The IRN-BRU Phenomenal Award winners have been named for the month of March. After much debate, a judging panel consisting of respresentatives from the Scottish media decided upon the winners.
The winners for March are:
- FIRST DIVISION MANAGER OF THE MONTH: JIM McINTYRE (DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC)
- SECOND DIVISION MANAGER OF THE MONTH: GARY BOLLAN (LIVINGSTON)
- THIRD DIVISION MANAGER OF THE MONTH: HARRY CAIRNEY (ANNAN ATHLETIC)
- PLAYER OF THE MONTH: IAIN RUSSELL (LIVINGSTON)
- YOUNG PLAYER OF THE MONTH: GREG STEWART (COWDENBEATH)
- GINGER BOOT AWARD: IAIN RUSSELL (LIVINGSTON)
IRN-BRU First Division Phenomenal Manager Of The Month – Jim McIntyre (Dunfermline Athletic)
The month of March started on a low for Dunfermline Athletic as they lost 3-1 to Morton in an error strewn performance at East End Park to fall six points behind leaders First Division Raith Rovers. However, it certainly ended on a high for Manager Jim McIntyre and his team with three wins and three draws as the Pars ended the month at the summit and McIntyre was rewarded for the turnaround by being selected as the IRN-BRU Phenomenal Manager of the Month.
The 38-year-old was at pains to play down his role saying: “It is always great to receive an award and whilst it has my name on it, it really is for the players. They have been fantastic throughout a month with a lot of tough games in a very tight division.”
Dunfermline moved to the top when recent recruit Martin Hardie notched a late winner against Ross County in a fixture brought forward as the Dingwall side were competing in last Sunday's ALBA Challenge Cup Final.
McIntyre said: “Bringing that game forward and winning it has certainly helped us. Big Martin has played a really significant role since coming in from St. Johnstone, as has Kevin Rutkiewicz, but all the boys have been great. There is a great team spirit here and that has helped us prosper during a busy spell.”
The last managerial award of the season is usually the preserve of the boss that picks up the League trophy at the end of the season and McIntyre would not mind making it a double as he said: “The award for April would be a great one to win as everyone knows what that usually means. With four massive games to come, I will not be giving it much thought at the moment but yes, it would be nice to win it.”
The contest between Dunfermline Athletic and Raith Rovers on Saturday, 23rd April may well determine who picks up next month’s award as well as the destination of the First Division Championship trophy with McIntyre saying: “Both Raith Rovers and ourselves know what we have to do to win the League and that is to simply win our remaining four games.
"The meeting between us is shaping up as a massive game but it will only be a massive game if we have won our game before that so all I am concentrating on at the moment is beating Queen of the South this Saturday.”
IRN-BRU Second Division Phenomenal Manager Of The Month – Gary Bollan (Livingston)
Despite running away with the leadership of the Second Division Championship for most of the season, it took Livingston boss Gary Bollan until March to land his first IRN-BRU Phenomenal Manager of the Month Award.
A perfect March saw the Livi Lions win six games in a row and move to the brink of a second successive promotion which was secured with a 3-0 win over Stenhousemuir at Ochilview last Saturday.
The Lions move back to the First Division restores them to where they were in the summer of 2009 when they were demoted two divisions for having gone into Administration under the previous regime of Angelo Massone.
Bollan was brought in by new owners headed by former Cowdenbeath Chairman Gordon McDougall and ex-Dumbarton Managing Director Neil Rankine and he is now looking forward to starting where he thought he would be a couple of years ago.
Bollan said: “To get the demotion from the First Division to the Third Division and get back there in the shortest possible time will represent a great achievement for the players, staff and Directors at the club.”
The West Lothian side remained full-time despite their penalty and that has brought benefits, as well as drawbacks, with Bollan saying: “It is great that the players are in every day training but when it comes to a Saturday, it is a case of 11 versus 11.
"We have been at the top of the tree for most of the last two seasons and teams have upped their performances against us. Every game has been a test.
