Former Caley Jags striker Craig Dargo hailed the appointment of Billy Dodds at Inverness and reckons the Championship is wide open next season.
Dargo, who sits just outside the top 10 all-time goalscorers at Inverness with 32 goals in just 67 appearances, knows all about finding the net.
He spent two seasons in Inverness from 2005 in the SPL, joining from Kilmarnock before moving on to St Mirren, Partick Thistle, Dumbarton, Dunfermline and Berwick Rangers.
The lethal forward also pulled on a Scotland jersey to be part of the Future team which took on Turkey at the Caledonian Stadium.
The 43-year-old is now a key coach at fellow Championship side Ayr United. He runs the under-18s and under-17s, while overseeing the 16s and 15.
Dargo helping to produce tomorrow’s stars at Ayr
His goal is to feed the best of the crop into senior level for boss David Hopkin to pick from.
In recent times Ayr have had players such as Alan Forrest and Luke McCowan make the grade after coming up from the youths before moving on, while Mark McKenzie broke through to the first-team last term.
Impact made by Dodds when he joined McCann
Dargo thinks it was a wise move for the Highlanders to land ex-Scotland striker Dodds as their new head coach after originally assisting interim boss Neil McCann in the second half of last season.
Dodds’ predecessor John Robertson has moved into a sporting director role after time out on compassionate leave.
Dargo said: “Billy coming in is an excellent appointment. Strikers seems to do well at Inverness, so that should work.
“Fingers crossed he will be a success and no doubt he will be. He has been in and around the game for years and he speaks really well about the game. The players will respond to him.
“It will be another big season for Inverness but hopefully a successful one. Billy has got the knowledge, not just for the strikers at the club.
“Neil was an excellent coach for Inverness. You hear from players who have worked for him and they don’t have a bad word to say against him. He is good at what he does. He’s very demanding and Billy will be the same.
“For Billy to take over the reins was a natural step and he will fit in there no problem.
“A new manager will want to get his point across and tweak things. It can take time for players to respond, but you could see when Neil and Billy worked together fortunes did change.”
Championship set to be a thriller
Operating within the second tier of Scottish football, the former forward is exciting by the make-up of next year’s Championship.
Not only have Hamilton and Kilmarnock come down in place of Hearts and Dundee, but Partick Thistle have come in for Alloa Athletic, who were relegated.
He said: “It’s a brilliant league. It’s so hard to predict a winner.
“Every game is going to be so competitive. You could see that last year, there was not a lot of points between many sides. It’s going to be another entertaining league.
“Like any league, the most consistent will be the favourites.”
Dargo well aware of young guns firing up north
Five ICT Academy players were last week handed professional contracts.
Ethan Cairns, Robbie Thompson, Lewis Nicolson, Alisdair Riddle and Harry Hennem will all be part of the first-team and pressing for game time in the Championship from August.
Dargo has seen at first hand, as an opposition coach, the standard from the north lads.
He explained: “All clubs are struggling, especially after last year. It has been a really difficult time. Squads are not as big and you have to rely a bit more on young players coming through.
“In adversity, there is always an opportunity, so the hope is the younger ones can break through.
“I see Inverness just last week signed five young Academy players.
✍️ Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC are delighted to announce that Academy Graduates Ethan Cairns, Robbie Thompson, Lewis Nicolson, Alisdair Riddle and Harry Hennem have signed their first professional contracts with the club.
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) June 10, 2021
“Working at that age group, I have seen a lot of Inverness over the last few seasons and they have some cracking players coming through, which is a real plus.
“It is good they have former players like Barry Wilson and Ryan Esson working with the younger lads. Players who have a big affiliation with the club. I always see that as a positive as well.”
Striking the balance in chase for promotion
Dargo admits there is a fine balance to be struck for sides in the Championship, chasing the prize of promotion but still aiming to give youth its chance.
He added: “It isn’t easy because supporters want to see their teams back in the Premiership.
“A club like Inverness will want to be there. They have been successful at that level and will be desperate to get back in there.
“You can’t just flood your team with young players though and expect to be near the top of the league. That would be the ideal scenario, but football doesn’t work like that.
“It’s about introducing them at the right time, when they are ready. Young players maybe go back out of the team for their own good because they are inconsistent. That’s just part of it, unless you have a real superstar.”
Happy times in the Highlands
Dargo, meanwhile, spoke with passion about his two terms in the Highland capital.
He said: “I loved my time at Inverness under Craig Brewster then Charlie Christie came in and took over.
“We had such a good group of players and everybody behind the scenes was great. There was a real togetherness and family-feel to the club and I really like that kind of atmosphere.
“There was a good vibe at Inverness and it was an enjoyable part of my career. I look back at it fondly.”