Pre-Season is just around the corner for most teams. The players at East Fife re-grouped for the new campaign last night as new gaffer Darren Young took his first training session. We caught up with Darren earlier in the week, to get his thoughts.
After three seasons at Cliftonhill, Darren Young sees the move to Bayview as a step-up, despite being in the same as former side Albion Rovers.
“I was Albion Rovers most successful manager in their history. No other manager has won the league and stayed up in League One for two years in a row. In the first season we missed out on the play-offs by a point and last season we missed out on the second last game of the season so, I would say my stint there was successful; I enjoyed my time there and I learnt a lot. I started off as a player-manager and, while technically that was still the case last season, it was less about the playing and more about the coaching and managing side of things.”
Young has had two experienced sidekicks alongside him in his short managerial career so far. Firstly, with Sandy Clark, who then moved on to Dunfermline, which allowed Billy Stark to come in.
“Whether Billy comes in [and joins Young at East Fife] is unknown at the moment. I think he may have one or two other options, so we are just waiting at the moment. He is waiting on a few things that may pop up, but, without doubt, I would like to get him on board, however, that may not happen. He still wants to be a manager in his own right and if that possibility came up I think he would likely take it.”
On taking up the job in Methil, Young said:
“I had spoken to a mutual contact of the club once I saw the job become available. I put my CV forward and from there we spoke and I got the job. They done well last season, they were unlucky not to make the play-offs. They have always been a hard, competitive team. They impressed me last season with some of the players they had, so, for me, it is a step up – the way they go about things, such as getting the astroturf put into place, and it is run a lot better in the background too. For me, coming in near the end of the post-season is very hard – we’ve already got 12 players signed up so you obviously only have a certain part of the budget left. The majority of the players were already signed up over the summer but I still think we need to add 6 or 7 boys to the squad but other guys, that I spoke to while I was planning this season for Albion in the latter stages of the last campaign, and even guys who I spoke to over the summer too, have signed for other teams as they couldn’t wait for a potential offer coming in. That’s football though and these things happen. I took the job on, knowing the situation. I’m happy with the 12 players I’ve got signed up. There’s a good core of last season’s squad left – [Kyle] Wilkie, who’s coming back from injury, [Jonathan] Page, he should be OK and Kevin [Smith] has had his operation too, although he could still be a bit away, but, I am just looking to now improve upon that squad and see if that can allow us to do what we did last season, or better it. It’ll be a stronger league with the three full-time teams in it: Ayr, Airdrieonians and Raith. But you can’t forget the others as well – Alloa, Arbroath, Forfar… it is going to be a very competitive league this season.”
Young is familiar with synthetic surfaces after playing on one while he was at Dunfermline nearly 15 yeaars ago. However, the standard of them has now improved drastically, with the new Fife boss seeing the introduction of an astroturf pitch at Bayview as a benefit.
“Especially for the part-time clubs, they can look to take advantage of them by building and growing a youth setup on it and trying to progress these kids through to the first team. By having that sort of hub in to the community, within Methil, for the local schools and so on then it is great and it makes it so much easier to build when you have the facilities and everything else in place – this is a great wee club; if you take a look at Brechin, they’ve managed to do it [promotion to the Championship] last season, so, it does give encouragement to everyone else that if you do stick in there and dig in, you can have a good season and possibly get promoted.”
A player both Young and the supporters will know well that is re-joining the club this summer is Paul Willis.
“Paul is a good player – I’ve known him since my Dunfermline days, when he was just a young boy coming through. He’s done well over the past few years. I see him as more of an attacking midfielder – he can play that position either through the middle or even coming inside after starting out wide, so, I will be looking for Paul to be creating chances and taking his chances too. I had a little chat with him, when I knew I was joining and I have said to him I expect to get more goals from him. We’ve also managed to secure the signature of Mark Docherty; Mark can play left-back, centre-half; centre-midfield; left-midfield, so he gives us that versatility in by being able to play in a few positions. He’s the right type of boy, too. I think squad wise, it is clear to see that we are short defensively; we probably only have 1 or 2 players who can fill in there right now so, we are looking to get a few guys in to cover and compete in that area. We are looking at the wide areas as well. We are looking to bring in a bit more creativity – we haver the two young strikers up top and we are going to be missing Kevin [Smith] for a bit as well, so, there is going to be chances there for everyone to impress. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll go on the way guys are playing and training. If there form is good and they are performing well, week-in, week-out, then they’ll be in the team.
10 players were released by East Fife this summer, with 5 of them returning to their parent clubs.
“If we can get the player in for the right price, then, there is every chance we will go down that avenue [of using the loan system]. We done that well at Albion Rovers – in my first season there we managed to get in Chris Cadden, who is now in the Motherwell first-team and Scotland Under-21’s too. We also brought in guys like Steven Boyd (Hamilton) and Ross Davidson as well from Kilmarnock, so I’ve utilised the loan market while I was at [Albion] Rovers, but, again, it is about trying to get the right player who will be the right fit.”
