Nairn County reserves are seeking to build upon an encouraging debut season in the North Caledonian League.
The Highland League club were accepted into the association last year along with Loch Ness and Scourie, competing in League Two as the divisions were split in two in response to the pandemic.
Nairn were the strongest of the welcomed trio, finishing runners-up to Alness United, who they defeated 4-2 on the final afternoon of a campaign whittled down due to travel restrictions and lockdown measures.
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
Stuart Finnie is the head coach of their NCL side and he reflects with a sense of pride at their debut campaign.
He said: “It couldn’t have gone much better. Winning the league was a tall order as Alness were by far the best team in League Two.
“We beat them in the last game, but both teams put out young sides. We were 2-0 down and were really good after that, but Alness deserved to win the league.
— Nairn County FC (@NairnCounty) June 14, 2021
“I thought we deserved to finish second, which is higher than I’d expected. The boys are all learning. We worked out our average age and it just over 18-years-old. It’s a big ask of these boys to play a full campaign.
“This season will be even harder because we’ll be playing a longer season than last year, which was a 10-game season with a couple of cup-ties.
“We’re still developing – but we know what to expect now. We’re looking forward to it and it will be good to test ourselves against the teams who were in League One. It would be good if we could be competitive and give a good account of ourselves.”
Reserves stepping in to help
The summer at Station Park has been a challenging one, with injuries biting hard into senior manager Ronnie Sharp’s pool for the opening weeks of the Highland League season.
Finnie explained that, along with a lack of games, has disrupted their preparations ahead of their August 21 opener at home to St Duthus.
He said: “The first-team might need some of our boys in the next couple of weeks, which might affect our season a bit. We’re using more of the under-18s at the moment and they’re training with us to get them ready for if we need them.
— Darren Mota (@darrenmota03) June 13, 2021
“We gave the boys two weeks off, so we didn’t need to do much with them and it’s been a case of trying to get games, which we’ve been struggling with.
“We’ve had a couple of call-offs. It’s been a nightmare. We have, however, managed to get a good number of training sessions in, so we’re happy with where we’re at.”
Joining NCL was right move
Overall, Finnie feels that the move to take the reserves into the NCL has proved worthwhile.
He added: “We want to do well in the league, but ultimately the main aim is to try and get players ready for Ronnie and the first-team. I’d much rather see a core of boys going on from us and into the first-team and winning things with them than sticking back with us.
“The 20s league didn’t suit us. There were not enough games and we didn’t get enough out of it. The fact we were able to come into the North Caledonian League and do pretty well in our first year goes to show it has worked.
“We’d tried it before with the 20s as did Fort William and we were a bit wary about how it would turn out. It really couldn’t have gone any better.”