The IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Award winners have been named for the month of August. After much debate, a judging panel consisting of respresentatives from the Scottish media decided upon the winners.
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Jackie McNamara (Partick Thistle)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month – to be announced next week
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – Jim McInally (Peterhead)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month – to be announced Saturday, 15th September
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – Steven Lawless (Partick Thistle)
IRN-BRU SFL PHENOMENAL FIRST DIVISION MANAGER OF THE MONTH: JACKIE McNAMARA (PARTICK THISTLE)
A perfect run of three League wins in three games saw Partick Thistle Manager, Jackie McNamara, lift the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Manager of the Month Award for August and the 38-year-old saw the Award as another mark of progress at the club.
McNamara was appointed the Manager at Firhill in April, 2011 to replace Ian McCall and he now reckons that the Maryhill club is his team as he explained: “The team we had when we first started was not really our team. We made some changes last season and more this summer and this side is very much our side.
“When I first took over, I wanted to progress the team and I think that has happened now.”
New recruits arrived in the summer with Sean Welsh, James Craigen, Steve Lawless, Hugh Murray and Arron Muirhead as well as new loan signing Steven Craig all coming on board to team up with Conrad Balatoni, Mark McGuigan, Aaron Sinclair and Stephen O’Donnell, who were recruited in the previous campaign.
The end result has been a fine start to the season with the only blemish being a 1-0 defeat from Hamilton Academical in The Scottish Communities League Cup which was quickly rectified with a 4-0 League success over the same opposition to open the month of September.
McNamara said: “I actually reckoned we played better in the game we got beaten in.”
A place in The Ramsdens Cup Semi-Final was secured last Sunday with a 3-0 success over Raith Rovers and McNamara was pleased with that success as well.
He said: “The Ramsdens Cup has more attention now than ever before because of Rangers involvement in it after everything that went on during the summer. There is talk of the Cup Final potentially being at Hampden and there is far more media interest than ever before so it would be great for any club to reach the later stages this season.”
His side could well be classed as favourites for the competition however, McNamara does not get overly concerned about such matters saying: “I do not take much heed of who are the favourites for anything. I know that is quite boring but I only focus on what is happening now.
“I know we have got Livingston tomorrow then Cowdenbeath the week after that. That is the way I plan things. You cannot look too far ahead, I just get on with things for now.”
McNamara also has a focused view on doing what he wants as opposed to what is expected as the installation of his former Celtic team-mate Simon Donnelly as his number two at Firhill proved.
The former Scotland international explained: “You go on to courses where they tell you never to pick your best pal as your assistant but I don’t see it that way at all. As long as I know he can do the job and has got my backing, that is good enough for me.
“Sometimes you see Managers going in and they lose their job and you see their number two taking over. Simon and I arrived together and we will go together. That is the way we are, we are best friends. We work well together and we have great staff at the club and we all get on really well.”
The Firhill boss added: “Simon is a very good coach that knows the game well and has the same kind of thoughts on football as me. He is someone I trust better than anybody and if we win, we do that together and if we fail, then we fail together.”
McNamara has matured into a managerial role that he never envisaged doing until just over five years ago as he explained: “When I was younger, I said I would not go into coaching as you used to see the stick coaches would take and hear the talking behind their back’s that went on. And that was done from players I really respected.
“I thought then that I wouldn’t want them speaking about me like that but, as you get older, you start to see things differently. It eventually became a progression from playing and I started doing my badges when I finished at Wolves and before I went to Aberdeen.”
A resilience has been built in McNamara who added: “I am not that bothered if people talk behind my back now as rightly or wrongly, you have to believe in what you are doing. To be fair, I grew up having to deal with crowds of 60,000 at Celtic and developed a thicker skin as a result but as a Manager, the buck stops with you most of the time. You just hope what you do is good enough.
“Along with Simon, I think we know we are trying to do the right thing and trying to be honest with the players. I hope they enjoy playing football here and we try to play the right way because they are in an age now where you don’t get a lot of money for playing and they should therefore be enjoying it. We are hoping they come for the enjoyment of being in a good squad and to be fair to them, they show a lot of desire as well.”
Part of that trying to do the right thing involves playing a brand of ‘on the deck’ football that can now be played more at Firhill as rugby side Glasgow Warriors have now moved on to Scotstoun to play their games.
There is an obvious financial loss to the First Division leaders however, McNamara reckons that the positive in a better playing surface exposes his side more to the growing belief that this could be a fine season as he explained: “It will make a difference to how I set my team out but of course, there will be fewer excuses for the players and all of us now.”
IRN-BRU SFL PHENOMENAL THIRD DIVISION MANAGER OF THE MONTH: JIM McINALLY (PETERHEAD)
Peterhead Manager, Jim McInally, picked up the Third Division IRN-BRU Manager of the Month for August and after an impressive start to their League campaign where his men came within seconds of defeating Rangers only to be pegged back to 2-2, won away at Clyde and saw off promotion rivals Queen’s Park.
McInally said: “It has been a good start especially as I was not sure what to expect as we faced Rangers on the opening day. To start as well as we have done has given everyone a lift at a great time as the spotlight is really on this division now.”
The draw with Ally McCoist’s side did everyone in the Third Division a favour as McInally explained: “No-one in the Third Division wanted to be embarrassed and that would have happened if Rangers had won the League without dropping any points and thankfully, that won’t happen now. It makes everything look a lot better in our division just now.
“Rangers at Ibrox will be pretty unstoppable but in away games, you can get closer to them and get the odd good result. Between ourselves and Berwick, we have hopefully led the way in showing teams they have a chance.”
