TODAY saw deserved recognition for Kilmarnock midfielder Craig Slater, who has been awarded the Scottish Premiership Young Player of the Month for January. It is the very least the 19-year-old deserves after forcing his way into the starting line-up ahead of more experienced pros down at Rugby Park.
Usually such accolades are a clear indication that the footballer will enjoy a bright future in the game. Previous winners of the award include top class talent such as Aiden McGeady, James McCarthy and Steven Fletcher. Even those who don’t live up to the initial hype make a strong living for themselves in the game, like Calum Elliot or Liam Miller. However, there are still those players who generate a buzz around their perceived potential and then quickly disappear from sight. The Terrace Podcast looks through six former Young Player of the Month award winners who have since slipped from the Scottish top flight consciousness.
6. Stephen McPhee (St Mirren) – April 2001
A short loan stint with the Buddies was the only football Glasgow born McPhee has played north of the border. He arrived from Coventry and joined a team that were struggling to keep their heads above water in the relegation battle. In three April matches they won two and lost one, and this enough to gain manager John Hendrie the manager of the month award with McPhee earning plaudits on the playing side. Unfortunately their up-turn in form was matched by relegation rivals Dundee United and it was the Tannadice club who survived the drop.
McPhee’s inclusion in this list is somewhat harsh seeing as he’s fashioned himself a decent career and was once bought for £250,000 by Hull City. However, he’s never really come close to earning a full Scotland cap and the fact that he played in the overcrowded English lower leagues meant he was out of sight and out of mind with regards to Scottish fans and media. His one career regret should be the rejecting of a move to Wigan while he was playing for Port Vale. The Lancashire club were in the midst of their charge up the league tables and would be in the English Premier League within two years.
McPhee retired from football in 2010 after struggling with knee problems.
5. Jamie Ness (Rangers) – January 2011
It’s a little early to write off the former Ibrox midfielder but there’s no denying that his career has so far failed to take off.
The month in which Ness won the award also included his full debut in senior football when he started in Rangers’ 2-0 loss to Celtic. The 19-year old played well throughout the month and had the Ibrox faithful salivating at the prospect of Ness controlling the midfield for years to come. He then announced his arrival to a wider audience with a wonder-strike in a Scottish Cup clash against Celtic, before receiving this award the week later.
The reason why he has, so far, failed to live up to the initial hype is that he has constantly suffered with injuries. He missed most of the 2011/12 season and then was blighted by similar issues after rejecting the chance to have his contract switched over to Newco Rangers before moving to Stoke City. With first team opportunities limited at the Britannia, even when fit, he has recently moved on loan to League One Leyton Orient in a bid to get his career kick started.
4. Craig Thomson (Hearts) – September 2009
This wasted talent had nothing to do with application or injuries. The progressive right back with a stunning set-piece delivery made quite the impression after initially breaking into the Hearts team to earn this award, including starring in a 2-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa League.
It’s fair to say that he struggled to match that initial hype, even though he was beginning to show the consistency required towards the end of his Hearts playing career under Jim Jefferies. Then that story broke. There’s no need to go into details, we all know what happened. Regardless of how much people believe he should have been punished, there is no doubt that it ended his professional football career.
After Hearts wasted their chance to sack the player, he was loaned out to clubs in Lithuania for successive seasons. Following the expiration of his Hearts contract he failed to win a deal with Cypriot club AEP Paphos and decided to return to Scotland, effectively forcing his retirement.
3. Darryl Duffy (Falkirk) – October 2005
The pacey striker was a Rangers academy graduate before landing at Falkirk in 2004. Immediately he started banging in the goals at the First Division level and was the team’s top scorer as the club secured their return to the Premier League.
Playing at a higher level did not hamper his abilities with nine goals a healthy return from his first 16 games in the top flight. It did, however, attract the attention of bigger clubs and Falkirk felt pressured into selling their prized asset in January of that season; Hull snapping him up for £200,000. It didn’t work out for him at the KC Stadium though he did find his scoring touch once more when loaned out to Swansea City, then in League One. When the Welsh club made the deal permanent the goals soon dried up, a habit that then repeated itself when he dropped down into League Two to join Cheltenham.
When The Robins released him in the summer of 2013 he made an unusual career move by signing for Indian club Salgaocar. He made a fine start to life in the east with a goal in his debut against Churchill Brothers – yes, we mentioned that fact solely for the name – and is currently in contention for the league’s golden boot award.
2. Shaun Dillon (Kilmarnock) – December 2002
Dillon was given the accolade in recognition of his performances after a month where Kilmarnock won three games, took a point off Celtic and narrowly lost to Rangers. He was a strong full-back who never shirked out of a tackle and seemed to have a great future ahead of him.
Even by his accounts, Dillon wasted his chance at a life in professional football. Weight issues arose from his lack of application and discipline and it wasn’t long before he dropped out of the first team. He hung around Rugby Park for four more years but played only 24 league appearances in that time.
It started a gradual decline where he fell down the leagues and has been playing junior football in five of the last six seasons, making a brief return to the SFL with Stirling Albion in 2011. He now plays for Arthurlie and is still only 29 years old.
1. Chris McGroaty (Dunfermline) – December 2000
The left-sided midfielder was discussed as the “next big thing” in Scottish football and Celtic were rumoured to have stated an interest when he burst into the Dunfermline team in the late 90s.
The initial hype fizzled out since he couldn’t sustain the consistency required to play top flight football. Spending time in the reserves, he was moved to Clyde in the hope that he would be able to rediscover his form and confidence, but the move was fairly uneventful and he returned to his back-up role at East End Park. In the end Dunfermline gave up on a player they’d once given a long contract extension to and he joined St Mirren in 2004. His stay in Paisley didn’t last very long and he soon became one of those lower league players that is seemingly forced to find a new club every season.
He is now the current player/manager of junior side Forth Wanderers in the Central District Division.
• Article courtesy of terracepodcast.net - ‘an alternative look at the country’s beautiful game’ covering all four Scottish divisions. You can also follow @terracepodcast on Twitter.