July 16, 2015

James McKenna reveals St Anthony's put him through the hoops during

AMES McKENNA today revealed his torment as St Roch's came perilously close to dropping out of the Central First Division last season.

The long-serving gaffer – about to begin his 15th consecutive term in the hotseat – admitted to going through agonies as his players diced with the drop before securing their safety at the expense of derby rivals Benburb.

The neighbours were involved in a tense basement battle which went down to the wire and was settled when defeats in their final league matches against Dunipace and Larkhall consigned the Bens to third-bottom spot, a point worse off than the Ants.

Such a close shave left "Cotter" vowing to avoid a repeat, and he has begun beefing up his squad through the summer.

He revealed: "Our difficulties can be traced back to events that saw six players depart through work commitments last time out and left us working with a core of just 12 guys from Christmas onwards.

"Having to throw in trialists who were out of their depth saw results suffer with confidence taking a dip, and I was fearing the worst right up until Ronnie McDonald netted a 93rd-minute winner in a 2-1 away win over Lesmahagow in one of our closing matches.

"I remember coming away from Craighead Park thinking those three points could save us, however it was still particularly nervy stuff waiting to see if Benburb could then overtake us.

"Thankfully they came up short and we maintained our proud record as the only First Division side never to be relegated, however we simply must look to improve this time out even if that may be easier said than done given the strength and quality of the five new clubs coming into the First Division.

"Neilston and Thorniewood will be looking to go straight back up again, while the promoted trio of Rossvale, Johnstone Burgh and St Roch's are all teams on the rise and will fancy they can emulate what Blantyre Vics achieved last time.”

Retaining his key players – with the exception of Kieron Maxwell, who has signed for Arthurlie – made for a good start to rebuilding plans and McKenna is also delighted to have snapped up Ross Loughran (Dalry), Paul O’Brien (Postal Amateurs), Mark McQuade (Airdrie AFC) and Chris Barr (Petershill) on top of ex-Newburgh pair James Ross and Craig Houston who came on to his radar after moving down to work in Glasgow.

His hard work is showing signs of paying off, but he has been left disappointed on a number of other signing bids.

He said: "A lot of people in the game reckon St Anthony's are blessed to have such a good catchment area on our doorstep, but that only rings true if you can then get the players on board.

"Unfortunately, it tends to be the case more often than not that players I have earmarked as signing targets are likewise on the shopping lists of other Junior clubs and only last week I was feeling extremely confident about landing four of Harmony Row’s latest crop of promising youngsters only for them to move to Clydebank.

"On top of that, two players who had been looking the part in our pre-season sessions – Paul Gordon and Mark McCarry – decided their futures lay elsewhere.

"Bellshill enticed Paul, while Mark returning to Glencairn was a real kick in the teeth as we had hoped he would forge a partnership alongside Willie Duncan, who did exceptionally well to bag 16 goals in his first season as a Junior last time out.

"Finding a striker to share the scoring burden remains a priority, and hopefully we can unearth someone during our pre-season friendlies which get underway on Saturday when Cumnock come to McKenna Park.”

Meanwhile, former centre-back Stevie Milligan has replaced Danny Taylor on the coaching team, the former striker having stepped down because of work commitments.

Elsewhere, goalkeeper Ryan Mailey is on the lookout for a new club after featuring as Arthurlie No.1 Mikey White’s understudy for the majority of last season.

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Mailey, 21, who hails from East Kilbride and previously turned out for Lanark and Vale of Clyde, can be contacted on 07914 531356.

One-time Celtic defensive prospect Stephen Low has moved from Cumnock to Lesmahagow, while Glencairn manager Willie Harvey has fixed up former player Tony Fraser from Cumbernauld. Friend Link:Beats By Dre Headphones Online

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