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Friday 13th April 2012

IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Awards - March 2012

The IRN-BRU SFL 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.

  • IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Derek Adams (Ross County)
  • IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month – Jimmy Boyle (Airdrie United)
  • IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – Paul Hartley (Alloa Athletic)
  • IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month – Richard Brittain (Ross County)
  • IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – Owen Ronald (Queen’s Park)
  • IRN-BRU SFL Ginger Boot Winner – Ryan Wallace (East Fife)

IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Derek Adams (Ross County)

Ross County Manager Derek Adams moved from being the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month for March to a title winner in only a few days and he was delighted.

Ross County FC Manager, Derek AdamsAdams said: “I went down and watched the Dundee and Queen of the South game on Tuesday night that ended 1-1. I thought Queen of the South played well and it was a well worked moved that brought them their goal.

“The goal meant a lot to them and it also meant a lot to us as it secured the First Division Championship with five games remaining. There are not many teams that can say that and to go for 30 games undefeated has been an excellent effort from my players. They have been outstanding."

There will be no let up for County in their remaining four games with Adams saying: “Dundee drawing took a bit of the pressure off for our visit to Ayr and it was a great night. The 3-1 win helped but my job is to go on and do my job like I always have for the rest of the season.

“We want to finish the season undefeated in 34 games and we will be as strong as we can be in our remaining games against Dundee, Morton, Hamilton Accies and Queen of the South. We owe it to the League to be strong as there are other issues to be settled.”

However, when Adams picked up the Manager of the Month Award for March last week, he was not at that time willing to confirm that the next honour he would be picking up would be the First Division Championship Trophy.

Adams was not counting any Championship chickens and said at the time: “We are only concentrating on beating Livingston and getting three points from that game. It will be a hard enough encounter against a Livi side that are scoring a lot of goals without thinking about anything else.”

“My players have been magnificent to go so long undefeated and the only target they have been set is to get to the end of the season undefeated.”

The Victoria Park boss added: “And to be honest, I will not be thinking about any other scores until our game is well out of the way.”

County’s dominance of the First Division has led to criticism from his fellow peers however, Adams was not getting involved in any mud-slinging or gloating as he said: “Perhaps it was a psychological thing to try and put us off our game at a crucial part of the season. It didn’t work as we stuck to what we have been doing all season long and came through a hectic period of games unscathed.”

Adams remained steadfast in his belief that nothing had been achieved when he was asked what impact promotion would have on his playing budget as money is used to make their former Highland League ground SPL compliant and on the playing squad that at that point in time, had taken County to the very brink of success.

“I have not looked into the ground side of things,” said Adams before adding, “There is no need to as nothing has been achieved at the moment. All I would say is that we have a very good Board and Chairman and a lot of other people at the club that have the club’s best interests at heart.

“Again with the players, we will wait and see what happens before discussing anyone’s future.”

Not even the prospect of four SPL Highland derbies against Inverness Caledonian Thistle next season could prompt Adams to discuss top flight football next season as he said: “Again it is not something I have considered as we still have a job to do in getting four points to win the division.”

IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month – Jimmy Boyle (Airdrie United)

Draws with the title chasing Second Division sides followed by four wins in a row without conceding a goal has transformed Airdrie United’s season into a play-off chase and it was also more than enough to see Manager Jimmy Boyle pick up the IRN-BRU SFL Manager of the Month Award for March.

Just after receiving the award, The Diamonds beat hosts Stenhousemuir in a crunch promotion clash and Boyle puts their sparkling run down to shutting the back door as he said: “Last month was great as it built on a fine end to February when we came from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Arbroath.

Airdrie United FC Manager, Jimmy Boyle“We followed that up with a 1-1 draw against Cowdenbeath where we lost the only goal of last month to a penalty. Belief grew from those results and that was built on by finally keeping clean sheets. The more we got of them the more confident we became”

Boyle praised the form of goalkeeper Grant Adam, who was brought in on loan from Rangers at the end of January, as he said: “We had a couple of goalkeepers in earlier in the season but it never worked out for them but Grant has made a huge difference.

“We tried to get him in earlier in the season and then again at Christmas time but Rangers wouldn’t let him go. We eventually got him and he has done really well.”

Other shrewd moves from Boyle saw Cameron MacDonald recruited from Livingston to bolster his rearguard and Adam’s Ibrox team-mate Ewan McNeil brought in to fill a full back position.

