The IRN-BRU Phenomenal Award winners have been named for the month of September. After much debate, a judging panel consisting of respresentatives from the Scottish media decided upon the winners.
The winners for September are:-
- FIRST DIVISION MANAGER OF THE MONTH: JIMMY NICHOLL (COWDENBEATH)
- SECOND DIVISION MANAGER OF THE MONTH: JIMMY BOYLE (AIRDRIE UNITED)
- THIRD DIVISION MANAGER OF THE MONTH: PAUL MARTIN (ALBION ROVERS)
- PLAYER OF THE MONTH: DAVID HAY (COWDENBEATH)
- YOUNG PLAYER OF THE MONTH: AARON SINCLAIR (MONTROSE)
- GINGER BOOT AWARD: DARREN GRIBBEN (BERWICK RANGERS)
A month that saw wins against Morton and Dundee resulted in Cowdenbeath’s Manager Jimmy Nicholl winning the Phenomenal First Division Award for September. The newly promoted side are sitting in fifth place at the moment and The Fifers would settle for that at the end of the season or even a couple of places below.
Wisecracking Nicholl said, “If I get another four or five of these then we could be safe.
“The last time I won something like this I was at Raith Rovers as you do not get one for being Assistant Manager of the month as I have been for the last 12 years.”
His spell at Central Park might be his first in the firing line for more than a decade however, he is certainly agreeing with him.
Nicholl said, “I am really enjoying it and it is different to being an assistant where you tend to just deal with the players. You forget about all the responsibilities a Manager has.
“Your phone is on all the time for a start. We train on a Tuesday and a Thursday and there always seems to be an accident on the Forth Road Bridge on those nights. Players get in touch to say they will be late for training and all that kind of thing.”
Nicholl is also working during the day saying, “We have six youngsters in during the day on a Skillseekers course. We started off part-time at Raith Rovers and built things up slowly and surely. That is the same approach I am using at Cowdenbeath.
“At Raith, the bulk of the team was part-time and hopefully through time, we can create as strong a unit as we had there. There are some cracking young players at Cowdenbeath and plenty to build on.”
Eyebrows were raised when Nicholl took the managerial reins during the summer as it was his first solo run after being in a SPL tandem with Jimmy Calderwood at Dunfermline Athletic, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock.
Nicholl said, “I am certainly not too proud to take this job on or anything like that. Craig Levein is the perfect example of a guy who has taken a step back to go forward and he is now a national Team Manager. I took this job because it felt right.”
The 53-year-old explained what feeling right meant saying, “You get a feeling about things and you follow that. This felt like it would be a good job so I took it.
“It was the same approach I took about things when I was a player. If a move felt right I took it.”
Nicholl was also fed up being idle saying, “It is all about working and I did not think I would be out so long after leaving Aberdeen last May. Jimmy Calderwood, Sandy Clark and I had Kilmarnock for a short while but being out for eight months was longer than anticipated.
“During those eight months out, I did more DIY than I ever had and my wife thinks I had been conning her for 32 years when I said I could not do any. Jimmy and Sandy are still out and my view is that it does not do you any harm to keep your nose in.”
The former Northern Ireland internationalist has not ruled out going back into business with his old pals saying, “I would like to think I would have a decision to make in the future whether to work with Jimmy again and the Chairman here knows that but it may never happen.
“He may get a job where an Assistant Manager is already in place and things like that. In the meantime, Cowdenbeath will get my all.”
The spirit at Central Park reminds Nicholl of his successful spell as a Manager during his Kirkcaldy days as he explained, “We all muck in at Central Park. Joan the laundry lady went off for six weeks on holiday when I just started so I would help with all the washing and that is part of the joy of being back in.
“There is a good Groundsman there as well, young Andy, and we are all making the most of what we have as it is more important than ever to watch the coffers.
“I am not saying we will have the same success at Cowdenbeath that we had at Raith Rovers. We were promoted twice and, of course, defeated Celtic in The Coca-Cola Cup Final.
“I am sure John McGlynn is thinking along those lines again whereas at the moment, we are looking to stay in the First Division.”
The Blue Brazil have been on an upward curve for the last couple of seasons and Nicholl is looking to build on that. The former Manchester United and Rangers full-back, who also played for Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion, Toronto Blizzard, Dunfermline Athletic as well as Raith said, “Danny Lennon and the players have done great here over the past couple of years and we need to use that positive momentum.
“The Chairman has settled for eighth place this season being a success and that will do for me as well.
“The players have been told not to give up our First Division place easily and we have gone with the players that were still here. They have all been given until Christmas to show they can do it.”
Former Cowdenbeath Manager, Danny Lennon, came back and took a number of players to Paisley with him however, Nicholl was not too perturbed saying, “We lost players to St. Mirren but I don’t miss them as I never had them. When you start working with what you have, you just get on with it.”
