CRAIG MacGillivray believes an unhappy spell at Stalybridge Celtic has benefitted his career as his goalkeeping heroics have helped catapult Portsmouth to the top of League One.
The 26-year-old, who is first choice at Fratton Park, was unable to establish a regular place during his eight months at Bower Fold due to the form of experienced Dane Jan Budtz.
“It was frustrating as I never got a chance because of Jan and also I was injured for a couple of months,” explained MacGillivray, who made only four appearances for Celtic.
“One day before training I went to see manager Jim Harvey in his office and told him I no longer wanted to be with them.
“It was costing me a lot as I came in everyday by train. I had a driving licence but didn’t have a car.”
MacGillivray revealed the sacrifice he made to join Celtic as he quit university to join Celtic in 2011 when they were full-time professionals.
He had been studying for a degree in sports coaching at Leeds Carnegie.
“It was the chance to be a full-time professional, something I had always wanted to be, so that was still a great experience,” he continued.
MacGillivray had been spotted by Harvey when he played for Harrogate Railway Athletic reserves against Celtic and decided to accept the offer of a 12-month deferral of his degree course.
“I never went back to university as, when I joined Harrogate Town after leaving Celtic, I studied for NVQs and became a trainee primary school teacher,” he continued.
MacGillivray made 90 appearances in his two years at Town before gaining a dream move to League One side Walsall.
It was similar to Celtic as McGillivray managed only 19 appearances in three years with the Saddlers.
“I was brought in as cover for Richard O’Donnell and later Neil Etheridge. I hoped to get a lengthy run only for the club to each season bring somebody else in,” he explained.
MacGillivray joined Shrewsbury on a one-year-deal in July 2017 only to experience further frustration when they signed Dean Henderson on loan from Manchester United and he managed only eight appearances that campaign.
“I was lucky that whenever I played there was a Portsmouth scout or somebody with a Pompey connection at our games,” he said.
MacGillivray found himself a wanted man before signing for Portsmouth in June as one Championship and two other League One clubs expressed an interest.
He admitted there was a belief he would be back-up for Luke McGhee who made 50 appearances in 2017/18.
“I had doubters when I arrived and they said I would be No 2 and have to prove my worth. I was prepared for a lot of battles and challenges,” he said.
MacGillivray was given the gloves for the opening game of the season against Luton and has remained first choice ever since.
He explained: “I always knew if I was given the opportunity I would back myself to overtake Luke, as has happened.
“Everything has flipped on its head and now I am first choice. I know what it is like not to play and that provides the motivation to keep hold of my place.”
MacGillivray admitted it has been an eventful journey from Evo-Stik League, first division north to League One in the last six years – and may be even the Championship if Pompey are promoted.
He has no regrets, saying it made him appreciate more what he has achieved.
MacGillivray continued: “The non-league route is better suited as it keeps you grounded.
“I have heard players complaining about having to do double training sessions, but I tell them what it is like to work 9am-5pm, train in the evening and go home and have to wash your kit.
“It toughened me up 100 per cent as you also get smashed at non-league and, as a keeper, that put me in better stead for later in my career.”
Though MacGillivray has recently signed a contract extension to 2021, he never takes things for granted.
He said: “I speak to players my age who have no idea what they would do if they had to finish playing.
“I have qualified as a personal trainer and could also go back to training to be a teacher.”
Though MacGillivray has played only 67 competitive games and is still a rookie, he has amazingly already played three times at Wembley, but sadly was a loser each time.
He appeared for Walsall in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, Shrewsbury in the final of the Checkatrade Trophy and for Shrewsbury in last season’s League One play-off final when they lost to Rotherham after extra time.
“To have played three times at Wembley in four years is not bad and some players never get to appear there, but to lose all three times was bitterly disappointing,” he said.