The IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Award winners have been named for the month of April. 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: Alex Neil (Hamilton Academical)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month: Martyn Corrigan (Stenhousemuir)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month: Jim McInally (Peterhead)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month: Stevie May (Hamilton Academical)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month: Stevie May (Hamilton Academical)
- IRN-BRU SFL Ginger Boot Winner: Stevie May (Hamilton Academical)
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month: Alex Neil (Hamilton Academical)
Hamilton Academical Interim Manager, Alex Neil, was rewarded for a fine start as a boss when he picked up the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Manager of the Month Award for April however, the 31-year-old is unsure if he will be up for winning similar awards next season.
Club skipper Neil stepped in when long serving Billy Reid amicably parted company with the club at the beginning of last month and Neil’s side won 5 and drew the other of his first six games in charge.
Neil said: “I am looking forward to a break over the summer but the way the team had been playing before the Cowdenbeath game I wanted the season to continue. It could not have gone any better although the one draw during that initial run was disappointing as we had created a lot of chances and hit the bar twice.”
“Livingston went down to ten men early and we deserved to win it but we still played well and with the form we had been in I can’t really grumble too much.”
Neil explained his philosophy saying: “We have been strong at both ends of the pitch. Our focus has been on attacking and when you do that and dominate as we have done you do not have to think about defending too much. The opposition do not have the ball.”
“When we have defended Kevin Cuthbert made some great saves and the back four have been great. They have stayed the same for most of the games which has helped and all in all it has been a great effort.”
“Stevie May has grabbed most of the headlines and rightly so for his goals but he knows that it is all about the other 10 guys and the substitutes as well. It has been a great run by the team.”
Neil said: “You cannot look back you have to look forward and we were showing what we are capable of. We have plenty to build on although we are not sure what the situation with Stevie is going to be.”
“We would love to keep him but it is outwith our hands.”
Despite this impressive start Neil is undecided over his future as he still loves playing and if the Board at the Lanarkshire club were to offer him the position on a full time basis he admits that a lot of soul searching would be required.
Neil said: “I took the job until the end of the season and that was it. I still have a year left on my contract as a player and I still intend to play on. If I need to make a decision I will make one over the summer and not just now.”
Comparisons have been drawn with the success Alan Archibald had at Partick Thistle where he stepped up from playing to managing and guided his club to the First Division title after cutting back on getting his boots dirty.
Neil reckons that his situation is not the same as he explained: “With Alan Archibald it became a case of the longer he was in the job, and the more games he won, the more difficult it became to not give him the job.”
“His situation was different as we were in the bottom half of the table and people were expecting us to be doing better. Alan’s job was probably more difficult as Thistle were top of the league and expected to win the league. I wasn’t.”
Neil added: “He is also a bit older than me – and I am sure he will love me saying that – at 35 and that probably made the move easier. If this was happening to me a couple of years down the line it would be a fair easier decision to make.”
“I will only be 32 in the summer and I feel that I have a couple of years left in me yet. I have not played much in this run as I didn’t think I could do the day to day running of the club as well as playing.”
Archibald, Neil and Dumbarton boss Ian Murray all enjoyed success in their first period as a manager and Neil sees similarities and differences as he explained: “Alan and I had taken the under-20 sides and the players were used to us. I think I am the longest serving player at Hamilton and Alan knows Thistle inside out so that continuity has been important.”
“Ian came in from the cold and that would have been difficult. He has done a terrific job and got a terrific reaction from his squad but I am pleased with the reaction I got as well.”
Neil talked about what he had done in the job by saying: “I have tinkered with our shape a wee bit and do a few things differently during the week. The players have improved as a result and we have improved as a team.”
Moving up has not been a problem with Neil saying: “I had been team-mates with some of these boys for a few years but if you asked the boys there has always been a slight gap as I have been captain for 7 of those years.”
“I have always been the type where football is the most important thing particularly for a player and a coach. You can have a bit of banter but if you are not successful as a team you are going to be replaced or they are going to be replaced.”
“Clubs do not want to tick along without success.”
The work involved to be successful saw Neil involved in a hectic end of the season on the side-lines as he explained: “The first team were playing Saturday – Tuesday – Saturday and I was also still running the under-20’s who were playing Sunday – Tuesday – Thursday. Five games in a week as well as the preparation, shaping up, working on tactics and keeping my own fitness made things a really tough task.”