Boyle added: “We have shown all season that we can score goals but keeping the back door shut was a problem. Doing that throughout the month has increased our confidence and we go out now looking like we will not concede.

“I enjoyed watching us going forward earlier in the season and scoring lots of goals but I did not enjoy our defending at times.”

Boyle continued: “Results last month have determined that we can make the Play-Offs under our own steam now. That is a very different position to where we were a month ago where we were still not certain of avoiding the Play-Offs at the other end of the table.

Boyle continued: “Results have been better than performances recently and we certainly played better in games earlier in the season but never won them. We used to play some fantastic stuff going forward but we only drew or got beat as we were conceding at the other end. We drew 3-3, 4-4 and got plaudits for our display when we lost 6-2 to Dundee United in the Scottish Cup.

"This is my second season as a Manager and I am enjoying it although it was harder to deal with the higher expectations we had this season. We were expected to be challenging for the promotion Play-Offs and maybe now that we are, I can enjoy it a bit more.

“Keeping the back door shut is certainly the key to our confidence rising.”

IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – Paul Hartley (Alloa Athletic)

Alloa  Athletic boss Paul Hartley had a bumper weekend as his side defeated Elgin City 8-1 to lift the Third Division title and was also named as the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month for the third time this season.

He said: “Winning the League is better than anything I achieved as a player because it is my first job and I had to build a new team from scratch. It has been a lot of hard work. It is not just about myself, it is about the team and the staff that I have got and it outweighs anything I have done before.

Alloa Athletic FC Manager, Paul Hartley“It was a tough start because we didn’t have any signed players when I came in. We had to try and build a squad in the space of three months. We had to get them together for the first League game of the season and we managed to do that. We managed to get 18-19 players in and also had a couple of loan signings that helped me.”

It was a busy time with Hartley explaining: “It was a bit of scramble because most clubs had done their business, got their players re-signed and most of the squads were together. Clubs had probably made additions of four or five players but we had nobody.  But when we took the job, we knew what was in front of us so we managed to get good players in. We got good footballers in and that has helped us.”

Hartley has enjoyed his first spell as a Manager saying: “It has very much been a big learning curve for me. When you are a player, you train and you play but when you manage you have to deal with everything. You have to deal with signing players, your Board of Directors, your staff, your Chairman. Loads of stuff.

“You travel to watch games because you don’t have the finances which big clubs have with scouts and so on. We are often reliant either on favours or doing things ourselves. But I love the job, it is really enjoyable.”

The former Scotland internationalist has clocked up the miles saying: “I did drive up to Elgin on a Tuesday night. That was our next game and I thought it was important for me to take the opportunity to go and watch them. My Assistant Manager and my Fitness Coach took the training.  It was a long old journey and an enjoyable game to be fair.

“I went down to Stranraer on New Year’s Eve and it is just stuff you have to do. You have to put the hours into the job because we don’t have the resources some other clubs have got that are full-time. When you are a full-time player, you take it for granted that you get everything done for you. When you step down to the lower divisions, you know that you have got to do a lot of the work yourself rather than rely on other people.”

Getting his hands dirty has been beneficial with Hartley adding: “I think all I have done would stand anyone in good stead if they become a full-time Manager and you will appreciate it more. At the lower levels, you have to do it. You have to watch the Under-19 games and try and scramble for players because we don’t have the finances other clubs have. The harder you work the more reward you get and we have definitely put the work in just now.

“A lot of the stuff I do by myself but the Chairman and the Board have been great. You know there is a budget there and a limit. There is stuff you do yourself and don’t tell anybody because you want to do it.  That is the bottom line. You have to put the hard graft in and you get rewards back.

"I am sure Sir Alex Ferguson probably did the same when he was at East Stirling. That was where he started. Some people walk into a big job straight away, some don’t, but there is still the same pressure of trying to win a game.”

Hartley has no regrets about learning his trade in the SFL as he explained: “You are not scrutinised the same way. I actually spoke to Craig Levein about this last week regarding when he took the Cowdenbeath job on. I don’t think you are scrutinised the same as if you are managing in the SPL.

“The media attention is not the same. You might get away with a few bad results whereas, if you are at the higher end of it then you don’t get away with it. So I think it is a good learning curve for us. I think I have learned more with the mistakes I have made than anything else.”

