Re­ac­tion of play­ers and fans made me re­alise that this was for real

Dar­ren Young re­flects on ti­tle win

Rutherglen Reformer - - Drivetime Extra - Colin Pater­son and Kenny Smith

“I’m just back from hol­i­day,” says Dar­ren Young.“When I was away, peo­ple were call­ing me all the time - about foot­ball and sell­ing their houses. I had to say, ‘Hang on, can you call me when I get back? I’m in Por­tu­gal just now!’ ”

The Cam­bus­lang res­i­dent is a man in de­mand - as well as be­ing player/ manager of League Two cham­pi­ons Al­bion Rovers, he’s also work­ing as an es­tate agent.

The 36- year- old has ex­pe­ri­enced many highs and lows in his near 20year foot­ball ca­reer, with Aberdeen, Dun­fermline, Dundee, Morton and Al­loa Ath­letic.

But he eas­ily cites the sea­son which has just fin­ished as his favourite 12 months in the game.

“Oh, def­i­nitely - it’s been an amaz­ing first sea­son. What more could I have asked for - in my first sea­son as player/ manager, we’ve won the league?

“Deep down,” says the for­mer Cathkin High pupil, “a good first sea­son as player/manager for me was the play­offs. We spoke about it. But once we saw what we had, we felt we had a chance.

“As things pro­gressed, we pulled away from Ar­broath and Queen’s Park. We man­aged to add qual­ity to the squad dur­ing the sea­son and were able to kick on and get to where we are now.”

But as for those first few weeks in charge? They were hard – even with the ex­pe­ri­enced Sandy Clark as his right­hand man.

“I was try­ing to do ev­ery­thing,” Young said. “Coach, speak to the boys on the park, play your own game. I felt it dur­ing pre-sea­son train­ing. I was prob­a­bly get­ting too worked up.

“I had a word with Sandy about it. He’s been bril­liant and come up with things I maybe haven’t even thought about. We both have sim­i­lar ideas on how to play and get the best out of the squad and say it as we see it.”

When asked to name the most im­por­tant victory dur­ing Rovers’ ti­tlewin­ning sea­son, Dar­ren thinks long and hard.

“Mon­trose away,” he replies A glance at the League Two ta­ble – with the Gable Endies bot­tom of the pile – per­haps makes you ques­tion why a win at Links Park should rank so highly.

But while each of Rovers’ 21 league wins this term has gen­er­ated three points, some tri­umphs are more sig­nif­i­cant than oth­ers.

And on a dark Satur­day af­ter­noon in Jan­uary, at this windswept out­post in the north east, the Cam­bus­lang man and his side started to be­lieve this could be their year.

It had been an event­ful match. Mon­trose were 2-0 up in­side 15 min­utes but Rovers were level by the break and ahead early in the sec­ond half. The hosts then equalised them­selves. The clock ticked into the third minute of in­jury time.

Else­where, ti­tle ri­vals Ar­broath and Queen’s Park had drawn. An op­por­tu­nity was be­ing spurned, care­lessly, un­til sub­sti­tute TJ McCluskey fired home to spark ju­bi­lant scenes and light a fire un­der Rovers’ au­to­matic pro­mo­tion charge.

“I just re­mem­ber the play­ers,” re­flects es­tate agent Dar­ren at the EMPS Prop­erty of­fice in Mother­well where his boss is Rovers vice-chair­man Michael Sav­age. “The chang­ing room, every­body was buzzing. It was our first game back af­ter a few weeks off.

“It sticks out be­cause it was an in­jury­time win­ner. We were still up there in the ta­ble. But would the heads have gone down if it had ended in a draw?

“We were dom­i­nat­ing the game at 3-2 and then they equalised. We put TJ on for his first-ever ap­pear­ance in se­nior foot­ball and the rest is his­tory.

“He had been work­ing from four or five in the morn­ing un­til nine and came over to get the bus up to the game. Not know­ing any bet­ter, he just got on with it.

“I was at the side but was just about on the park. The goalie came up to cel­e­brate. The re­ac­tion of the play­ers and fans made you re­alise that this was for real.

“I don’t know if the play­ers thought we could re­ally win the league. But games like that...go­ing back down on the bus was great. You could just feel it.”

Dar­ren re­placed James Ward as boss last sum­mer. He had spent three sea­sons work­ing un­der Paul Hart­ley at Al­loa Ath­letic and was part of back-to-back pro­mo­tions with the Wasps.

Par­al­lels were quickly drawn. Could the for­mer Dons cap­tain achieve what Zico had and win the League Two ti­tle in his rookie manager sea­son?

Rovers made their best start to a sea­son since 2002 and won four of their open­ing five league matches. There was a three-month spell which pro­duced 10 vic­to­ries in 13. A four-game los­ing skid was fol­lowed by seven wins in nine. That last run of form se­cured the ti­tle.

“It has never been about any other team,” in­sists Young. “Other man­agers and clubs have said this and that. We stuck to our guns. We spoke about our­selves and what we were go­ing to do.

“We’ve never come in – at least un­til the last cou­ple of weeks – and won­dered what the re­sults were else­where. It has al­ways been about us.”

Did he learn any­thing at Al­loa which he has put into prac­tice at Clifton­hill?

“We had a re­ally good squad there,” he says. “A great to­geth­er­ness. I’ve prob­a­bly used some of the train­ing meth­ods from there along with in­tro­duc­ing one or two of my own ideas.

“When we went four games with­out a win, noth­ing changed. Train­ing was in­tense, it was still of a high stan­dard and the boys were laugh­ing and jok­ing.

“We knew Ar­broath were ahead but were con­fi­dent they would have a blip at some point.

“We wanted to be in a po­si­tion to cash in on it. We stayed with them the whole way. It was a case of heads down. We got on with it and pro­duced.”

Young’s de­but in the dugout back in July could not have gone bet­ter and per­haps, in its own way, helped shape the sea­son to come.

Rovers pre­vailed on penal­ties at Air­drieo­ni­ans in the first round of the Chal­lenge Cup – not only was this the club’s first win across Mon­k­lands in 41 years, it was their first victory in the com­pe­ti­tion since 2009.

“It prob­a­bly gave us the be­lief,” Young ac­knowl­edges. “The boys were buzzing. Peo­ple were then telling me that we had made our best start in 12 years and all that. It was great.”

Rovers con­tin­ued to blos­som. Con­sis­tency in team se­lec­tion was key, the side fine tuned only when nec­es­sary. Ar­broath’s ad­van­tage was whit­tled away and they fal­tered badly, alarm­ingly. Queen’s Park were drawing while Young’s men won.

“The big week for us was beat­ing Mon­trose at home,” says Dar­ren, “win­ning at Ar­broath on the Wed­nes­day night and then beat­ing Queen’s Park. Three games and three wins. We were then in a strong po­si­tion.”

It was not re­lin­quished. The ti­tle would be won with two games to spare - and a first cham­pi­onship in 26 years. It was only the third in the club’s his­tory.

“It’s some achieve­ment,” he smiles. “The play­ers might not re­alise just now but in years to come they will see how amaz­ing this is for a small club.

“Right now, I’m plan­ning ahead. I’d like to think we’d be want­ing to do bet­ter than just sur­viv­ing. We went to grow and con­sol­i­date, and look to kick on.

“We’ve got a good and strong enough squad, and if we can go on a run and climb up the ta­ble, we’ve got noth­ing to be afraid of, from any of the other teams.”

Dar­ren Young led Al­bion Rovers to their first ti­tle in 25 years af­ter win­ning League Two

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Top man Boss Dar­ren Young

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