“There are 35 players here under the control of the manager and that is a lot of dreams and hopes to manage.”
“I was training regularly but my body is not in the shape I want it to be in. After hip and knee injuries this summer could see me have the first proper pre-season in years to get myself into good shape. If I can do that, things would get easier and if I am fit and mobile as a player it would help me manage easier. I will just need to see how it goes.”
Whatever happens Neil is grateful for the opportunity as he explained: “I was fortunate to be at Hamilton as Billy and the former Chairman Ronnie MacDonald both encouraged me to get into coaching. Billy made me his assistant and I took the under-17’s and then the 20’s.”
“When I stepped in I had used the likes of Ali Crawford, Mickey Devlin and Stephen Hendrie in the under-20’s and they were used to me.”
“I had a free reign in getting involved and I picked up a lot and I am different now to how I was 18 months ago. I am still at an early stage though and learning all the time.”
And as for filling the job Neil said: “The club have intentions of asking for applications and seeing who is available. I think that I have proved in my short spell that the team have reacted well and have won games. I can be a manager.”
“The difficult thing about making a decision, if I am asked to make one, and I don’t want to do it is remaining at Hamilton as a player. It could be a case if someone else comes in I could be left wondering if I could do things differently to them.”
“The alternative is to do the job and potentially sacrifice my playing career. I missed a huge chunk due my hip injury and that was devastating for me. I always want to go out and play and if I get a good pre-season behind me then I feel I can do that. If that means I am a player/ manager or just a player so be it.”
Neil added: “If I have a decision to make it will need a lot of thinking as I don’t want to do two jobs on a half-hearted basis when I could be doing one really well.”
And if the time comes to be a boss Neil was asked who he would model himself on and he said: “I have managers over the years that I have taken bits from and I try and use them if it fits easily with me. I worked with Billy Reid for a long time, he remains a friend now, and I learnt a lot from him but it is important to put my own spin on things and luckily for me it has worked well.”
“I have enjoyed my spell and of course player/ managers are popular in the First Division as you have Colin Cameron at Cowdenbeath and Grant Murray at Raith Rovers as well. Some of that is down to finance and Boards are not daft, if they can save a bit of money by having a guy that can play as well as manager they will get him to do that.”
There is also a change in the playing front as well with Neil saying: “Teams are also younger now if you consider that when I first came in most players were 25-30 years old with a couple of youngsters thrown in. Now there are only 3 or 4 players at that age and everyone else is young.”
“We are especially like that and so are Falkirk and Livingston and that is the way football is going.”
“Hopefully football will reap the benefits in the future. We have our next group of youngsters coming through with guys like Eamonn Brophy getting involved and he actually scored on his debut. We have gone that way for years and everyone else is now going that way as well.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month: Martyn Corrigan (Stenhousemuir)
A fine April of 4 wins and a draw was not only good enough to push Stenhousemuir back into the Play-Off race it was sufficient for Manager Martyn Corrigan to pick up his second IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Manager of the Month Award of the season.
Last weekend the Warriors needed to defeat Stranraer and for Arbroath to lose to Alloa and Forfar not take anything from their game with Ayr United to extend their season, however it was not to be and the Ochilview side’s late push for promotion came unstuck.
Corrigan had welcomed the pressure that came from being out of the race and then almost back in it as he explained: “At the beginning of April we set the players the task of winning every game we had left and they almost achieved that. We drew the first game with Arbroath and then won four in a row. The season was probably ending too soon for us.”
“Our players seem to enjoy having extra pressure put on them. Pressure is something they have responded well to all season as we did well in high profile cup ties against Kilmarnock, Inverness and Falkirk and of course we beat the league winners Queen of the South last month as well.”
Corrigan had hoped that the Gayfield men and the Loons wilted however it was not to be as he explained: “The way we have handled pressure bodes well for us in the future. The Play-Offs have been a great addition to the SFL as you had 3 clubs going for promotion on the last day and 2 clubs including our opponents fighting to avoid relegation trouble.”
“I had never been involved in the Play-Offs before as we missed out on the final day last year. We looked out of things earlier on this season but we hung on in there for a good while.”