One of the players that have remained at Central Park is goalkeeper David Hay, who was also recognised with the Phenomenal Player of the Month Award for September. It was an award Nicholl agreed with saying, “David Hay is the best goalkeeper in this division but I hope it is our strikers that get the awards over the coming months as it will show we are attacking more than defending.
“David has probably saved us on a few occasions. He is a good shotstopper, brave but he is a laid back big guy.
“He could have been a full-time player but he has a good job and a steady home life. He is happy so maybe that is why he is producing what he is producing.”
Airdrie United Manager Jimmy Boyle reckons that the lack of pressure at the Lanarkshire club at the moment has helped him secure the IRN-BRU Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month Award for September.
Boyle, who was handed the managerial reins on a permanent basis following a two month period of interim control in the wake of Kenny Black leaving the club, said, “The players are encouraged to play in a carefree way as there is no pressure put on them by me for anything at the moment as I do not feel any pressure in my job.
“I know that may not always be the case if we lose three or four games but at the moment, my message is to enjoy it.”
After a summer of upheaval where all the players were let go as well as Kenny Black, The Diamonds have surpassed expectations and are in the middle of a five game unbeaten run with September seeing comebacks against Brechin City and Peterhead rewarded with draws and an away win at Forfar.
Boyle said, “The players we have all possess ability and heart. In all but three games this season, we have been behind but they just keep on going trying to get us results.
“The players are sometimes tentative but I tell them to just go out and play. They are told to enjoy themselves and that is maybe not what they were taught at other clubs but it is what I am doing here.
“We have only lost to Livingston in the League so far and that was by a 2-1 scoreline that we almost got a draw in.”
The former assistant to Black explained his approach more by saying, “If we lose a goal, then we lose a goal but we don’t worry about it. Go out and get a goal back is my view and if you give everything in trying to do that, well the results are the results and we will take things as they come.”
There is an expectation level at the club however, with Boyle saying, “The Chairman, Jim Ballantyne, told me during the summer when we had no players signed that he was expecting the Play-Offs.
“His view is a club of Airdrie United’s size should be challenging but my aim at that time was to keep us in the Second Division. If we can keep our players fit and keep going in the manner we have, well you never know.”
Boyle turned to Black for advice when he was offered the job in the summer and he still does saying, “When I was offered the job in the summer, I said I would do it on an interim basis. I wanted to wait and see if I liked it and the club liked me.
“I had a contract for two years and my wife and I had just had a baby so it was an unsettling time. I spoke to Kenny and he wished me well. He has now got the Scotland coaching job and that is great for him. We still talk every couple of days and that will continue.”
There are other former Diamonds close at hand with Paul Jack and Alan Lawrence in place as coaches at the club and the spirit that used to drive Alex MacDonald’s Airdrieonians forward two decades ago when the trio featured is being replicated.
Boyle said, “Paul, Alan and I had a spirit as players and I was delighted to get them on board with the youth team when they left Bathgate Thistle last season.
“Five of that youth squad are now in the first team with Paul and Alan stepping up as well. They have helped build the spirit the boys have and it is like the days under Alex when we all had that belief in each other.”
Airdrie have brought in loan players from Dundee United, Falkirk and Heart of Midlothian and they have become part of the family at the club with Boyle explaining, “Even the boys that have come in on loan are part of the social group. Our Under-19s played Rangers last Saturday and everyone went along as they are having a night out afterwards, although mind you, seven of the first team still play for the Under-19s.
“If we keep that belief and spirit, we will hopefully be telling them to keep enjoying themselves for a good while longer.”
Cowdenbeath goalkeeper David Hay thought he was the victim of dressing room pranksters when he received a telephone call to tell him that he had been chosen as the IRN-BRU Phenomenal Player of the Month for September.
The 30-year-old said, “Getting the award has been a complete shock as I was not expecting to be recognised in this way. I picked up a voice mail and when I was listening to it, I was thinking, ‘This does not seem right, which one of the boys is this.’”
“I am a bit shocked and stunned as it is the first time in my career that I have won one of the monthly awards.”
Jimmy Nicholl’s side enjoyed a fine September defeating Morton and Dundee and running leaders Dunfermline Athletic close at East End Park before going down 2-1 with Hay earning his corn with some fine displays.
The ’keeper said, “After our promotion, I knew I would be busier in the First Division and I was really pleased with how I played at Cappielow and also against Dundee.
“I did okay at Dunfermline with a few saves as well but it is great to know that the judges were impressed enough to give me this honour.”
Hay started his career at The Pars before joining the Blue Brazil in 2005 after a fairly anonymous four year spell at East Stirlingshire and Brechin City and it is a move he has never regretted.
He said, “We are all part-time and I hope this reflects well on Cowdenbeath as a club as they took a chance on me a few years ago.
