The IRN-BRU SFL 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.
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Allan Moore (Morton)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month – Paul Hartley (Alloa Athletic)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – Greig McDonald, Shaun Fagan and Marc McCulloch (Stirling Albion)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month – Still to be announced
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – David Hopkirk (Annan Athhletic - *On loan from Queen of the South)
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Allan Moore (Morton)
Morton Manager, Allan Moore, joined Partick Thistle’s Jackie McNamara and Dunfermline Athletic’s Jim Jefferies in receiving a Manager of the Month award this season and the Greenock boss reckons that not only has the award moved him to the same status as his rivals, his team should now be seen as title challengers alongside the top two in the First Division.
Moore picked up the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Award for October after a win over the Glasgow side and away draws with the Pars and Livingston and he said: “Partick and Dunfermline are ahead of us in the League at the moment but we had good results against them last month. We beat Jackie’s team 3-1 and then drew with Dunfermline which was disappointing as we had been two goals up.”
The Greenock side sit four points adrift of the top two and Moore enjoyed October after a sluggish start to the League as he explained: “I was under a bit of pressure but then again, the Manager of Morton is always under pressure as the fans there expect you to be at the top of the table. We had drawn 1-1 with a Hamilton side that had 10 men and I felt things starting to get uncomfortable but matters have turned around a bit since then.”
One of the reasons for the turnaround has been the impact of the ‘Old Guard’ that Moore recruited in the summer with Mark McLaughlin, Kevin Rutkiewicz and Martin Hardie all contributing positively at a combined age of 104 after barely featuring in the opening weeks of the season.
Moore said: “It was a gamble bringing these guys in and in the last month, it has paid off. In the first month, Mark was suspended and the other two were injured and that brought a bit of extra pressure as well.
“It is amazing how players can go from a must have signing to a waste of a wage really quickly in some people’s eyes. The three of them have been great recently and have become big players for us both in games and at training where they are a huge influence on our younger players and believe me, we have a fair number of younger players.”
Moore also praised the work carried out by former Scotland player David Hopkin who has led a brand new Cappielow reserve side to eight wins out of eight and Moore said: “We have never had the level of competition for places that we have now and part of that is down to the work David has put in. He has played at a much higher level than I ever played at and it is good to see him taking his first steps in management.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month – Paul Hartley (Alloa Athletic)
Alloa Athletic Manager Paul Hartley’s role as one of the leaders of the new breed of Managers in the Scottish game was further enhanced when he was awarded the IRN-BRU SFL Second Division Manager of the Month Award at Hampden.
Hartley’s Wasps defeated Forfar Athletic, Ayr United and Albion Rovers to move into second place last month without too much fuss although last Saturday’s trip to Rangers in the Scottish Cup saw a lot more attention on his side. The visit did not go to plan as the Ibrox side won 7-0 however, Hartley will be looking for his men to bounce back in fine style against East Fife this weekend.
It is the first time that Hartley has picked up this divisional award after he started gaining a strong reputation in management last season when he won three Third Division monthly awards as well as the top honour for the season.
“We have been a bit more under the radar this season after having a high profile last year,” said Hartley before adding, “Queen of the South have been playing really well and quite rightly getting a lot of profile but we have been playing well to.”
Hartley has built a young side at Recreation Park augmented by the experience of the likes of Darren Young, who is his skipper, and his former Heart of Midlothian team-mate Stephen Simmons.
The 36-year-old said: “Darren is important to us in the middle of the park as he has so much experience in the game. Stephen was a colleague at Hearts when he was a real up and coming player and there were really high hopes for him and perhaps he should have done more in his career.”
That sense of disappointment has been shared with Simmons adding: “Stephen knows all that and we talked about it when he signed in the summer. When Craig Levein was at Hearts, he was brought into the team and scored a few goals. A talented boy who should have done more but we are happy he is in our team.”
The Recreation Park youngsters benefit from the experienced players with Hartley saying: “The younger players look up to these guys and that is a good thing. You want them to move on from Alloa into full-time football and having guys like Darren and Stephen about will help them do that.”
Whilst Hartley may be at the vanguard of managerial change alongside Paul Sheerin, Colin Cameron and Allan Johnston, he reckons that one of his opponents at Ibrox last Saturday could well go on to become another up and coming young boss in the country.
Hartley explained: “Lee McCulloch has led by example for Rangers this season. I played with him for Scotland and I know what his attributes are. He is big and strong and whether it be up front where he has been for most of the season, in midfield or in defence where he popped up against Inverness Caledonian Thistle last Wednesday.
“I travelled down to Largs with him during the summer as we studied for our UEFA 'A' Badge and he is a good lad and a good type. He is a strong leader and whilst he has just signed a new contract there, he will have a future in the game once he stops playing.
“Some guys want to coach or manage at the end of their career and Lee has it in him to be a Manager or a coach, basically whatever role he wants. He can either coach at a high level or do what I did and jump straight into the frying pan at a lower level and learn management there.”
Asked if his 17 year playing career had ever come close to joining McCulloch at Ibrox, the former Hamilton Academical, Millwall, Raith Rovers, Hibernian, Morton, St. Johnstone, Heart of Midlothian, Celtic, Bristol City and Aberdeen player said: “When I was having a purple patch at Hearts, there was talk of a move to Rangers but nothing ever happened. I continued being happy at Hearts and the move to Celtic happened and that was that.”
Hartley also advised that playing in front of a bumper crowd at Ibrox was still not enough for him to regret hanging up his boots saying: “I don’t miss it at all. I played in a lot of big games but I enjoy being in the technical area nowadays and that has been the case for a while now.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – Greig McDonald, Shaun Fagan and Marc McCulloch (Stirling Albion)
It was a case of recognising preparation as well as execution when Stirling Albion’s management team made history last week by picking up the first ever triple Award for being an IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Manager of the Month.
