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It's a dream come true: Darren McGregor on his move to Ibrox at 28

IF it was "tapping up", it was the worst tapping up in the history of football.

McGregor admits  he's been labelled  with the underdog tag throughout his career. Picture: SNS
McGregor admits he's been labelled with the underdog tag throughout his career. Picture: SNS

If it was a covert approach, it was spectacularly uncovert. Darren McGregor became a Rangers player this week, more than three years after about 50,000 people wondered if they might have watched Ally McCoist making the first move to get him.

It was April 16, 2011, and McGregor had scored an equaliser for St Mirren at Ibrox - "my wonder goal" he said yesterday, laughing - before being substituted because of a hamstring injury in the second half. As he stood in the technical area that afternoon McCoist, Rangers' assistant manager at the time, walked across and whispered a remark in his ear. Football being football, plenty jumped to the conclusion that it was something hugely significant.

The words were exactly that, but only to McGregor, and they were nothing to do with a transfer. "Ally had a wee whisper in my ear," he said yesterday. "Basically just before the previous game when we were supposed to play Rangers I had lost my dad to lung cancer. Danny [Lennon], the gaffer, thought it would be a good idea to rest me on the Saturday. I agreed.

"I think Ally had got wind of this and he was just saying that I had done well to overcome that hurdle. It was my first season and he told me I had done great since coming up from Cowdenbeath. I took a lot of heart from that. But rumours stemmed from that and the photo got linked to it [newspaper journalists had caught the brief exchange in a picture]. But I never had any contact at all with him. The whisper has been misconstrued that he was trying to tap me up. But if that was the case he was trying to tap me up in front of 50,000 fans!"

McGregor, 28, will play for Rangers but he could talk for Scotland. McCoist has signed him for the strength and pace he brings to a team as a central defender, but he is also an engaging chatterbox. He sat in the media room at Ibrox yesterday and spoke at length about the remarkable upturn in a career in which he was once played for Cowdenbeath, was freed, when to junior team Arniston Rangers in Midlothian, returned to Cowdenbeath and then suffered two career-threatening cruciate ligament injuries in consecutive seasons at St Mirren.

"I've been the underdog from Arniston Rangers to Cowdenbeath to St Mirren. The same tag will be put on me here but I look forward to proving people wrong. I will do what I've done from a young age, work hard, persevere and hopefully I can get there. If you'd said six years ago I'd go from Arniston Rangers to Glasgow Rangers when I was sitting in this wee pokey dressing-room in Gorebridge on the outskirts of Edinburgh, I'd have said, 'no chance'. It's not as if I didn't have the aspiration but at that time you're thinking about the next step higher, not six or seven steps higher. It's a dream come true from where I've been."

Where he has been, for what must have felt like two depressingly long spells, included hospitals and treatment rooms. In the third game of the 2011-13 season his cruciate ligament was injured in a game at Dundee United, which kept him out for more than seven months. In the third game of the following season he injured the same ligament on his other knee in an accidental clash with Hibs goalkeeper Ben Williams, this time finishing McGregor's season entirely.

"I'm fortunate that I'm in this situation now but I have worked hard, I've looked after myself. You could look at it two ways: you could say 'well he's had two bad injuries, he's vulnerable, he's maybe susceptible to another injury', but I would say 'well I've come back from two of the worst injuries you could bestow on a footballer, I played 38 games last season and never missed a training session.

"After the second injury, I was just taking baby steps and trying to deal with it week by week. If you'd have asked me before the Hibs game [when he was injured for the second time] what the worst thing that could've happened to me was then - apart from losing a relative - it would've been to go through the whole scenario - seven months, five days a week, five hours a day - again. But you learn and it makes you stronger. Towards the tail end of that season the aggression was back in my game. I hadn't lost any speed or strength - assets I have and want to bring to Rangers.

"The manager thinks I can do a job here and I am grateful for that. But the hard work starts now. The Championship will be tough but with the quality and experience Rangers have, I can't see anything other than us being champions."

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