St Duthus have had a summer overhaul as the club gets set to compete once more at the top end of the North Caledonian League later this month.
The Tain Saints finished third in top-flight League One last season, four points behind champions Golspie Sutherland and level on points with runners-up Invergordon.
The club, which has been part of the NCL for 50 years, have been shaping up well and the co-management of Stuart and Andrew Ross have been delighted with the players who have joined them this summer.
Defender Gary Millard, formerly of Ormiston and Preston Athletic, has come in, as have brothers Connor and Lewis Smith, who were with Inverness Athletic.
Former Bunillidh Thistle players, defender Duncan Davidson and striker Billy Cairns, have also been added to the ranks, along with midfielder Paul Gair.
Attacking midfielder Daniel Hutchison – who brings several years’ experience playing with amateur sides Lochinver and Lochbroom – has joined, while midfielder Jamie Skinner returned to the club after playing for the Saints from 2016-2018.
A number of players who were at the club last term have also signed up for the future, including defender Adam Allen, left-back/left-winger Glen Fell, forward Kyle Mackenzie, winger Finn As-Chainey and midfielder James Mackay.
Balance right for Saints bosses
Co-boss Stuart Ross is clearly upbeat with the range of additions the Tain club have made to boost their top-end chances.
He said: “It is quite a transitional year in terms of our squad, as is always the way, with boys moving away with work and having to relocate.
“We have been active in terms of bringing boys in with a mixture of youth and experience.
“We needed a bit more experience and we’ve added Paul Gair, who offers that experience in the middle of the park, having had a season with Inverness Athletic.
Do you have spare time during the week? We'd love to hear from you and talk about how you could help us out. 🙂 https://t.co/rs8JXvFrgZ
— St. Duthus Football Club (@StDuthusFC) July 14, 2021
“We’ve brought in Connor Smith, who was Inverness Athletic’s young player of the year last season. He has been very impressive in pre-season, as has his his brother Lewis.
“This squad is the best-balanced squad we’ve had in my four or five years here. We’re really happy with it.”
And there’s no hiding the fact the Tain team are aiming high this term.
Ross said: “Every team wants to be up there and we’re no different. Given the additions we have made, we’re certainly in a good place and we’ll hopefully be competitive and will be looking to challenge within that top four.”
Respect for Nairn on day one
St Duthus will kick off the new NCL campaign on August 21 away to Nairn County ‘A’, who finished runners-up in the second-tier – League Two – last year, their first as part of the North Caley set-up.
Ross expects a tricky opening 90 minutes, adding: “Nairn are a very well organised team and we are under no illusions that this will be a difficult fixture to start with, especially being away from home.
2021/22 NORTH CALEDONIAN LEAGUE FIXTURES #NorthCaley
The fixtures for the 2021/22 @MacandMac28 North Caledonian League season have now be released.
Fixtures up to the end of 2021 can be found here https://t.co/sSTlH9fGjw
Roll on 21st August!! ⚽⚽⚽ pic.twitter.com/0e0bPU2pm0
— North Caledonian FA (@NorthCaleyFA) June 29, 2021
“They have got a very good group of young lads part of a great club at Nairn County. Their boys will be out to impress and push for the first-team, so it’s a difficult opening game.”
Welcome return to bigger league, with Tokely part of club and prospect of promotion in the future
The NCL returns to one 12-club division this season and the Saints co-manager is looking forward to it.
He said: “It’s fantastic to have such a big league again with such a range of teams. It’s definitely a positive to have us all back in one league.”
Former Caley Jags defender, 42-year-old Ross Tokely is also back in the fold for St Duthus and ready to lend his knowledge on and off the pitch.
His gaffer added: “Ross is getting back into it now and his experience is really helpful around the club. He has been great with the younger boys as well, helping them and giving them great advice.”
The North Caledonian League champions this season will be given the chance to compete for a place in the Highland League via the pyramid play-offs.
As things stand, current champions Golspie are the only club with the licence and credentials to do so, but it’s a medium-term target for St Duthus.
Ross said: “The pyramid system is very much welcomed by all clubs. Some clubs will obviously have a longer timescale for being ready for that. Our aim is a five-to-10-year span where we can hopefully look to compete (for the play-offs).
“It’s great and Golspie have the facilities there and it’s something we can all aspire to and work towards.”
Ross is keen to see the return of fans is the new season, stressing the income from raffles and the tea bar provides valuable funds as well as the obvious support from the sidelines.
— St. Duthus Football Club (@StDuthusFC) June 27, 2021