After a season of under-achieving at Balmoor last season that saw John Sheran dismissed and McInally appointed, things are looking a lot rosier.
McInally commented: “We played Dundee in a Scottish Communities League Cup tie before we faced Rangers and took them to a penalty shoot-out. We then drew 2-2 with Rangers so that is two quality sides we have played well against and that gave the boys a boost.
“Confidence is key and that is why it was vital for us to start better this season. It took until Christmas time for us to get 10 points last season and when that happens, confidence gets low and every game gets harder and harder as a result.”
The inclusion of Rangers in this season’s Third Division will keep being exciting for McInally’s players although he is not sure of the impact overall as he explained: “The novelty of two games at Ibrox and two games at home will be there all season for the players but whether it is for the supporters, I am not sure. If Rangers get into a big lead and it becomes non competitive, that could be another story.
“We have got to try and get into the Play-Offs and finishing second to Rangers would be a terrific season and that is what the rest of us are playing for.”
McInally is pleased with how his side coped in the aftermath of the opening day Rangers encounter as he explained: “There were fears that after the Rangers game that we would suffer a bit of a downturn especially as we played Clyde the following week away from Broadwood in what was almost a neutral venue at Recreation Park.
“There was a much smaller crowd at the game and it was a game where the result was much more important that the performance. Thankfully, that is how things turned out as we went out and won without playing well but that was a massive three points for us.”
Queen’s Park were then defeated 1-0 at Balmoor with McInally saying: “Every season they lose players and people say that is the Queen’s Park bubble burst but they simply just bring other players in and carry on. They had done well against Partick Thistle in a Ramsdens Cup tie and I knew it would be a tough game but we just edged it by stepping things up in the second half.
“If Rangers were not in the division, they would be one of the favourites for it.”
Rory McAllister was the matchwinner that day and the loving parent and wayward son relationship between the goal grabber and McInally continues with the Manager saying: “He has such a talent for scoring goals and he has matured me as a Manager. At first, I thought I could not cope with him but you have to learn to switch off to some of the stuff he does as he is just a goalscoring machine.
“You try and get your other strikers to do some of the stuff he doesn’t do and I could bring in a player who could do all the things I want Rory to do but they probably wouldn’t score a goal.”
McInally joked: “He is that cheeky that he scored a wonderful goal against Montrose which was just like one he scored at training and he finished it like that to show me it was no fluke. It was a top drawer finish and no-one else in our division could do it.”
The former Scotland star had popped into Hampden to pick up his award and McInally, who picked up 10 caps for Scotland, is still humbled at representing his country as he explained: “I never thought I should have been capped as there were better players around, so to have 10 caps is great as I never expected any. I was always excited at being involved and the highlight was obviously being involved in the European Championship Finals in 1992.
“I did not play much in the build-up to Sweden as most of my caps had come earlier in my career, but I really enjoyed it. To see the whole tournament and how it was organised was fantastic and I came on as a substitute in the game we won when we defeated Russia, or the CIS, as they were known in that tournament, 3-0.”
The now 48-year-old added: “I felt blessed to be there and I just hope that the current Scotland squad can go on and enjoy an experience like it. It was taken a bit for granted at that time that you would get to major tournaments.
“I firmly believe that if the present group can experience something like it once then the experience would stand them in good stead to qualify again. The Republic of Ireland is a good example as they always seem to get to major Finals and that is probably because they have been there before and the experience they gained gives them an edge.”
Despite starting the World Cup qualifying campaign with two disappointing draws at Hampden during the course of the past few days, McInally believes that Craig Levein has a strong squad at his disposal as he explained: “I don’t think there are any excuses as the players that are available are all good quality. It is as strong a Scotland squad as there has been in recent years and if they can keep everyone fit, anything can still happen.”
IRN-BRU SFL PHENOMENAL YOUNG PLAYER OF THE MONTH: STEVEN LAWLESS (PARTICK THISTLE)
Partick Thistle’s Steven Lawless’ displays during August saw him pick up the first IRN-BRU SFLYoung Player of the Month Award for the season however, he admitted the recognition was a surprise.
Lawless scored against Forfar Athletic, Falkirk and Dunfermline Athletic however, he reckons he can still up his game with the 21-year-old summer signing from Motherwell saying: “Things could not have gone any better for me in terms of goalscoring with the three goals last month and the goal at the beginning of September against Hamilton. However, performance wise, I know there is more that I can do.
“I set myself really high standards and I am always looking to be the best I can be, so I know there is more to come.”
Lawless played and scored for Motherwell last season in a Scottish Communities League Cup tie but he was soon sent out on loan to Albion Rovers and despite being at Fir Park from an early age, it was an easy decision to join the Jags in the summer.
“I spoke to the Motherwell Manager, Stuart McCall, at the end of last season and he was very honest with me,” said Lawless before adding, “I had a couple of injuries last season and between that and the loan spell, I did not feature much. I wanted to play first team football so I was not too disappointed to leave despite being there at the club since I was 10 years old.”
Thistle boss McNamara did a fine selling job on his club with Lawless saying: “I knew some of the boys that were there but the Manager told me his plans for the new season and who he wanted to bring in. The players he talked about signing excited me and when you added them to the potential in the squad from last season, I was really keen to come on board.”
McNamara also talked about the style of play he wanted with Lawless saying: “He wants to play football with a bit of style and have the ball played on the ground. There would have been no point in me coming here if all he wanted us to do was to play high ball football.
“We have a great platform to build on now and I am enjoying it especially as I am playing in a different type of position than I was used to. When I played at Albion Rovers, I created chances but now I am more central and I am finishing chances.”
Lawless joked: “Maybe I should have asked for a goal bonus when I signed!”