Let me begin by saying that I ams going to miss something in the course of this post. I had intended to do a simple “wrap-up” of the 2015-2016 season, but before I could get to that all kinds of things (almost all of them good!) started to happen and now I’ve got something between a “wrap-up” and a “preview” on my hands and I’m not sure how to go about putting it all together. So, I’m going to just jump in with both feet and hope for the best!
First off, with 48 points and a sixth place finish, County had its second-best season in the Premiership- except that’s really not the case is it? County also won the League Cup for the first time, and in doing so, moved 2015-2016 to “Best Season Ever!” status. Also putting a little more shine on things- for me, at least- is that, while Celtic won the “single,” that’s all they won, and while Rangers won the double, they did it by doing things that County have already done- winning the Championship and the Challenge Cup- which County have done twice. Oh, almost forgot, Caley Jags didn’t make the top six and their manager left. HA!
Speaking of managers, Jim McIntyre was named the Scottish Football Writers Association “Manager of the Year,” and while a finalist for the PFA’s version of the same award, he was pipped by Mark Warburton of Rangers, who somehow managed to get his club promoted from the Championship with the second biggest budget in Scottish football. I’m not going to call anyone a “coward,” but when the PFA stops kowtowing to the Old Firm it will be a banner day in the history of Scottish football.
In addition to the manager, there were a great number of players who earned individual honors. The number of players who received recognition in the SPFL’s “Team of the Week” included, that I can name off the top of my head, Brian Graham, Ian McShane, Michael Gardyne, Scott Fox, Andrew Davies, Jackson Irvine, Liam Boyce, Ricky Foster, Gary Woods, Chris Robertson, and Alex Schalk. Several of these players also received other awards. Boyce and Irvine both won “Player of the Month” awards, and Andrew Davies made the Premiership’s “Team of the Year” side. While each of these players deserves a tip of the cap, that so many players were recognized during the course of the season is the true take-away here. It speaks to the depth and quality of the squad that Jim McIntyre (and Billy Dodds) have assembled- more on that below- in Dingwall and bodes well for a long Premiership future for County.
But wait, there’s more! The individual accolades did not stop there. Despite an almost barren second half of the season (I’m blaming that on the absence of his strike partner, Craig Curran) Liam Boyce still managed to score 15 goals in the league and 20 overall- easily the best haul by a single player during County’s tenure in the Premiership. In addition to becoming the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, Michael Gardyne picked of the club’s “Players’ Player of the Year” award, Jackson Irvine was named the “Supporters’ Player of the Year” and the football writer’s “Player of the Year,” Chris McLaughlin was named the developmental squad’s “Players’ Player of the Year,” and Russell Dingwall took home the award for the developmental squad’s “Coaches Player of the Year” award.
There can’t possibly be more, you say? You are wrong! All of their individual and club successes this year have led to bigger and better things for Scott Fox, Liam Boyce, and Jackson Irvine. Fox has been called into Gordon Strachan’s Scotland side to face Italy and France, Liam Boyce has once again been called into the Northern Ireland squad and is on track to represent his country at EURO 2016, and finally, Jackson Irvine has returned to duty for Australia, who will play England tomorrow. Once again, that’s three legitimate internationals playing for a club in a town of about 5,000 souls and in a stadium that hosts just over 6,000. Kind of amazing when you think about it…
(Okay, take a deep breath…)
Now to the topic that has made me gun-shy about posting this piece only to have to immediately update it- player movement!!
Here’s who has left (since January):
Jamie Reckord: While it once looked like Reckord might have a long and successful career at County, he was released- by “mutual” consent about a month before the end of the season after not featuring for the club since January. While this was not good news for the player, it did say good things about the club. Specifically, that the level of play and the competition for places in the squad is reaching the point where a player can find himself on the outside looking in without much warning.
Raffaele De Vita: While Raffa was a key player in the 2014-2015 campaign and will always be a fan favorite, he, like Jamie Reckord, was “exposed” a bit as the overall quality of the side increased. He remains a good technical player and provider of great crosses, but his lack of speed (something that was, frankly, shocking when I saw him play in person) and lack of physicality just weren’t suited to the new direction of the club under McIntyre and Dodds.
Gary Woods: Woods served County well as a back-up goalkeeper and as a first choice while Scott Fox was injured, and will rightly be remembered for his stellar performance in the League Cup final. Woods returned to Leyton Orient when his loan expired and was subsequently released by the club.
Chris Konopka: County’s first American signing never played a senior match for the club in the two plus months he was at County, though he was on the bench for the League Cup win over Hibernian. I haven’t seen confirmation, but with his short term contract over and other developments involving goalkeepers (below), I suspect he has left the club.
David Goodwillie: Brought in as cover after injuries reduced the number of attackers available to Jim McIntyre, Goodwillie managed one goal in nine matches before returning to Aberdeen at the end of his loan. Aberdeen subsequently released him.
I think that covers the departures…
…but before we get to the arrivals, here are a few players who decided to stay with the club, signing extensions either during or at the conclusion of the 2015-2016.
Christopher Routis: the 26 year old French defender began his career at Servette in Switzerland before moving to Bradford City, where he no doubt crossed paths with County captain Andrew Davies and was recommended to the club.
Kenny van der Weg: another in what has become a long line of Dutchmen trying to make it at County, van der Weg is a 25 year old defender who played his entire career for NAC Breda in the Netherlands? Will he be another Melvin de Leeuw/Alex Schalk, or will he go the way of Klok, Luckassen, and Maatsen?
Erik Cikos: That name should ring a bell with supporters- the right back spent the second half of the 2013-2014 season on-loan from Slovan Bratislava. Cikos made a good impression then and has apparently remained on the County “radar” ever since. This cat was let out of proverbial bag when Cikos was spotted sitting with the County subs- and wearing County training gear- at one of the club’s last matches. Cikos will bring even more international flare to the club as he has been capped twice for Slovakia.
Aaron McCarey: Perhaps the most intriguing signing thus far. McCarey, a 24 year old goalkeeper, has played at every level through U21 for the Republic of Ireland and was on the books at Wolverhampton Wanderers for six years (with loan spells at Wallsall, Bury, and Porstmouth among others) during that time. In short, one imagines the young man is hungry for a starting spot and to crack the Irish senior side. I imagine that County have signed him in the hope that he will continue to push Scott Fox to improve and, perhaps having read the writing on Gordon Strachan’s wall, as a dependable back-up/stop starter should Fox become a Scotland regular and miss a number of matches each year while on international duty.
New kits supplier and new kits- see my previous post.
Will standing return to the Jailend?