Republic of Ireland. "They told me: 'We used to hate you. We used to want to get stuck in about you.'

"But now we all sit in a corner and have a natter and the others do not know what we are on about.

"I played against Seamus in an international match and he was, well, up for it but he is the most level-headed guy off the park. Nothing would turn his head.

"His perception of me was based on what he saw on TV, a Rangers supporter celebrating after scoring for Rangers.''

The Scottish-Irish corner now has its own hero. "What about Charlie Flynn? Sensational,'' said Naismith of his countryman who won Commonwealth boxing gold and was even more spectacular in his comments to the press.

"The rest of the team just do not know what he saying but we do," he says of McGeady, McCarthy and Coleman. "I recorded his interviews and we listen to them. We know his world, who he is, where he is from. It is wonderful to listen to that and be reminded of home and where we came from.''

They are all going forward together now.

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