The Pollok FC website aims to bring a regular message and update from Tony McInally as the 2018-19 season progresses. In this first edition, he focuses on the close season transfers and the challenges of recruitment, his aspirations for the new season and his thoughts on the matches so far.
Players come, players go
I’m very happy with the squad we have assembled this season as we have added more quality, addressed areas of concern and added competition to the group. We lost five players in the summer for various reasons… Del Hepburn, Nicky Little, Paul Byrne, Liam Rowan and Bryan Wharton. All of the lads were offered deals and chose the leave for various reasons – in the case of Heppy, Nicky and Byrno, they wanted more consistent game time, Liam left due to his work situation (which limited his training and game availability) and Bryan fancied another crack at playing Senior again. All the lads left with our best wishes and they can all be pleased with the efforts and have positive memories of playing with Pollok. We recruited four players and have promoted another one from the academy team. In terms of new players, we welcomed Ewan McNeil, Danny Boyle, Danny McKenzie and Shaun Fraser to the club – all quality players in their own positions who will add defensive skills, pace, physicality, experience and goals to the team. We recruited these lads to enhance the quality we had at the club, create greater competition and to make us better in the defensive and midfield areas of the team.
The young lads from the 19/21 set up have benefitted from joining the first team and we will continue working with them and developing them to become Pollok 1st team players.
Lastly, I would say judge our team when we have everybody fit and available and you will see how much we have improved this season.
Getting the right player into Pollok / Lowland League competition
Year on year there are circa 150-250 players released from senior clubs for various reasons. Their releases hit these players hard and many are becoming more disillusioned with football due to their rejections:
(1) Young players released at pro youth level
(2) experienced players at the end of their careers
(3) players at various stages having serious injury and not being able to come back to the levels they had or
(4) players deciding to walk away from the game.
With this in mind, it makes recruiting ex-senior players difficult as you don’t know what physical and mental state, hunger and motivation they have if you pick these players up. The easiest thing is to collect players, but our club’s playing budget only stretches so far. The conundrum you face is either have a quality squad or a strong 13-14 and others that fill a squad which means there is either real competition for places or a team that picks itself. I prefer to have a tight squad with real quality which means that every player has to play well to get a first 11 spot or they lose their place.
With the Lowland League’s formation, the real noticeable thing that I have witnessed is that many of the teams are filled primarily with a sprinkling of experienced ex-senior/junior players and the rest of the team and squad is made up of ex-pro youth 17-21 year old players. They also tend to have an under 20’s team which then means can collect players and play 2 games over a Saturday and Monday night league with few over-age players playing. Rarely has any player played LL football and found their way back upstairs to a Championship or League 1/2 club as the standard is not great nor really competitive. In my opinion, the top West Premiership junior teams would thrive and probably win the Lowland League if they entered the setup.
Aspirations for the new season / Changing shape of the Junior Cup
Our ambitions never change: we are Pollok and every competition we enter we want to either win it or compete really strongly to win it. Our club would want it no other way. I want Pollok to win the Scottish Cup, West Premiership, West of Scotland Cup and Sectional League Cup. My ambitions for the club are always the same: be serial winners – I’ve been a manager for 11 years now and have been fortunate to have won 12 honours and been beaten finalist on five other cup finals – not a bad record! I want my team to grow and develop, improve and be winners again. I feel this team has a major honour in it and when we have a fit, healthy and available squad you will see that. The players want to do well for themselves, their team mates and the club as they wear our jersey with great pride.
The West Premiership is a highly competitive league and if your team plays 5-10% below standard you will lose the game. Every game is like a Scottish Cup tie and you need to be bang at it every week to stand a chance of winning games and the title. There are no easy games in the top league anymore. Apart from ourselves, I see Beith, Talbot, Hurlford, Buffs and Glenafton to be amongst the teams to beat and there is always a team that springs a surprise and has a real go at it. In recent times, we have had Kilwinning and Glenafton emerge to contend strongly or win the league. Like last season, I don’t see one team dominating.
We are a big club and want to win the Scottish Junior Cup again as soon as possible. My players and management team are hungry and motivated to do it again. Since I joined the club we have done really well in the Junior Cup by reaching the final, quarter final or been beaten in three of those years by the eventual winners. We have played Beith, Hurlford and Talbot in 3 years who either won it or got to the final so we are along right lines. I would say the Junior Cup is the holy grail at this level but it has lost a little bit of its uniqueness with many of the top East sides leaving (Ed – many clubs, such as Linlithgow, Bo’ness, Newtongrange, Camelon and Musselburgh, have left Junior football). I always enjoy pitting my team against teams from other regions as it adds to the magic of the cup.
Early season games
I was really angry at not progressing in the West Region Sectional Cup – I don’t like losing any game or section. In the three games we played, we were by far the better team in all of them – we should’ve won the Rossvale and Shettleston games as we were the better team and lost the bonus point on the penalty kick lottery. We didn’t have a lot of players available to us during the sectional and personally, I disagree with the new format. It’s like an alternative ‘league cup section’ version of the West!
Looking at the opening league games against Renfrew (I wasn’t pleased at losing that goal from Dallas and we shouldn’t have allowed the shot to get away. We should’ve brought him down 30 yards from goal or forced him wide away from goal. Our defensive work left a lot to be desired lets just say!), Largs, Troon and Cambuslang, it’s the worst time to play promoted teams as they have hunger, enthusiasm and want to make their mark. We have played eight games this season and haven’t been beaten in 90 minutes, all without having a full squad at my disposal. Positives for me are that new players have settled into the group and integrated into our way of working. Players like Danny Boyle and Ewan McNeil have been very good in their performances. Danny MacKenzie and Shaun Fraser will make their mark too in time. Young Tony Coutts has come in and done excellently but you need to allow time and patience to let him develop and progress. Other players have performed really well like Stuart McCann, Adam Forde, Gormley and Sena (Niang), while stalwarts like Sideserf, Gallacher and Longmuir can be pleased with their starts. Other like Butch (Young), Cheesey (Brash) and McGregor will find their stride as they are rhythm players who need a run of games to find their form.
Getting right up to date, I didn’t think we did much wrong in the game against Troon – we dominated for long spells, got the early goal and played very well in first half. Second half was more even, however Jordan had no saves of note to make and we should’ve had a penalty late in the game or converted one of a few chances we had in the second half. I spoke to the Troon management team after the game and they said we were the best side they had faced this season. I thanked them for the compliment and only wish I had a full squad to choose from to let them see the real Pollok to be honest.
My standout memory from the game was we didn’t have strength in depth from the bench to change the course of the game when we normally would introduce fresh legs and impetus, energy and something different. For example, wouldn’t it have been great to have any three from Gallacher, Evans, Gary McCann, Shaun Fraser, Danny McKenzie, McGregor or a Stef McCluskey (more below) to bring on!! They would’ve made us better, stronger or different, of that I have no doubt
In terms of all 3 league games, we could and should have more points than we have but we move on and try and get more points in coming weeks.
In closing, the Stef McCluskey situation is quite simple – he is a signed and contracted Pollok player who has decided in his own mind that he wants to try and play senior football again. We don’t have a problem with that. He has been approached by a few senior clubs (one in particular) who think it is their right to contact our player, offer him a deal which basically has unsettled our player without respecting our club. They have offered him a deal for next season without speaking or commencing negotiations with us first. With the season transfer window winding down, it is their perogative to engage in dialogue with us to try and secure Stefan’s services. We would not stand in Stefan’s way of trying senior again however, both the senior club and the player need to respect our position as a club as we will need to replace him in our team/squad. We will see what develops in coming days and weeks.