Caley Thistle goalkeeping coach Ryan Esson predicts a real glove battle between Mark Ridgers and Cammy Mackay this season.
Ridgers, 30, is the noticeable Inverness number one, having held racked up more than 150 appearances for the club, has been a consistently high performer at the Championship club since joining in 2017.
Mackay, 24, only played three times last term, but has not let anyone down when handed starts over the years. He has come through the youth ranks at ICT and is determined to push for more game time.
There’s no clear number one – Esson
Esson, who served ICT for a decade, can’t split the two players and wants to see a real healthy rivalry reach a new level over the next year.
He said: “For me, Mark has earned the right to play. His stats over the years here show he’s the top one or two in the league. That’s in terms of clean sheets and shots against. His number are very good.
“However, that’s no disrespect to Cammy. If Cammy is not there, would Mark be as good as he could be? You need someone like Cammy pushing Mark every single day.
“This is a big year for Cammy. He needs to push Mark even more. We have a new manager in with a fresh pair of eyes. Does he see something in him, whereby if Cammy does well in the team, he stay in when given the chance?
“I don’t see Mark and number one and Cammy as number two. In my eyes, we have two number ones at this club. We have full confidence in both if either of them plays.
“I have worked with Cammy a long time, probably since he 13 or 14. I have seen him progress and have seen him develop. This is now the hungriest I have seen him.
“He sees this as a fresh start with a new manager here. Mark has been excellent for so long and the two of them need to battle it out.
“That’s what the goalkeeping position is. I need them both to be saying they are number one. That doesn’t mean they need to be nasty against one another, but you need healthy competition and that’s what we have.”
Switching from player to coach is not easy
Esson’s stature and class between the posts was rewarded with a Division One winners’ medal in 2010 and a Scottish Cup gong five years later.
The past few years has seen him work with the under-18s and then become assisting the first-team coaches and managers.
He insists the switch from playing to coaching isn’t just like flicking a switch.
He explained: “I was player/coach then I transitioned into being a coach only then I transitioned again to coaching the 18s, which I have been doing for a few years now. I have really enjoyed it.
“For me, it’s all about progressing now. It’s strange because it really is a whole new career. People think because you have played the game it should be a simple transition. There is a lot to learn and it’s not as easy as that.
“Yes, I know about football, but how do you then explain that to people? How do you get your point across and explain what’s the right way to do things?
“Every player has their opinion on how they think the game should be played. It has been a huge learning curve for me over the last two years in particular.”
Learning never stops for Esson
He added: “I have passed my UEFA ‘A’ goalkeeping licence, which is the highest level in terms of goalkeeping coaching.
“I’m now doing my (non-goalkeeping) A licence, which will help me progress. I can hear from the different coaching voices out there.
“I have now worked under a few managers at Inverness, most recently John Robertson, Neil McCann and now Billy Dodds. I’m learning as much as I can from every one of them.
“I will be asked my opinion on things. It’s not a case of agreeing with everyone. It has been really good for me.”
Slow start not an option for ‘competitive’ Caley Thistle
The former Aberdeen keeper, meanwhile, insists the management and squad are focused on getting points on the board from the get-go when the league action starts on July 31 at Arbroath.
Caley Thistle have traditionally taken a while to get their season up and running.
Last season was tough with boss John Robertson’s compassionate leave in February seeing Neil McCann come in on an interim basis and, along with help from Dodds, their late push saw them miss out on the play-offs by three points.
Robertson’s team before that had a mountain of fixtures of catch up on and had several senior injuries disrupting form and consistency.
With a settled coaching team in place and Robertson in as sporting director, Esson explained that there will be no stone left unturned as the club aim high in the Championship.
He stressed: “We have come together as a coaching staff and we know we have a really good chance this year. We’ve a tight-knit ground and we aim to start the season well.
“From January until the end of the season is when we really hit form. In one way, maybe that’s the best time for that to happen. You don’t want to reach the play-offs not in form.
“We maybe just give ourselves a little but too much to do. If we can turn just three pre-Christmas draws in to wins then that’s another six points on the board. Then if we can hit the form we usually hit after New Year then we will give ourselves a real chance.
“I’m not going to come out and reveal what our in-house goals are, but we will definitely try and be competitive in every single game.
“We want to be on top of our game from the first day. We’ll do everything we can off the pitch to prepare the boys so they can be on top of their game come match day.”