“I have been through the three SFL divisions with them and I hope to play my part in keeping them in the First Division this season. Hopefully, everyone in the team gets a boost for this and we need that after our first result in October against Falkirk when we lost heavily.”
Despite his success and a strong reputation as one of the best part-time goalkeepers around, it is unlikely that Hay would try full-time football away from Central Park saying, “I was full-time at Dunfermline when I left school but I was released.
“Since then, I have built a good career at the Lloyds Banking Group and I reckon that the chance of returning to full-time football has passed me by now.”
Hay has had offers to move elsewhere in the part-time world of football however, he has remained loyal to the Fife side saying, “ I actually feel a lot of loyalty to Cowdenbeath and have been able to enjoy my time there and been very lucky with an injury free time.
“When you combine that with my job outside of football, it would take a substantial offer for me to give them up.”
“Hopefully, we can build on our successful start and grab hold of at least eighth place this season.”
It was a case of third time lucky when Montrose youngster Aaron Sinclair visited the National Stadium in Glasgow to pick up the IRN-BRU Phenomenal Young Player of the Month Award for September.
The 19-year-old jet paced left sided player had left Hampden empty handed on his previous visits as the Gable Endies were defeated by Queen’s Park. However, this time out, he took a trophy back in mum Nicola’s car on the long drive to his Aberdeen home via training at Links Park.
Sinclair said, “The last twice I have been here has not be so great but this is fantastic. Montrose have started the season well and I have started well but to be honest, anything would be better than what happened last season.”
Steven Tweed’s side went without a win in their opening 19 League games and with 10 points currently, they have already amassed more they had by the beginning of March last term and Sinclair reckons that the transformation has been brought about by Tweed and his new assistant Ray Farningham.
Sinclair, who scored twice last month, said, “The Manager has brought in a few new faces and that has certainly helped. Ray Farningham has helped massively as well and I am delighted with my individual award but we are after more that that at Montrose as we are after a really good season this time.”
Sinclair may have slipped through local SPL side Aberdeen’s net and they may live to regret it as he has been invited into training by a SPL rival.
He explained, “I played with one of their youth side’s at Under-15 level but then went back to Boys Club football but my dream is to be a full-time professional footballer.”
The form shown by Sinclair has seen him invited to join St. Johnstone for training and he has been working with the Perth side since early September and he his hoping that it may turn out to be another step forward to fulfilling that dream.
Sinclair said, “Being at St. Johnstone is helping me just now without doubt. I feel I have an edge in our games on a Saturday and I will just need to wait and see what happens now.”
Berwick Rangers striker Darren Gribben followed in the boot-steps of Dunfermline Athletic front man Andy Kirk in picking up the Ginger Boot for scoring the most goals in the SFL in a month.
Kirk was the initial winner for his efforts in August with Gribben grabbing the second pair of specially designed boots with his goal grabbing in September.
Gribben said, “This is a great award and September was a good month for me with a hat-trick against Arbroath and then a goal at Hampden against Queen’s Park.”
The 24-year-old started his career at Hamilton Academical as a 16-year-old and he has seen service before at Berwick, as well as spells at Cowdenbeath, Forfar Athletic, Stirling Albion, Brechin City, Stranraer and Dumbarton.
The spell at the Sons was short and Gribben popped down to the Junior ranks a year ago for a successful spell at East Region Champions Bo’ness United who were managed by Allan McGonigal. It was ironically McGonigal that took Gribben to Berwick two years ago and he was the top scorer at Shielfield that season.
Gribben said, “It is good being senior again. I did not want to go Junior but I had little choice at the time. My time at Bo’ness got me a League winners' medal but it is good to be at Berwick again.
“I scored 14 goals the season I was here before and have 10 for this season so far. I hit a hat-trick against Elgin earlier this season as well and this is the first season I have scored two trebles.”
Despite moving closer to his previous tally, Gribben is playing it coy in terms of bettering it saying, “I am not setting myself any targets other than just to keep scoring.”
Gribben was also cautious when it came to predicting success for a Berwick side that have already topped the Third Division saying, “Berwick have a good team but we have a small squad of only 19 players. Suspensions and injuries can leave us down to the bare bones.
“I was injured myself and missed out against East Stirling recently but I was delighted to come back and score against Annan. I was not fully fit but got strapped up and happy to play through the pain and the two goals helped.”
After a bit of a wandering career, Gribben is out to establish himself saying, “I am now 24 and want to be playing higher than the Third Division. Hopefully, that will be with Berwick next season but ideally, I would love to be a full-time player again.
“I started out that way at Hamilton in the first six months of my career and want to get back to that.”
Third Division defences are warned as Gribben finished by saying, “The best way to do that is to keep enjoying playing football and keep scoring goals.”