“We have had to meet high expectation levels and I can assure you no-one has handed anything to us on a plate. The players deserve great credit for their effort and commitment throughout.”
The people of Livingston are beginning to back their side again with Bollan saying: “Bridges had to be built and the new owners have done that. The local community has joined us on our upward curve and I hope that continues as we go forward.”
Livi are on the brink of another honour as they moved to the summit of the SFL Under-19 Youth Division last night after their 5-0 win against Brechin City.
That now puts them in pole position to make it four League title successes at that age group in a row which will be a great achievement according to Bollan as other clubs cherry-picked the best youngsters at the club when they hit financial problems two years ago.
Bollan said: “When the club had its problems a couple of years ago, we lost a lot of future talent for this club as the boys were not playing football and other clubs came in and took players.
"Developing our own talent is the way forward for clubs like Livingston so as well as the first team being moved down a couple of divisions, we had that to put up with as well.
“To bounce back in the manner they have is a great credit to the coaching staff at the club.”
IRN-BRU Third Division Phenomenal Manager Of The Month – Harry Cairney (Annan Athletic)
That run started talk of a title chase in the south west of Scotland although Cairney has banned his Chairman Henry McClelland from discussing the possibilities for fear of his excitement getting to the players.
Cairney said: “Henry is a very ambitious guy and not too shy about telling people about his ambitions for the club. He was making a rod for his own back and adding a bit of pressure to the players as every time he said he was expecting nine points from the next three games, the players would go out and flop in the first game.
“I have worked on tempering his enthusiasm,” joked Cairney.
The relationship between the pair is however strong, with Cairney adding: “One of the reasons we have been successful this season has been that our budget has been improved. Parts of it were needed to do some work in and around the ground and on the pitch in our first two seasons in The Scottish Football League and with that work done, the playing budget was increased.
“That allowed us to bring in experienced players like Andy Aitken and Sean O’Connor. It also meant that we could compete to bring players down to Annan that normally would have been the pick of Albion Rovers and Queen’s Park in the Third Division.
"We were able to bring some guys to the club who would not normally have come especially as we train down at Annan twice a week and it is viewed as quite remote.”
Success in grabbing a Play-Off place or indeed the title would be further vindication that the SFL were right in selecting Annan ahead of the likes of Spartans and Cove Rangers in the summer of 2008 to replace Gretna although Cairney reckons things were never in doubt.
He said: “I have always been of the opinion that the correct decision was made, especially when you look around our ground. It is in great condition and has scope for further improvement should we move up the divisions in the SFL.
"We also had it in place at the time of clubs voting, so performing well just adds to my belief that we deserved our place in the SFL although it was a pretty short summer three years ago when we tried to get everything organised.”
Progress at Annan will continue at a pace agreed by Cairney and his gregarious Chairman McClelland as the Manager explained: “The guys at Annan built the club with their bare hands literally. We will never do a Gretna in terms of throwing money at it and I am sure everyone is thankful of that.”
IRN-BRU Phenomenal Player Of The Month / Ginger Boot Award – Iain Russell (Livingston)
March was a really good month for Livingston striker Iain Russell as he picked up his first ever IRN-BRU Player of the Month and Ginger Boot Awards after scoring six times. However, April is an awesome month for the 28-year-old.
Russell is on the brink of picking up a second consecutive Second Division Championship winning medal, breaking Livingston’s record for a season’s haul of goals and he also became a Dad for the first time.
Gary Bollan’s side emerged as Second Division Champions against Stenhousemuir at Ochilview last Saturday to complete the second leg of Russell’s unique hat-trick as wife Carolyn had given birth to a boy on the morning of the game.
Russell admitted that excitement was building within the Lions as he said: “We went into that game knowing we could win the title and were looking forward to it. With Brechin getting beat on Tuesday night, the boys had been talking about what may happen so there was an eagerness building for the game.
“I was on a high after becoming a Dad in the morning so what a day last Saturday was.”