Whilst the attention may not be as big, Hartley’s preparation is thorough as he said: “We try and go through as much detail as possible. Team selection, opposition, I am a nightmare to be around at times. Friday night is the worst time because you are going to name the team and everything is going through your head because you know you need to get a result on the Saturday.

“If you don’t get a result then the Saturday night or the Sunday is down because you don’t see the players until a Tuesday. Probably the biggest mistake I made was down at Berwick Rangers and we were 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go. I thought good, we are looking comfortable here so I made three substitutions and we drew 2-2.”

Hartley learnt from that one game saying: “That is a learning curve. I was beating myself up about it because it was a mistake and I said that to the players.  I said, ‘Look I apologise, maybe I should not have changed it’ but maybe we should have seen it out also. That is the mistakes you make. Your substitutions or your team selection. You are not always going to get it right, that is for sure.

Dealing with players is also new to Hartley who said: “People are going to be happy, people who get left out of the squad are going to be unhappy. You know when you take the job you will have to make these decisions. You have to be strong, you have to be tough. If they are unhappy then they can always come and see me. Not on a match day but during the week my door is always open if they want to have a chat."

After a career at Hamilton Academical, Millwall, Raith Rovers, Hibernian, Morton, St. Johnstone, Heart of Midlothian, Celtic, Bristol City and Aberdeen, Hartley can call on a number of friends to help him as he explained: “I think my playing connections has helped me. You know you can pick up the phone and speak to guys or if you need a player or need a favour or whatever. I am fortunate there to be able to rely on people who obviously can help us. If you can’t afford a player then they maybe give you them for nothing.

“Down at the lower levels, it is about relying on favours. Look at the number of young players who are out on loan. There are quite a lot of them. You have to use your contacts that you have to your advantage. You have to use them properly and make sure you get the right players in.”

Nearly a year into management, Hartley summed his job up saying: "When it goes well, you take the plaudits. When it’s not going so well, you have to take the criticism. Even at Third Division level, you are still putting yourself on the line. If it hadn’t been going well, I wouldn’t be in a job and I would probably have walked away because I think you have to take a bit of pride in yourself. If it’s not going well, you’ve got to walk away.

“I think you want to be the best you can be. You want to get to the top level. That’s why you are in the game, to try and make yourself the best. Someday you might get offered a big job, then again you might not.”

Hartley added: ‘You have to start somewhere, cut your teeth and see if it’s for you and if you’re good at it. First and foremost, you have to deal with the pressure. Sometimes it’s luck with a job and if someone might take a chance on you. If you win a few games, they might and then again they might not.

“Scottish Managers have a good reputation, especially down south. But I just want to enjoy the job I’m in and see where it takes me.”

IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month – Richard Brittain (Ross County)

Ross County captain Richard Brittain was rewarded for his fine form and leadership that has guided the Dingwall men to promotion when he was chosen as the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month for March.

Brittain said: “I am pleased that I was recognised last week with this honour but all the boys have shown that they are winners now. It is a great achievement for Ross County to win the First Division Championship and to do it on the back of a long unbeaten run is fantastic.

Richard Brittain“We are a tight knit squad as you can imagine as we spend a lot of time on the road and everyone has contributed fantastically well to this success.”

The former Livingston and St. Mirren man said: “We also want to thank our fans who have been the 12th man for us a lot during my time at Dingwall. They have been rewarded with an element of success and we hope they enjoy it.

“We now aim to see out the season in the form we have been in. There are still 12 points available and we aim to win them all.”

Nothing had been decided when Brittain picked up his trophy from the sponsor and at that time, he said: “We are just trying to win as many games as we can before the end of the season. The run that we are on – I think it is 28 games unbeaten now – has been a fantastic achievement but it doesn’t mean anything unless we go and finish it off. Hopefully, we can finish it off in style.

“This is my first award so I am over the moon with this.  It is always nice to be recognised for your efforts but it is a team game. All the boys up here have been absolutely outstanding this season so this is obviously on behalf of them as well. I am the one fortunate enough to pick it up but I would like to dedicate it to them as well, because they have been superb.”

Brittain was asked if the County squad was ready for the SPL and he said: “The squad is only geared to the job in hand at the moment. But if we were to make the step up, a lot of the boys have obviously played in the SPL before. It is a step up, you know, albeit we have played teams in the cups and so forth but that is a different occasion. When you are playing these teams week in week out, it is a whole different ball game.”

