He might be in the English football system for another year – but Gavin Reilly is looking forward to a homecoming of sorts at Carlisle United.
The former St Mirren, Hearts, Dunfermline and Queen of the South striker has signed for the League Two club following a spell with Bristol Rovers. Whilst he’s still over the border, he’s much closer to his family based in Gretna and Dumfries.
It has been difficult for Reilly since leaving St Mirren for Bristol, a big personal switch as he moved his family from Edinburgh to the bottom of England. Now back in some familiar surroundings, the 27-year-old is looking forward to home comforts.
“It was sort of in the pipeline in January,” Reilly told NTOF. “I came back from loan at Cheltenham Town and had talks with Carlisle over Christmas time. An offer came through but we never had time to negotiate or discuss things with them.
“But I played for Bristol Rovers when I got back and the rule is in the EFL that you can’t play for more than two clubs in one season. Because I played for Bristol Rovers I couldn’t go to Carlisle. It fell through but we kept in contact.
“I was told that I wasn’t getting a new contract at Bristol Rovers and they came back in. I was happy to get things tied up. It’s nice to get home. I was down there for two years with the missus and the wee one. It’s a lovely part of the world but it’s hard work being down there on your own.
“My missus is from Dumfries and I’m from Gretna. The football side of things is brilliant but I still wanted to play in England. The move ticks all boxes in terms of football and life outside of that. It wasn’t until I went to Hearts that I moved away from home. When I was with Queen of the South I lived with my dad in Gretna until I moved to Edinburgh.
“Even when I was at Dunfermline and St Mirren I still stayed there. To go to the bottom of England was a bit hard to begin with. People don’t consider that. They just think ‘he needs to go there to do well.’ It’s all the other things that go with it so it’s good to be settled.”
This weekend, Reilly will be part of a major game in the EFL. Carlisle’s trip to Cambridge United in a League Two opener will be staging fans as football looks to return to some sort of normality.
For clubs in League Two, it’s a massive hit to lose revenue coming in through the turnstiles. Scotland has felt the brunt of this, the Premiership’s first six matches of the new campaign all being played behind closed doors.
Reilly knows how much of a boost it will be to have fans back, even if it’s not his own to begin with. The striker hopes it’s the start of a new beginning for football in the wake of the health pandemic.
“We played in the EFL Trophy and Carabao Cup behind closed doors but our first league game against Cambridge will have fans there,” he said. “It’s the only ground in England that are actually going to stage fans.
“It’s going to be good to see how that goes. It’ll be home fans but it’ll be good to have some sort of fans there. No disrespect to Cambridge, but that’s what they might get for a normal league game anyway so it could be back to normal for them. It’s good to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“We have just got to do it slowly but surely. Scotland have played six games now where clubs have missed out on that revenue they rely on. If there is going to be some fans there for our first league game, it might be the same when we are at home so we aren’t really missing out on anything.
“It’s a big boost not only for the club getting the revenue, but for the players. Having your fans backing you is a big boost so hopefully we are doing well enough to get the fans back in.”
Jack Ross praise
Reilly has worked with his fair share of coaches now in the professional game, current Hibs manager Jack Ross perhaps having one of the biggest impacts on him. It was under his guidance that the former Jambo had the best season of his career.
In his sole season in Paisley, Reilly scored 22 times in 44 matches. It allowed him his break down south and helped Ross earn his big chance at Sunderland. A club who have been hit with adversity in recent seasons, the Carlisle forward thinks his former boss was harshly treated by the Black Cats.
“I thought it was harsh what happened to him at Sunderland, I’m a big admirer of him,” said Reilly. “He took the chance to take me to St Mirren and play me. In terms of his coaching and his management, it’s brilliant, and he got the chance to go to a humungous club, which you can’t really turn down.
“He tried to prove he was good enough to manage down there and he was unlucky because in the big games they sort of froze a wee bit. The two finals, the Checkatrade Trophy they were unlucky and then in the play-off final. But when he was sacked early in the season they were right up there, so I think it was harsh to do it that early on in the season.
“If it was closer to Christmas, you never know. But the big clubs are desperate for success. I started against him when we played them down at Bristol Rovers so it was good to catch up with him and James Fowler who was his assistant and someone I speak to quite regularly.
“Jack’s now manager at Hibs and James is Head of Operations at Kilmarnock, so it’s good to see them get back into football so early after the disappointment at Sunderland. Jack’s a brilliant manager and great coach.”
Picking up Buddies form
Now settled in an area he knows well, Reilly is hoping to rediscover the magic touch he found at St Mirren during his time in the Scottish Championship. With Carlisle not having the biggest budget in the league, they are running with a smaller squad this season.
Reilly will be looked to as one of the more experienced players in the dressing room. Whilst not captain material by his own admission, he’s hoping to lead by example this term in a world very ‘different’ to Scottish football.
“I’ve come on a wee bit now, I’m 27,” Reilly joked. “That was hard to take during the first week at Carlisle because it was only me and another player who was 31. The rest of them were all a lot younger, I’m definitely on the older scale now.
“But a couple of signings have came and evened us out. I am an experienced head now though with the games I’ve played and the age I’m at so hopefully I can pass that on. But I still play like I’m 19!
“The squads have definitely been cut this year so they are looking for the older guys to lead. I wouldn’t say I’m a captain but the older guys have got to be there for the younger ones. When they come with questions you’ve just got to be honest and use your past experience, I’d like to think I’ve built up a bit of that in England and Scotland.
“Anyone is hoping to match or better their best season. The reason I did so well that season at St Mirren was the fact I was playing with a good team that was creating chances for me. As time has gone by it’s been frustrating as I haven’t had those chances in England.
“I think if I was to get a good run of games here, I’m confident I can replicate that kind of form this season. We know we’ve got good players and with the togetherness we have, we can have a successful season.
“This is my third year (away from Scottish football) and it feels a lot longer than it actually has been. It feels like it’s been five or six. But it’s different from Scottish football, you play a hell of a lot more games and travelling. I always wanted to play down here to say that I’ve did it but I’m not ruling out ever returning to Scotland.”