Livi have made their pursuit of the title look easy and Russell is adamant that despite having a 19 point advantage, it is still a great achievement as he said: “If you go back to Christmas time, the division was really tight but we have gone on a great run since then.
"We have been in a no-win situation as many people have said that we were certainties to win the League as we are a full-time team.
“There was a bit of pressure around that at the beginning of the season but we have shown that we can handle it.”
Russell, who started his career at Motherwell before moving on to Dumbarton, Brechin City and Morton, joined Livingston in the summer, just after earning a League Championship medal with Stirling Albion whilst on loan last season.
He also scored goals for Albion’s title rivals Alloa Athletic on a similar basis last season and being a constant menace in the one side this time out has meant more to the striker.
“I played 11 games and scored seven goals for Stirling and even though I was only there for about six weeks, they were good enough to give me a medal,” said Russell before adding, “That was special but winning one with Livingston is even more special as I have been involved throughout the entire season.”
A title triumph of course, gives Russell another opportunity to establish a career in the First Division after a frustrating spell at Cappielow and the front man is looking forward to it.
Russell said: “Now that we have won the title, I will enjoy it. I did well at Morton in my first six months under Jim McInally but when he left, I rarely featured under David Irons. It is good to get back there under Gary Bollan with Livingston as Gary has been really good with me.”
With 21 goals to his name, it looks like Russell has been good for Bollan as well, and the striker has the opportunity to mark this season in a special way by scoring more goals in a campaign than any Livingston player ever has.
Russell explained: “I have 21 goals at the moment and the record is held by Leigh Griffiths at 22. I need two goals to match my best ever total that I got during my time with Brechin and if I get those two, I will create a new record for Livi as well.”
IRN-BRU Phenomenal Young Player Of The Month – Greg Stewart (Cowdenbeath)
First Division Cowdenbeath striker Greg Stewart’s rise to prominence continued as the 21-year-old was awarded the IRN-BRU Young Player of the Month for March. Stewart, who celebrated his landmark birthday last month, scored in five consecutive games to announce his arrival in the senior game just a few months after playing in local public parks.
Stewart said: “I am absolutely delighted to be given this Award and my goals last month have certainly helped get me noticed. I scored a couple of goals as a substitute at the start of the month and that helped me break into the starting eleven.
"I have certainly benefited from getting a regular game since.”
Stewart only signed for the Blue Brazil last summer after spending the last couple of seasons with Syngenta Amateurs, who are based in Falkirk, but play in an Edinburgh Under-21 league.
Syngenta ended a hiatus that Stewart was having from the game after being released by Rangers and Heart of Midlothian when he was younger because they felt he was too small.
He said: “Syngenta were a good side but it is a big jump to the First Division. Jimmy Nicholl gave me a chance on a pre-season trip to Northern Ireland and I must have done well as I was given a one year contract.
“I was in and out of the starting eleven at the start of 2011 and I found that frustrating. March started well as I came off the bench to score really late goals against Queen of the South and Stirling Albion and I felt I had done enough to start games.
"Thankfully, the Manager agreed and I have been starting ever since and it has worked out well as I scored against Dundee, Raith Rovers and then Partick Thistle just two days after I turned 21. March was a great month for me”
Nicholl added the experience of former East Fife Manager Stevie Crawford to the youthfulness of Stewart in January and the youngster has benefited as he explained: “My confidence has improved through my goals and from having Stevie in the squad.
"He has taught me a lot during his short time here and I would love to do some of the things he has done like becoming a full-time player.”
Stewart, a jet sprayer with Central Industrial Services away from football, said, “Longer term, I aim to keep working hard and scoring goals and hopefully, that would get me playing football on a full-time basis. In the short term, I want to play my part in keeping Cowdenbeath in the First Division.
“We have had some good results recently and beating Ross County a week past Tuesday was a great result.
"We play them on the last day of the season and they will be as keen to win the game as we are but we played really well the last time we were there so we have nothing to fear.”