The Bathgate born player was also asked about players being picked off by teams already in the SPL and he said: “There is obviously that fear but that is a sign that the players are doing well. If that happens, that happens, that is just football. We have got a job to do between now and the end of the season.

“I would love to stay. This is my fourth season here and it has been a very enjoyable four seasons. I enjoy working with the management and the squad of players we have here.”

Brittain is hoping that his position becomes clearer as he said: “I am out of contract at the end of the season and there have been no contract talks as yet. We have got a job to do first before we focus on that. Nothing at all, which you have got to understand. The club have got to look after themselves. Whatever happens will happen."

As for criticism that County are more efficient than effervescent, Brittain said: “I think we have got a good brand of football going on up here. We play a good attacking brand of football and I think we would bring something extra to the SPL

“I have absolutely no idea where the criticism comes from. We are in a results driven business, we have been stringing results together, yet we still get criticised for it. We have kept our own counsel, kept ourselves to ourselves, not shot our mouths off in the paper, and we will continue to do that until the end of the season. If other Managers want to have a gripe that is up to them but we take no notice of that.”

There could be some joy in hitting back at the end of the season however, Brittain said: “No, that is not the type of boys we have got in the dressing room. They will obviously just stand back at the end of the season and look where we finish and we will just use that as our bite back at them. We are not interested in playing tit for tat games with other Managers.”

Brittain is keen to see SPL football played at Victoria Park as he explained: “It would definitely be a loss if we weren’t in Dingwall at the start of the season. Any team winning the First Division Championship wants to start the next season in their new stadium. That is out of the players and management’s hands but hopefully, if we do go up it will all be ready for the first day of the season.

“It possibly could be galling to spend money on the stadium and not players if we get promoted but again that is not for me to comment on. That is for the powers at be to decide as the players are just here to put results on the board and that is what we have been doing.”

The midfielder is no stranger to SPL football having played there for Livingston and St. Mirren in the past and he wants to go back saying: “Ironically enough, my last game in the SPL was against Gretna. Every player worth their salt wants to test themselves in the SPL and I am no different. Hopefully, I can do that here.

“The Gretna match was at Fir Park as they obviously had to use that as their ground. All I remember is being taken off. It was one of those games where I just seemed to float about. After that game, I knew I was moving on so the less said about that the better. I just slipped away without anything very much else happening but I came up here and got the bit between my teeth and I am looking forward to hopefully getting back there.”

Manager Derek Adams is also returning to the SPL after a short spell as Assistant Manager at Hibernian last season with Brittain saying: “I wouldn’t say it did not work out for him at Hibs. I just think he missed being a Manager. I don’t know what went on with him at Hibs and being Number 2. But since he came back, he has been brilliant as a Manager and brilliant for me personally. Hopefully, we can build on that. The Manager has had a fantastic record here and hopefully, that will continue.”

Brittain can look back on this season with satisfaction and in particular, one game where he notched his first ever hat-trick as Ayr United were defeated 3-2 at the end of February to move County away from a Falkirk team that had drawn level with them.

“Without a doubt, the Ayr game was a highlight for me,” said Brittain before adding, “To win the game first and foremost against a very good Ayr side was great but from a personal point of view, to score at hat-trick in that game was phenomenal for me and definitely the highlight of my season personally.

“It was the first time I had scored a couple in a game, so obviously the first time I scored a hat-trick. If I remember rightly, we were level with Falkirk going into that game because our game had got cancelled at the weekend or something. The next three or four weeks were our games in hand and we managed to string a few results together which has got us the lead we have still got now. It is credit to the players and the Manager.”

IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – Owen Ronald (Queen’s Park)

Queen’s Park winger Owen Ronald’s career is only in its infancy, however he has already gone one better than his dad, Paul, who spent 18 years in the senior game at Clyde, East Stirlingshire, East Fife, Stranraer, Berwick Rangers, Airdrieonians, Airdrie United, Dumbarton and the Spiders.

Ronald Junior is only 18 and he was voted the IRN-BRU SFL Young Player of the Month for March just three years after watching his Dad play out the last days of his career, which went unrecognised with individual honours at Hampden.

Owen RonaldRonald said: “Dad used to take me to watch him play for Queen’s. He would leave me in the warm up area underneath the Main Stand whilst he got changed and then I would go out and watch him.”

The youngster graduated from the amateurs youth programme after moving over from Hamilton Academical four years ago and he has moved into Head Coach Gardner Speirs’ starting eleven after a spell of coming off the bench and he still feels that he is dreaming.

