It was a night for strikers last Sunday as the votes of football players across the country saw three front men chosen as PFA Scotland’s Players of the Year across the three IRN-BRU SFL divisions.
Adam Rooney of First Division Champions Inverness Caledonian Thistle was chosen from a shortlist of exciting talent which included Michael Gardyne of Ross County along with Dundee’s Leigh Griffiths and his Dens Park team-mate Gary Harkins.
In the Second Division, Brechin City’s Rory McAllister emerged victorious from a battle of four front men as he saw off the challenge of Alloa Athletic’s Bryan Prunty and the Cowdenbeath duo of Paul McQuade and Gareth Wardlaw.
The experienced Robbie Winters marked his first full season back in Scotland by winning the Third Division Award, when he saw off the challenge of team-mate Liam Fox along with the much sought after Barry Douglas of Queen’s Park and East Stirlingshire’s creative midfielder Jamie Stevenson.
The Co-operative Insurance League Insider caught up with the forwards to discuss their success.
Adam Rooney (Inverness Caledonian Thistle)
22-year-old Dublin born Rooney was delighted to add another honour to a glittering end of the season for the Highlanders.
He said, “It has been a brilliant couple of months for everyone associated with Inverness and this just adds to it. There has been a great atmosphere about the place and to be undefeated in nine straight games to end the season to win the First Division Championship was brilliant.”
The former Stoke City striker knows the reason for his great form as he explained, “This is the first season I have played week in, week out. I have played more football than ever this season and I am a lot sharper as a result. I am also a lot fitter and more experienced. I am looking forward to SPL football and with a few players signing up, the future looks good for Inverness.”
The Tulloch Caledonian Stadium side took time to settle in the SFL following relegation a year ago with Rooney, who scored nine times in the last nine league games of the season, explaining, “At the start of the season, we thought we would do okay but we did not make a great start and took time to adjust.
“The first couple of months were not great but we got into our stride and went on a fantastic unbeaten run from November until the end of the season.
“St. Johnstone did it the season before and that is how you win titles. Our aim now is to consolidate in the SPL like St. Johnstone and Hamilton have.”
Life in the SPL next season does not faze Rooney who said, “Our management team of Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas have been great motivators and I am sure they will be the same in the SPL. Our aim will not be just to survive but to finish as high up the table as we can.”
Rory McAllister (Brechin City)
Brechin City striker Rory McAllister showed the fine form against Airdrie United on Wednesday evening that saw him voted this season’s PFA Second Division Player of the Year, and the front man, who turns 23 next Thursday, may just have to put his birthday celebrations on hold.
McAllister stroked his side ahead after just ten minutes in the First Leg of their Semi-Final Play-Off match and he reckons the Brechin men stand more than a good chance of beating their First Division opponents again on Saturday, and winning through to next week’s two legged Final.
The 28 goal striker said, “Everyone in the Brechin team played well in the first game and anyone that saw the game would say that 2-1 probably flattered Airdrie.”
McAllister, who recently signed on for another season with Jim Duffy’s side, reckons his strike against The Diamonds was the best of his impressive haul this season.
He beamed, “It was a really good finish and in such an important match it was good to do so that early.
”I will be out to score early at their place as well, because should we go further ahead and force Airdrie to chase three goals against us to go through, we will be in a very strong position.”
Last Sunday’s PFA Award saw McAllister beat off the challenge of three other strikers with Alloa’s Bryan Prunty along with the Cowdenbeath duo of Paul McQuade and Gareth Wardlaw and he was delighted.
“I thought any of us would have been deserving of winning the Player of the Year Award,” said McAllister before adding, “It is the first honour I have won and it felt really good to be recognised by my fellow professionals. It was a huge boost to my confidence and I think I took that into the Airdrie game.”
The Airdrie encounter has given McAllister and his team-mates a taste of what life would be like against full time opponents, week in, week out if they go on to knock out the Lanarkshire side and then see off either Alloa or Cowdenbeath.
It is a challenge they will relish with McAllister saying, “If we can go up, we know it will be a different kind of football to what we are used to and also that it would be difficult against mainly full time teams but we would give it a real go. I would love the opportunity of a crack at First Division defences.”
The journey to potential First Division football in Angus began when McAllister started his career at his home town club of Aberdeen in 2003. With the Dons entire squad scoring just 41 goals all season, there may well be some members of the Pittodrie coaching staff with some explaining to do as McAllister’s name tops the scoring charts.
McAllister said, “It just never happened for me there at Aberdeen so I left after one season. I went and spent three and a half years at Inverness and enjoyed my time there.”
International recognition followed with caps at Under 19, 20 and 21 level with McAllister pleased to be breaking the mould commenting, “Not many players from Inverness Caley have received international recognition so I was delighted to be chosen.”
McAllister joined the Glebe Park men last January 2009 and he explains that he was delighted to sign on again at the club as they helped him out at a difficult time.
McAllister said, “I was full time at Inverness but not playing. I wanted to be playing football every week and Brechin gave me the opportunity to do so. I started an apprenticeship as a plumber and that works well around playing at Brechin as well.”
In the meantime, McAllister has the perfect plan to keep everyone happy saying, “I am ambitious and if the right full time offer came along, I would consider it. My mindset is that I can repay Brechin for their faith in me by scoring goals for them, hopefully in the First Division. If I keep scoring then something will eventually happen for me regarding full time football.”
Robbie Winters (Livingston)
Almondvale striker Robbie Winters has waited thirteen years to add to the PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year Award that he won as a Dundee United player in 1997 however, he is delighted that his long wait was over.
Winters said, “I won a couple of Player of the Year Awards when I was in Norway with Brann Bergen however, to come home and win this in my first season back is great. I am delighted to win it and to do that just after Livingston won the Third Division Championship was fantastic. This is a great reward for me but the title win is a great reward for everyone at the club.”
Winters, who famously played his last game in Scotland in 2002 as a goalkeeper for Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final against Rangers, returned to Scotland just over a year ago after seven seasons in Scandinavia.
The 35-year-old played briefly for Clyde before opting for life with Livingston last summer and despite playing in the Third Division for the first time, the one time Scotland cap enjoyed the experience.
He said, “The Third Division was a different type of football to what I was used to but I was just happy to be back playing again. I was playing with an injury at Clyde and never influenced things like I could. Livingston adopted a passing and move style of football and that suited me so I have really enjoyed it.”
For the first half of the season and the first time in his long career, Winters played alongside his brother David at Livingston and he enjoyed the experience saying, “It was nice to finally play in the same side as Davie and I was disappointed when he left in January. He had to do what was best for him and his footballing career but it was good that we got a good few games together.”
Winters picked up his first Championship winners’ medal in Scotland to add to League and Cup honours won in Bergen and he has not ruled out adding further medals to his collection.
The one time Tannadice team-mate of Livingston Manager Gary Bollan said, “I have another year left on my contract at Livingston and I would like us to make an impact on the Second Division as well. I went to watch Davie play games with Dumbarton in this division and I reckon we will do well.”
“The right people are in charge of the club now and we will be full time again next season. We have an excellent youth set up to back us so there is no reason why we shouldn’t compete at the top level there. I am happy to add to my role by playing a part in the youth set-up so there is plenty for me still to get excited.”