He has played against Celtic's superstar Odsonne Edouard and Rangers' veteran hitman Jermain Defoe, but Conor McCarthy credits another as the toughest striker he has faced in Scotland.

The St Mirren defender has impressed in Paisley since joining in January from Cork City in his native Ireland. Starring in a narrow defeat at Ibrox before a not-so-clever 5-0 mauling at Parkhead sincerely welcomed him to Scotland.

Defoe scored the winner for Gers on McCarthy's debut and Edouard netted for the Hoops a few short months later in Glasgow, but McCarthy recalls another player - Hibs' Marc McNulty - giving him the runaround for half an hour in a 2-2 draw back in February.

And he believes the on loan Reading star has provided him with his most difficult test yet. "I haven't played against Alfredo Morelos, when I played against Rangers it was Jermain Defoe who started. What struck me against him was his movement, he was always on the last shoulder looking for that chance. That's what he's made a career of, being a fox in the box, so he was a very good player.

"Against the likes of Celtic and Rangers we play quite deep so it denies them a bit of space, so I don't think Odsonne Edouard dropped too deep into midfield to get the ball and they weren't really up against us as centre-backs at Celtic. I know, of course, that if it was a more expansive game I'd have an awful lot more problems to deal with.

"But I played against Marc McNulty at Hibs and he had very good movement and awareness. Some other strikers are more physical and enjoy that type of battle so, as a defender, I enjoy that side of the game. But McNulty did a lot of dropping short to go in behind and I felt that was something I can try and get better at in future. He was probably the hardest player to play against."

McCarthy is still learning as a young centre half and is adamant that the toughest lessons he's learned on the pitch have helped him become a better player.

The 22-year-old takes as much from the strikers he plays against as he does from watching the more experienced defenders in the opposition. He would be naive not to, he says. "I'm really enjoying my time at St Mirren. Since I came in everyone has welcomed me with open arms, players, staff and fans, so there are absolutely no complaints so far. Coming from Cork, the one thing I've noticed is the physicality of the Scottish league. It's greater than the League of Ireland.

"Over there you get a lot of young pros making a name for themselves but here you come up against a lot of experienced pros.

"My league debut was against Rangers at Ibrox and we were unlucky not to come away with something that night. I had a chance late on I should've scored. Playing at Celtic Park against the undisputed best team in the league was certainly an eye opener. The quality of player they had was something I hadn't really experienced before.

"I'm probably my own worst critic but playing against those two big teams gives a young player like myself to go and play at that level, if I can. I was noticing things that these players did in their game that I can incorporate into my game. Playing against these guys can only help me improve in the future.

"It would be naive not to take bits and pieces from them. Young players have to take advice and inspiration because you're not the finished product. If you're not learning, you're standing still."

Learning from opponents and other professionals is one thing. Learning a whole new skill while juggling professional football is something different entirely. But that is exactly what McCarthy has spent the last three years doing.

Currently in the final year of an economics degree, McCarthy has more than just a football brain. While playing in League of Ireland he began an online course at University College in Cork, an aspect of his life he was able to take with him to Scotland.

Football comes first for the Irishman, of course. But given the current climate and coronavirus pandemic, McCarthy's decision to plan for the future and life after the beautiful game has proven to be very well thought out. And he thanked manager Jim Goodwin for allowing him to complete it. "I'm studying economics at the University College in Cork," he added. "It's a three-year degree and I'm in my last few weeks now.

"I have an assignment and one exam left and then I'm done. I've been doing it online after training, working on a dissertation or any assignments. Don't get me wrong, it was a pain in the a*** at the time but after football I'll reap the rewards because a lot of players don't have that plan in place.

"I just felt it was important to have that in place. I'll probably go into the financial services sector, banking and various roles in that industry. But hopefully I won't have to deal with that for another 10 or 12 years. But I'm really looking forward to completing it now.

"I can't speak highly enough of the manager. He's been so welcoming and his man management skills are second to none. I really want to repay him for giving me the opportunity to play at this level and everything else."