“Draws have hurt us this season as we have had 13 of them. If we had won even 6 or 7 of them we would be in the Play-Offs already.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – Jim McInally (Peterhead)
Peterhead’s resurgence in the last quarter of the season was enough for them to clinch a Second Division play-off against Queen’s Park this week and more than enough for Manager Jim McInally to be awarded the IRN-BRU SFL Manager of the Month Award for April.
The Blue Toon, who were one of the favourites for promotion at the start of the season, started to slide down the table after a run of only one win in ten games at the start of 2013, however things more than clicked back into place in mid-March.
A run of 8 wins in a row where only one goal was conceded had the Balmoor club shooting back up the table with McInally’s men also enjoying a 2-1 win over title winners Rangers at Ibrox during that run.
McInally lays the credit for the turnaround firmly at the door of the players saying: “I know these awards are for Managers but I am picking this one up for our players. They have been terrific and to go on such a strong run at the business end of the season is terrific.”
"I suppose the real secret to the run is confidence. They feel good about themselves, and they should, as they have worked unbelievably hard all season.”
McInally added “It had looked like things were slipping out of our hands as we went through a spell when we were struggling to score goals but we picked up again wonderfully well. Rory McAllister has been on fire and Andy Rodgers has joined in however I could go through the whole team and thank them.”
“I always knew that when we hit form then we would be a decent team. In the middle of that run we won at Ibrox and that was fantastic, one of the high points in my career.”
McInally is also pleased that the other teams in the Third Division have shown their worth during a year when the spotlight has been on them as he said: “The Third Division clubs can be proud of this season. Whilst Rangers have won it, as everyone said they would, it was not as easy as people thought it would be.”
“Everyone has given Rangers a hard game. East Stirlingshire at the bottom have scored in every game against Rangers and led both times at Ibrox. I hope that it will stand the clubs in good stead for next season.”
The exposure was worth more than the financial rewards with McInally explaining: “The great thing was the increased television interest and our first game with Rangers was huge news everywhere. All in all, it has been good for the profile of the teams although the money wasn't as good as we thought it might have been.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month, Young Player of the Month and Ginger Boot winner – Stevie May
Striker Stevie May is unsure what the future holds for him however the in-form hit-man has used his season long loan spell at Hamilton Accies to show the footballing world what he can do. If no new contract is agreed at St. Johnstone this summer May will look elsewhere and the return of his first boss Derek McInnes to the SPL has not gone unnoticed by the 20-year-old.
May’s 11 goal haul in April was recognised with the triple award from League sponsors IRN-BRU of the Phenomenal Player and Young Player of the Month as well as picking up a pair of Ginger Boots to repeat a similar success he had last season during a temporary spell at Alloa.
The striker said: “When I won both of the awards last January I had scored 7 goals and I thought that would take some beating. I have managed to get 11 now which is really surprising but really good.”
May went to Hamilton in a bid to get regular first team football and having shown his worth he is now contemplating the next steps in his career as he said: “I am waiting for the end of the season before sitting down and deciding what I want to do next. I have big decisions to make and I will talk things through with my agent and my mum and dad. That will help me decide what is right for me.”
“I need to work out where I will be playing and if that is St. Johnstone then great, and if not, I will look elsewhere. There has been some bits and pieces of communication from them and I know that I have been watched, mind you they left early in a game before I scored two goals.”
“They were there however when I scored a hat-trick at Livingston so it is not a case of out of sight and out of mind.”
May added: “I have been that busy at Hamilton I have not really spoken in depth to anyone at Saints. We had been playing Saturday – Tuesday, Saturday – Wednesday for a few weeks so all I was doing was training, recovering and playing.”
Should May find his Perth career at an end he was asked if he would like to be re-united with McInnes and he said: “I know Derek well as he gave me my chance at St. Johnstone. He had a tough time of things down at Bristol but he will do a good job at Aberdeen. It is a top job for him to get and he will turn them around after a disappointing season this time out. I would be very surprised if they are not in the top six next season.”
“I have always had a good relationship with Derek and you never know what will happen in the future but I am only concentrating on ending this season well.”
Scotland may end up not being a big enough stage for May who said: “I think I am improving all the time and I have confidence that I will score. I reckon that I can go higher than the First Division and I want to go as far as I can whether that is the SPL or England.”
“There is a long way to go before I do that but I think that I can.”