With the season’s end, and relegation confirmed, just a few weeks ago – are The Honest Men set to bounce back straight away?
Ian McCall has not wasted any time bringing in more quality players to add to his squad, all of whom are already signed up, at Somerset Park.
Fans favourite Michael Moffat, has returned, and Ross Docherty, who has been retained on a one-year deal, has been promoted to Captain, after the departure of Nicky Devlin.
Both players have experience of playing full-time football throughout their careers, so will be able to hit the ground running when pre-season starts in a few weeks time.
However, Docherty, who was at Livingston as a youngster, hasn’t been full-time in three seasons, but this doesn’t faze the 24-year-old.
“I wasn’t disappointed to be leaving Livingston, to be honest. I wasn’t getting much game time due to injuries and I had to get a major operation – one that might have ended my career. So, to be just playing football, at any level, I am happy, but obviously I am delighted to be going back full-time.”
Moffat, on the other hand, started his football career with local junior side Girvan, before stepping up to the senior ranks in 2011 when he signed for Ayr first time around, but, it has only been the last three seasons at Dunfermline in which Michael has been a full-time player.
“I always said then at Ayr, it would take a full-time offer to leave them because that’s where I was staying, it was right on my door step. It had to be the right deal for me to leave. I had been offered a few chances before that to go places, but, I stayed at Ayr because it wasn’t the right move but when Dunfermline came along it was the right move at the right time, for me.”
Docherty and Moffat have faced off against each other plenty times over the years – most notably when Dunfermline won the League One title ahead of their Ayrshire rivals in season 2015/16.
“The aim that season was to go and win promotion,” says Docherty. “And against Dunfermline, we battled hard against them for the first half of that season. But, we managed to get promoted through the play-offs and that was definitely a highlight in my career. To score my first goal [against Stranraer in the play-offs] was great; the second leg was very cagey. I actually missed a penalty [in the penalty shoot-out] to go and win it [promotion] but I’m just delighted in the end that we managed to go on and win it.”
It was contrasting emotions for Moffat, however, who picked up a league winners medal.
“I would’ve liked to have scored more goals. In my second season I had a good return. Last season I thought I played my best football of my time there. My first season wasn’t good enough – personally or by the team. We knew when the new manager [Allan Johnston] came in, we had a point to prove. It was a big thing to go and win the league – I had been promoted with Ayr before, through the play-offs, but to win the league has been the best thing in my career. I’d just like to thank the fans for my time when I was there, they were great with me. They were always there and always supporting the team. Hopefully this season they [Dunfermline] can kick on, with a few more signings, as I am sure they will be challenging up the top end.”
The move back ‘home’ for the striker was an easy one to make, as he explains:
“I met the manager [Allan Johnston] a couple of days before the season finished and while he didn’t tell me a deal wasn’t there, I hadn’t heard anything more from him. He hadn’t told me he didn’t want me… but he hadn’t told me he wanted me either, so, I wasn’t going to hang about all summer waiting on him to make his mind up,” explains Moffat, “I had an offer on the table from Ayr and their manager [Ian McCall] was calling me every couple of days. It felt good to be wanted again. It wasn’t a difficult decsion to make because I didn’t have an offer on the table, in the end, from Dunfermline.”
With Ayr’s relegation to League One, some may raise eyebrows at their decision to go full-time, however, the pain of relegation hasn’t yet escaped new captain, Docherty.
“Over the course of a season, I believe you will finish where you deserve to finish. It was unfortunate for us that St Mirren went on a great run, which I think nobody could have foreseen before Jack Ross came in. Ultimately, we went down by a small number of points, which is hard to take.”
The lure of full-time football in Scotland is something which many footballers can’t afford to take as their part-time careers progress. Thankfully for Docherty, his decision to continue with Ayr was an easy one.
“I think part-time is more manageable for a lot of people. If you can, you can maybe take the chance to go full-time but it all depends on your personal life and your work commitments. It’s just like Daryll [Meggatt – who has joined Alloa from Ayr] who has just started up his own business; maybe it is just a culmination of things – timings and things like that which go against people. The money at full-time clubs isn’t what it was previously. You can maybe get more if you go part-time, and also do a job. Personally, I’ve always wanted to get back into full-time. I was full-time when I was younger – for 4 years – and the manager knew that as well, so it wasn’t a huge decision.”
A player who won’t be returning to Ayr is Nicky Devlin. The man who has taken over the armband believes the right-back fully deserves his chance in the Premiership, which has been rumoured as his next move.
“Nicky was a great captain. I’m sad to see him go as he is a good captain but also a very good player. I’m looking to take his love of this club – for all the fans, on behalf of all the team. I’m not surprised [to hear rumours of Devlin heading to the Scottish Premiership], he was absolutely unplayable and in that league [Championship], coming up against some of those players, that just shows you how well he has done.”
Manager McCall looks to have found a quick replacement for Devlin though in experienced campaigner, Andy Geggan.
“That’s four years I’ve played with Geggsy now at both Ayr and Dunfermline,” says Moffat. “You know what you are going to get from him – he’s a good professional; he can play in a couple of dfferent positions and he’s all action: he scores goals but he can also defend. He’s good at getting box-to-box. He will be a great signing, alongside the boy Higgins. I’ve heard a few rumours of other boys coming in too and that just shows how much Ayr want to get back into the Championship.”
The calibre of player Ian McCall is signing, puts a marker down to the rest of League One as the former Partick Thistle gaffer plays his hand early.
“There’s a fair bit of experience in the squad. We’ve got a lot of boys in the dressing room who have won this league before, and won other trophies too, so I think, alongside the young players the manager has in the squad, plus us older 5-6 experienced players, that is a good mix to have for this league,” says Moffat, who scored 6 goals for the Pars last season in the Championship.
“I wouldn’t say it was a must, to win the league, to be honest,” adds Docherty. “If you go up through the play-offs, then I’d take that. Of course, our aim is to go and win the league – but I wouldn’t say we are favourites yet because that is difficult to tell. There are a lot of hard teams in this league: Raith Rovers, Alloa, Airdrieonians too. With the signings we’ve made, we’re giving ourselves a good chance, however.”
“You just don’t know what other teams are going to do,” says Moffat, as he concludes, “but I think we will be up there – definitely in the top two or three. But when I was at Dunfermline a few years ago, we were the favourites and we ended up finishing 7th so it doesn’t really affect anything.”