The 24-year-old was a promising forward at Aston Villa before a serious knee injury halted his progress and he was released early in 2010.
McGurk was so disillusioned with the game that he did not seek another club but, pushed on by his family, he played a few times for non-league Hednesford Town and a successful trial with Tranmere that summer offered him a way back in.
He has not looked back and, with striker Kyle Lafferty suspended for the next World Cup qualifying game against Russia next month, McGurk is hoping to play his way into contention.
He said: "I didn't really know what to do, I was in a bad place at that time. I eventually got a chance at Tranmere and I took it. This is where I am now so I'm just grateful.
"It was my family who got me back into it. I didn't really have any interest myself being honest, but I didn't want to disappoint them.
"They went through as much as me and it was just to try to please them was the only reason I went back in. Luckily it's paid off."
With Tranmere pushing for promotion to the Championship, McGurk's form caught the eye of Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill - although the forward needed some convincing the interest was genuine.
McGurk said: "I was a bit shocked when I got the call-up, I had to phone the club to make sure it wasn't someone trying to take the mick. It's a huge honour and hopefully I can get some game time.
"I didn't know Michael was at the games he came to watch but luckily I must have done okay. He phoned me after the squad was announced to say he was impressed and he was looking forward to seeing me.
"I know quite a few of the boys from coming through the ranks and at club level, so it wasn't too bad settling in quickly. Everyone's very welcoming and it's great."
McGurk is one of a number of young faces in the squad for Wednesday's friendly, where O'Neill will hope to secure a first win at the eighth attempt.
Northern Ireland have drawn four of their seven previous games, including in an away qualifier against Portugal, and long-serving defender Aaron Hughes is hoping Wednesday will be the day.
He said: "It would be nice to get rid of it so we don't have to talk about it.
"But there's deeper meaning to it. We're missing Kyle in the next games and (Chris) Baird so we have to make a couple of changes.
"The thing we're looking for most is a performance, working on all the things that we hope can get us something from the next round of qualifiers. If we can get a win on top of that then very nice."