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Scoring drives John Mcleod as ex-Buckie striker makes Inverness Athletic playing comeback after hip ordeal similar to Andy Murray

John Mcleod celebrates scoring for Buckie Thistle, where he won the Highland League title.
John Mcleod celebrates scoring for Buckie Thistle, where he won the Highland League title.

Former Buckie Thistle goal machine John Mcleod is thrilled to be back in the game with Inverness Athletic – and he says any pain felt is more than soothed by his desire to hit the net again.

The 34-year-old former Buckie, Brora Rangers and Fort William striker has been out of the sport for more than four years, with a hip injury appearing to have put paid to his playing career.

But, after being helped by physio – and former Ross County, Clach and Nairn County defender – Sean Webb, Mcleod was persuaded by Athletic manager Stuart Ross to sign for the ambitious North Caledonian League club, who are currently based in North Kessock.

Overall, he’s had two operations on his right hip and one on the left hip, with long-lasting pain issues not dissimilar to those endured by Scottish tennis star Sir Andy Murray.

Mcleod is a legend with Buckie fans after a stunning haul of 46 goals in the 2016/17 campaign helped the Jags land the Highland League title.

Another memorable Mcleod achievement was when he netted five against Gretna in the Scottish Cup during the same season, a feat which saw him named BBC Scotland Off the Ball’s player of the round, while he also made it into team of the year in the cup two years running, boosted by a treble scored against BSC Glasgow.

Scoring 46 goals for Buckie Thistle in 2016/17 earned John McLeod the Highland League top scorer award.

The ever-hungry forward admits it has been a tough, ongoing road back from the seemingly-insurmountable hip problem, but he is glad he is back on the pitch again.

He said: “I played a couple of games in an unofficial winter league.

“The recovery is still not great. For example, if I trained, I wouldn’t be able to play at weekends, so I am still miles off any level, but through the amateur season I was still scoring goals and enjoying it.

“I had a wee bit more time to myself, so it was good to have something to focus on and enjoy with my friends.

“My hip is still not great. I played 40 minutes on Saturday against Caley Thistle’s under-18s. We beat them 3-1 and I’m claiming an assist, because I hit the crossbar and it got headed home.

“Physically, I felt miles off it.

“I took a couple of heavy tackles. I’m not as sore as I was previously. I’m still sore.

“Recovery takes longer, but the enjoyment is still there. It was good to be involved in it again.

“I’m 34 and there are boys at Athletic who are 17 or 18. I’m double their ages, which is pretty crazy, but it shows the structure at the club is so good for these boys to be competing.”

Star would love one more Buckie goal

Mcleod is back where it all started, in the North Caledonian League, but he also hopes he can – even just for one day – pull on the green and white Buckie hoops again and hit the net in front of the Jags supporters.

He said: “My ultimate goal was, depending on my recovery, was to play again for the teams who believed in me when I was coming through as a player.

“My first goal would have been to play for Buckie Thistle and score in front of the fans again.

“By all accounts, the under-20s might be coming back again next year, so even if I could just play for the 20s, to play for Buckie again at Victoria Park, that would tick off one of my targets.”

For now, a return to the North Caley is one full of familiar faces and teams, with Mcleod adding: “I also used to play in the North Caley and you look at Invergordon, having players such as Sean Kerr and Kyle Maclean, or St Duthus where John Skinner is still playing. I look at the teams I competed with.

“You look as well as Fort William now being in the league, where I know Darren Quigg and Iain Foggo from my time there, who are back playing. I have played for them and against them, so that was the biggest appeal to me to play in the North Caley right now.

“I wanted to come back and play on these pitches again in this league.

“I played for two-and-a-half seasons in the league when I fell out of favour at Clach. When I was 18, I played for Dingwall Thistle for two seasons then I moved on to Alness.

“I did really well in the first two seasons. In the first season, we finished second and we won a cup and I got the player of the season award. The standard was really high, which was good for me.

“In the second season, I was still scoring, but my work commitments increased and I pulled away from it a wee bit.”

Structure of Athletic was appealing

Mcleod explained Athletic’s well-structured setup made the decision to join them an easy one.

He added: “The manager Stuart Ross seen I was playing every week and he asked me along to training – I told him if I trained, I wouldn’t be able to play.

“The chairman, Sandy Stephen, is working hard to build Inverness Athletic into a big club in years to come. It’s impressive what he’s done in such a short space of time.

“That added to the excitement of it for me. They are building a really good structure, which is amazing. It’s great to now be a part of it.

“Playing football is still my passion and it’s quality to get back on the park again.

“I still feel as if I’ve got lots to prove.

“Even with the 40 minutes, I played on Saturday, I did alright, but I still came off frustrated because I didn’t score as a striker. That’s still there.

“Ultimately, I want both my girls to be at a game and see me score. I have the hat-trick ball from scoring in the Scottish Cup in the living room and they are delighted, so it would be great to see their faces when I score.”

So vital to know body’s capabilities

Mcleod is grateful to Webb for taking him through the recovery process every step of the way and he knows where the boundaries lie in terms of what he can achieve physically as a player.

He said: “I’m still with the physio, Sean Webb, who has gone through the whole process with me. He has been unbelievable.

“It’s almost about knowing your limitations, knowing the areas your hip can go to, what it’s capable of. If you are out of your comfort zone, that’s when the pain is at its worst.

Sean Webb, playing here for Clach, has helped John Mcleod come through his long recovery process.

“I have done a lot of running, so strength-wise, I feel okay. But if I look, for example, at the Buckie Thistle squad right now, I’d never be able to compete with the 18, because the intensity would be too much and they’re miles ahead physically.

“However, hopefully I can still put the ball in the back of the net.”

Enjoying key scouting role with Ross County

Although Mcleod has not been on the pitch in recent years, he’s been involved in the game at Scottish Premiership level, with Ross County.

He said: “I am a year-and-a-half into my head of academy recruitment job with Ross County and it’s really exciting.

“Carl Tremarco takes the under-16s, Gary Warren takes the under-18s, Gordon Duff is head of the academy.

“I actually played with Gordon at Dingwall Thistle, so I have those connections.”