The Forthbank side’s 1-0 win over Rangers, the club’s first success over the Ibrox side in 58 years, as well as a battling draw with Peterhead after being two goals down, was secured in the absence of McDonald, who was getting married when Brian Allison scored the winner against the Ibrox side, and on honeymoon when a point was gathered at Balmoor.
McDonald said: “Everyone at the club had known about my wedding date for two years. It was organised when I was still a player and was talked about when I got the Manager’s job so we had time to get things worked out.
“I prepared the team for the Rangers game and then Shaun and Marc carried out the instructions perfectly and it was easier to prepare for Rangers than it was to prepare for Dalbeattie Star, who we faced in the Scottish Cup the week before. There is a lot more information available about Rangers than there is about Dalbeattie.
“I trust Marc and Shaun implicitly and I knew they would handle things against Rangers. They have been doing a cracking job while I was away and whilst we were in contact a lot, they made a lot of decisions on their own.”
McDonald arrived back in Scotland to learn about his selection and be presented with a third share of the managerial award and he said: “I have been away to Australia, New Zealand and Dubai with my wife, Jennifer, so it has been a case of getting back into things really quickly.
“We were bottom of the table and had lost five League games in a row before the Rangers game so it was good to win that game regardless of the opposition. Our wedding turned into a debrief of the game and I was meant to be dancing with the new Mrs McDonald and instead, I was getting filled in about the game.
“I was in Australia for the Peterhead game and it was late in the evening over there when the match was kicking off, so I was sitting with a glass of wine watching the results come through.”
The former Brechin City and East Fife defender, who scored in the 5-0 win over Dalbeattie, added: “Shaun, Marc and I have come in for plenty of stick over our run of results and we realise the club is bottom of the League but things are changing now. If we can beat Rangers, we know we can beat anyone in the Third Division and that has to be our aim going forward.
“The Rangers game is probably the reason we got the award but as far as I am concerned, it is a great reward for Marc, Shaun and the players.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – David Hopkirk (Annan Athletic - *On-loan from Queen of the South)
Annan Athletic's on loan striker from Queen of the South, David Hopkirk, is hoping that scoring five goals in October whilst he was on loan will herald a change in fortune for him after a career’s worth of misfortune was experienced in only several months.
The 19-year-old made his debut in the SPL for Hamilton Academical, played against Celtic and scored at Hampden before being released by ‘mutual consent’ to start an unfortunate run of luck.
He was unable to sign for Rangers due to financial pressures at Ibrox, was injured as he tried to impress a future England Manager, saw a contract offer disappear at Heart of Midlothian, go ten months without any pay, part company with his agent and then when he finally found a new club, they have been playing so well that he could not get a starting jersey.
Hopkirk said: “My loan deal is now up at Annan but I am hoping to stay for longer as I enjoy playing games. Queen of the South keep winning so I am unlikely to start there so I am not really sure what will happen now that I am back as my contract runs out in January.
“I have not spoken to the Manager at Palmerston about my goals that much as I have been training with the Annan guys and then joining up with Queens on a Friday but it has been great to play football again.”
Even Hopkirk’s loan spell at Galabank was minus a game as he explained: “I only got the three games as they had lost in the Scottish Cup before I got there so we had a free Saturday which again cost me an appearance. I started against Queen’s Park which was great as I had not played in three months and I needed games to show what I could do.”
Hopkirk scored for his first club Hamilton Accies at Hampden last July in a Ramsdens Cup tie however, little else is given away about his time at New Douglas Park.
“I don’t really want to talk about Hamilton,” said the teenager before adding, “All I would say is that I left there by mutual consent and I would agree that there was a breakdown in communication between myself and the club.
“I then went on trial at Rangers but at that time, there was no money to sign anyone and I then went to West Brom but as soon as I was there, I picked up a hamstring injury and I was not anywhere fit enough to show them what I could do. I had been training myself, every day in the gym, but I was not as fit as the players that were there.”
The injury cost him the chance to impress a major figure in world football as Hopkirk added: “Roy Hodgson was in charge and I was there with Scott Allan, who eventually joined them from Dundee United, but I was not at my best. I moved on to Cardiff but it was the same story and it just shows you how quickly things can change in football.
“I then went into Hearts and I was told I was getting a deal as soon as the Under-20 League was announced. When it was announced, the offer of a deal did not materialise.”
Hopkirk kept his spirits up as he explained: “It was back to training with Craig Flannigan at a gym in Anniesland. Craig works with PFA Scotland and I knew him through my agent. Mind you, the relationship with my agent came to an end as well and Craig has been great with me and is now helping me gain a qualification as a Personal Trainer.”
Hopkirk has been prepared to suffer hardship for his career as he said: “I went ten months without earning any money and I only got through that thanks to my dad and girlfriend. A lot of people wanted me to get a job but I kept on pushing myself at the gym and hoping something would come up.
“I had played against Celtic as a substitute in March, 2011 and then just a few months later, I was not doing anything. When I look back, I do regret things. I have learned and I certainly don’t take things for granted anymore.
Fate played a part in the Celtic games as well with Hopkirk saying: “I was not in the first team at that time but I was playing in a youth team game the day before and had a ‘worldy’ and that got me into the pool. I came on for the second half and asked Gary Hooper for his top but he had promised it to someone else.”
The time in the Third Division was enjoyed with Hopkirk adding: “Harry Cairney has told me just to go out and play but I want to remain a full-time player. There has been no talk yet about a new deal at Queens but I hope there is as I just want to play football.
“My hat-trick was great and I got the match ball home and hopefully, that is a sign that things are changing for me. I had thought of chucking it but I just want to play and I am working hard to do that. Who knows, one good game could change everything.”