With pre-season training commenced for the new gaffer, he is still looking to boost the numbers over the coming weeks ahead of the season opener away to Peterhead, in the BetFred Cup.
“We have 12 signed up already and we budged for 18 or 19 so we are looking at bringing in another 6 or 7 players if we possibly can. The budget is tight but it is small enough for me to work with and get players in but as always, when you speak to players, they always want more! There is likely teams out there offering these guys bigger and better deals but if they are confident enough and believe in what we are trying to do and how we want to take the club forward, then, we have a chance but we have to work within the budgets that have bee set.”
With Ross Brown and Scott Robinson moving up to the Championship with Livingston, East Fife can use the motivation of progressing players careers to attract them to Bayview.
“Definitely,” agrees Young. “We done it at Albion Rovers with the two Ross Stewart’s moving on to St Mirren. It gives everyone that satisfaction – the player that they have improved but also the coaching staff and the club as you have been able to progress them as a player. It is easy for them to work hard but when they are listening and taking everything on board, it is great. It is certainly something I’ll be using while being at the club as manager – even if it is picking up players who haven’t quite made it first time around, be it from pro-youths or amateurs or juniors, then I feel it is great to give them that platform to go and progress as if they want it enough, they’ll get it.”
“Training totally depends on numbers, to be honest. It depends on how many we manage to get through the door. This week it’ll just be about meeting the boys, getting to know the boys with a wee bit of running to get a wee feel for being back. After that, we will assess how they’ve came back condition wise – it’ll be your standard pre-season: bleep tests, other kinds of fitness tests and getting all their weights and things like that noted down. The training base will be the same as last season, which is at The Oriam in Edinburgh. It is a magnificent facility to train at and it helps us to attract players as well. Having spoken to boys in the past, guys from Glasgow and the west found it difficult travelling to Methil – it isn’t the most appealing of journeys. So, with the club managing to get The Oriam, it makes their decisions seem like night and day, as with the new motorway and roadworks having been complete it now gives us the opportunity to attract guys from those types of places. We will be in Tuesday night, Thursday night and Saturday. We done that last year with [Albion] Rovers and we done fine with that. I think, to be fair, a lot of the teams are still using the BetFred Cup as pre-season anyway. I think last year, we only had 11 or 12 sessions with the players before you come into the pre-season games, so, once we have that on board you then go straight into the cup games. It is quite a hectic schedule. To be honest, you can give people as much running to do as possible, but, when it comes to match sharpness, you can only gain that through playing matches. With such a small squad, however, we cannot burn them out within the next couple of weeks, as we will have a lot of games within a short space of time. We are playing St Mirren away in a closed doors game, then we were meant to be having a game against Hearts on the 1st of July but that’s cancelled as we are playing them in the cup, so, we now have a game on the 4th of July away to Spartans and on the 8th we will play away to Stirling Albion.”
East Fife have been drawn into a tough group within the BetFred Cup. Away matches to Peterhead and then Hearts, while they entertain Elgin City and firstly, local rivals, Dunfermline at home.
“It is a pretty hard section, to be honest. It is great having been drawn against Hearts and Dunfermline and it is just unfortunate we need to make that small journey up north to Peterhead! It’ll be a good test for us – two teams from the league below and a couple of teams from the leagues above, so, we are looking forward to it. [On having a long journey then a derby within three days] That is a benefit of these games – it’ll get your fitness up quicky. I’ll need to chop and change players, probably have to rest a few too, but, we will need to see how that goes as it depends on who is available and who we have been able to bring in. [On playing at Tynecastle vs Hearts] I will just be telling the players to go and enjoy themselves – you are coming up against a Premiership team with the possibility of them fielding a few international players too, so, it is great for the players to go test themselves as that is ultimately what you want to do – playing in big arenas and trying to prove yourself to get up to that next step. It is also great for the fans as well as the club. It will be a good trip for the fans, they will be able to enjoy themselves.”
Heading into the league campaign, the message is clear from the manager.
“The play-offs is definitely the target we need to aim for. I know it is a cliché, but, we will go game by game to see how it goes and where we are. It is always good to take things quarter by quarter; try and beat our points tally each quarter. That is what we attempted to do with [Albion] Rovers, we aimed to achieve a certain amount of points per quarter – some you are up on, some you are below on. If we can get a similar points tally to last season, that’d be great. Again, depending on how things are going – if you are doing well with injuries and suspensions – then once you come into that final quarter, you can have a real push at it. However, as was shown last season, the second last game of the season saw up to 7 teams being able to finish 4th – that is crazy to think that with two games to go, there are still so many teams vying for the play-offs! That emphasises how tight it was last year and this year it is going to be even stronger.”