‘It’s a great job, but it’s maybe only now that I’m get­ting to grips with it’

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Gra­ham Spiers

“It’s a great job, but it’s maybe only now that I’m get­ting to grips with it. At the start, maybe I had my eye off the ball on a num­ber of things

THE lan­guage was sharp. “Get f****** Shank­land on!” a St Mir­ren fan hollered an­grily at Ian Mur­ray on Sun­day af­ter­noon as his team fought des­per­ately – and ad­mirably – to get on level terms with Rangers. The words must have been fa­mil­iar to Mur­ray, a man not short on in­com­ing ad­vice in re­cent months.

The 34-year-old ad­mits he is in at the deep end at St Mir­ren, a club with fans not miss­ing an at­ti­tude or two, and nurs­ing a resid­ual griev­ance at its rel­e­ga­tion from the Premier­ship last sea­son. Cur­rently sev­enth in the Cham­pi­onship, it has been a slow start by Mur­ray and his team, and he con­fesses to his early fail­ings along the way.

“There were maybe things that I un­der­es­ti­mated at the start,” said Mur­ray, re­flect­ing on his open­ing, testy five months at the club. “It is a fan­tas­tic club with a fan­tas­tic fan-base, but the job is a huge chal­lenge.

“The club had been rel­e­gated. There had been a large turnover of play­ers. There have been bud­get cuts. I’m not com­plain­ing, be­cause it’s a great job, but it’s maybe only now that I’m get­ting to grips with it. At the start, maybe I had my eye off the ball on a num­ber of things.”

Well, this is in­ter­est­ing – a foot­ball man­ager hap­pily pip­ing up on where he has gone wrong. You don’t hear this ev­ery day. But Mur­ray is quite open about the fact that, in his open­ing weeks in his new job this sum­mer, he didn’t quite ap­pre­ci­ate the new en­vi­ron­ment he was in.

“It had been a bit of a cul­ture-shock for me,” he says. “I went from be­ing Dum­bar­ton man­ager, where I saw my play­ers two nights a week at To­ry­glen, to see­ing my play­ers ev­ery day here, and some­times eight or nine days on the trot.

“It’s not an ex­cuse, but I think peo­ple maybe for­get how big a change it rep­re­sented for me. It’s maybe only now that I feel more in con­trol. I think you’ve seen that in the last three or four weeks in our games.”

Pressed on this fur­ther, Mur­ray ad­mits that St Mir­ren’s slug­gish start to this 2015-16 cam­paign was down to his own pre-con­ceived ideas which he foisted upon his new play­ers. Were he to go back to Au­gust, he says, he might do things a lit­tle dif­fer­ently.

“In this league some­times it’s just about blood and guts, about do­ing the right things: in terms of tempo, in terms of press­ing op­po­nents, do­ing the right things in the right ar­eas of the park. I’ve learned now to ask my full-backs, first and fore­most, to be de­fend­ers. Never mind try­ing to get them to play like wingers, or what­ever.

“All I’m say­ing is, maybe I was ask­ing too much of my play­ers. I changed things around a lot and it wasn’t work­ing, it wasn’t good for us. At Dum­bar­ton ev­ery point was a pris­oner.

“If I’ve made mis­takes, I’ve tried to recog­nise them and rec­tify them. We had a poor start to the sea­son, which is why we are now try­ing to play catch-up. But I think in re­cent games, in terms of per­for­mance, there has been a resur­gence. Mark War­bur­ton made some com­pli­men­tary com­ments about the way we tried to play against Rangers on Sun­day.”

No-one could ac­cuse Mur­ray of not try­ing to pre­pare him­self prop­erly as a man­ager. Even back in 2010, when he was 29 and still a player with Hibs, he took a coach­ing role on the side with Cold­stream of the East of Scot­land league, in or­der to get a taste of a ca­reer he was plan­ning ahead of him. When he then got his first job with Dum­bar­ton, and made a suc­cess of that, he seemed a man ca­pa­ble of con­trol­ling his own destiny.

Alex Smith, a vet­eran of Scot­tish foot­ball man­agers, has long held the view that a young man­ager should start on a low rung, rea­son­ably out of the spot­light, so that he can “make his mis­takes and learn from them away from the me­dia glare”.

“Cold­stream was just a chance that came my way,” says Mur­ray. “I wanted to get the ex­pe­ri­ence, and it was a level that I felt com­fort­able with. It gave me a chance to look at things, cope with dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, just re­ally dip my toe in the wa­ter. I was still play­ing for Hibs. I know what Alex Smith means. When I was at Dum­bar­ton there was no real great cov­er­age of my work, be­yond a very lo­cal level. If I made a mis­take there, maybe some fans would pick up on it, but no-one else na­tion­ally.

“Com­ing to St Mir­ren, as I say, is a dif­fer­ent ball-game. Much big­ger and tougher. But I do be­lieve that now we are mak­ing progress.”

The pres­sure is on Mur­ray. The St Mir­ren fans, quite rightly, ex­pect to be in con­tention for pro­mo­tion, which is not ap­par­ent in the Cham­pi­onship ta­ble at the mo­ment. Mur­ray is very clear about the onus on him, and the flak he has taken from sec­tions of sup­port­ers this sea­son.

“This is a tough league,” he says. “You’ve ba­si­cally got eight full-time clubs gun­ning for four places. So four are go­ing to miss out, plus you take it as a given that Rangers will prob­a­bly win the league.

“I don’t mind crit­i­cism. You ex­pect that. You’re never go­ing to have 4000 or 5000 happy faces all the time. The fans will al­ways have sharp opin­ions.

“But if you are go­ing to go with de­ci­sions, then make them your de­ci­sions. Yes, there is pres­sure and ex­pec­ta­tion at St Mir­ren. You wouldn’t want it any other way.”

MAK­ING A BET­TER FIST OF IT: Ian Mur­ray feels St Mir­ren will start to flour­ish now that he has adapted to his role as man­ager

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