Ronald said: “It has been a great experience for me as I had dreamed of playing at Hampden after watching my Dad play there. It was amazing just to be involved and it was a great feeling when I scored my first goal especially as it was the winner in a 3-2 success over Stranraer.

“I have managed to start the last few games and that along with getting to know the first team boys better gives you an increased level of confidence but I also know that I have to work hard to keep my place as Queen’s Park have a few good wide players.”

The Ronalds are different players with the young Ronald saying: “My Dad was a target man whereas I like to drive at people and get past them but I know he is proud of what I have done so far.

“He can’t get to see me on a Saturday just now due to his job as Bo’ness United Juniors Manager but he has watched me in midweek games.”

The form the youngster has shown has not gone unnoticed in the Third Division as he said: “At first, no-one knew who I was and I got a lot of room to play in. However, when we played Alloa, I got no space to play at all and then against Peterhead, their full-back Roy McBain used all his experience to stop me getting going.

“I know I have to adapt my game and go at people in different ways as I want to keep my place in the first team and I want to help Queen’s Park into the Play-Offs.”

The student of Sport and Development at the University of West of Scotland in Hamilton is keeping quiet about his award as he said: “The Gaffer told me after training on Wednesday night but stressed I had to keep it quiet until the players read about it on Saturday. He said I could tell my Dad though and I did.  He is really chuffed for me even though as a player, he never got one.”

IRN-BRU SFL Ginger Boot Winner – Ryan Wallace (East Fife)

Ryan Wallace has now picked up four ginger boots for his goalscoring exploits as an East Fife player with the Nike pair he won last year being added to by this season's Puma footwear after he bagged six goals last month.

Ryan WallaceThe Nike Ginger Boots did not stay in his hands long with Wallace saying: “I never wore them as I gave them to the club to auction off as quite a unique item. The Puma ones are very different and whilst these are not going to be worn either, I have my own plans for them.

“They are going into a display cabinet along with the match ball from the game against Brechin last month where I scored a hat-trick.”

As well as his treble, Wallace bagged a double against Dumbarton and also scored against Stenhousemuir with the double at the Sons setting up a 4-0 win which pleased Wallace as he explained: “People talked about Dumbarton being East Fife’s bogey team as they had beaten us a few times in a row but we never thought like that. I scored a header early on and then added our third goal after 24 minutes which gave us our first win after Gordon Durie’s appointment as our permanent boss.

“John Robertson left us in a good position to go for a Play-Off place and Gordon has built on that as he knew us well already from being Robbo’s assistant.”

The pair of former Scotland strikers have made a positive impact on Wallace in his spell at New Bayview as he explained: “John taught me a lot about taking up good positions in the box as he was your typical penalty box striker. Gordon was more of a target man so you learn different things from him but to be honest, you couldn’t fail to learn from these guys as they have played at the very top of the game.”

Wallace is learning from others now as he explained: “The boss has brought in a few different rules since he took over and he has also recruited Gordon Chisholm as his assistant and Billy Dodds comes in and does some coaching as well. Training is different but it is still very high tempo and about moving the ball quickly when it is in our possession.”

Wallace’s fine month helped East Fife get back on track for a Play-Off place with the striker saying: “We always thought the Play-Offs were in our reach because at the end of last season, we had an 11 game unbeaten run and just missed out.  We never gave up on our ambitions on reaching the promotion Play-Offs despite the Second Division being incredibly competitive.

“Anyone can beat anyone in this division and if you turn up slightly off your game, you will get beaten. We always believed we could get back into things and now we can do things under our own steam and that is what we are concentrating on doing.”

The former Heart of Midlothian youngster is now up to 24 goals for the season  and he is delighted saying: “This is my first full season as a senior player as I only played twice for the Hearts first team and only started a couple of games for Airdrie at the start of last season due to injury.  I love it at East Fife and have enjoyed this season with them.

“In terms of a Play-Off place, we have four Cup Finals to go as have Dumbarton, Airdrie, Stenhousemuir and Brechin City.  Everyone is playing for something be it the title, a promotion or relegation Play-Off place or relegation so there really is Cup Finals to be played.”

The 21-year-old added: “ I am signed here until the end of this season but we have not talked about anything longer as we are waiting to see what division we are in.  In some ways, the players at East Fife know that we should have had a Play-Off place at least sown up already but there is still time to put that right.”