THE Highland hospitality was in generous supply from Jim McIntyre at Dingwall the other day.
Lunch in the players’ canteen was offered up – delicious home-made soup, no white bread, no carbonated drinks – and ample opportunity supplied to shoot the breeze with the Ross County manager and his assistant Billy Dodds in an atmosphere of genuine conviviality.
Maybe it is unfair, but it would be difficult to see such a scene being played out under previous manager Derek Adams, a curiously cold character sacked last month because club owner Roy MacGregor wanted to take the club in a “different direction”. Adams questioned what he meant by that in a radio interview last week. The deposed manager then offered up his own answers, stating that the plan was for County to become more of a “community club” who would introduce “bouncy castles and face-painters” to enhance the family matchday experience.
To Adams, this represented retrenchment after he, along with his father George Adams (who lost his job as director of football), had performed wonders in making the Dingwall side genuine players in the Scottish game. There is no question he did, hauling them through two divisions and posting fifth-place and seventh-place top-flight finishes in the past two years. McIntyre is not slow to acknowledge that.
“I don’t think anyone can question Derek’s results. He’s done a fabulous job here,” he said. “You have to give him praise for that but the chairman wants to go in a different direction and with the start to the season he obviously felt the need to make change. I do think there’s been a lot of activity in the transfer windows and for me we need to get some continuity. Any club I’ve been at, I want to make two or three changes a season, not wholesale changes every year. Most of the players here are on one-year contracts.”
Adams’ reliance on an ever-changing collection of overseas players certainly diluted the club’s identity. He countered this week that focusing on the first-team at the exclusion of all other concerns underpinned County’s rise.
It is not to be McIntyre’s way, but that places the new manager in an odd position. It is unlikely he can better Adams’ achievements at senior level.
McIntyre has been tasked with pursuing a wholly alternative approach to that followed by the Adams father-and-son team. The change of course at County has shades of the situation with Ronny Deila at Celtic about it, then.
McIntyre is already making his presence felt, according to County’s on-loan midfielder Filip Kiss. “Every manager is different but from my point of view he has brought some professionalism to the club which is going to help us get results,” the Slovakian said. “There are lots of positives. I hope it can help get us to a better position in the league table. He has brought his own staff as well, his own way of thinking about football. He has tried to give it to us.
“He has brought in some new staff. ‘Higgy’ [Ross Hughes] has come in to do sports science and having that helps a lot, especially preparing for the game, and with recovery. And they spent some money as well, to bring in some new things and aid our recovery. It is quite important for the players. It helps us to prepare better for the game.”
McIntyre is willing to take a holistic view that might not produce instant results because of his unstinting belief in modern methods. The former Dundee United, Dunfermline and Reading forward still wears a heart-monitor watch given to him at the English club 14 years ago because then manager Alan Pardew demanded his players do “post-match recovery runs” on their Sundays off. He admits to being taken aback that no aspects of sport science figured in the management of players’ fitness at County before his arrival.
“Without a shadow of a doubt [sports science techniques] would have made me better if I’d experienced them earlier,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer at any club. I was surprised when we came in the door and it wasn’t there. As far back as 2000 under Alan Pardew, we were working on bungee ropes for speed, proper programmes, and different ideas. Now at County we have Ross Hughes here and he’s different class. Everything is individualised, right down to the position you play. For example, the striker will maybe do a bit more upper body work because he’ll have to fend off defenders, whereas the wingers will maybe be working more on speed.
“I had him at Dunfermline and Queen’s before, on a part-time basis there, but the players all bought in and the facility at Broadwood lent itself to doing extra. That’s a big part of it, having the facility where you can go to the gym in the morning before training. It’s also about trust in your players. We set up the programmes, they’re monitored by Ross, but it’s important they do it on their own schedule, as long as they do their three sessions.
“We were surprised too there wasn’t a goalkeeping coach either – it’s a specialised position, it’s not something I can teach them. And we were delighted to get Thommo [Scott Thomson] in, a guy who’s worked at the highest level, and you can clearly see the two keepers are buzzing. Mark [Brown] was coaching and playing and you can’t work as hard doing both. He needs to be staying sharp and fighting for a place in the team rather than taking the sessions. The chairman is buying into everything I’ve asked to make sure we’re improving, and we’re constantly moving forward.
“We didn’t really have a head of youth either, so Stevie Ferguson has gone back to that post. But it takes a long time. Falkirk probably have the best model in the country – that was set up by guys like Ross Wilson 15 years ago. There are kids who travel two hours to come here for training but we need to make sure we’re channelling it all in the right direction. Fergie will lead that, but he’ll still be there on a Saturday for us as well. I know him well and I’m delighted he’s still here.
“He’s determined to make a success of the development side. And he will. Whether I’m here to see it or it’s someone else, who knows. It’s the future of the club and it’s the right thing to do. And any time you take on a job, whether your results are good or bad, the one thing you have to try to do is leave the club in a better place than you found it.”
Adams can claim to have done that, in a first-team context. For McIntyre to improve the senior side again at Dingwall is a daunting task. Even keeping them up will be all of that.
His work with Queens, though, demonstrated he has an eye for a player, capacity to develop native talents and an ability to battle through adversity. Right now, though, he accepts winning this afternoon is what counts. Any new import will be made aware of that.
“They’ll be well schooled, told what’s what,” offered McIntyre bluntly. He will make sure that is the case in every aspect of County players’ professional life from now on.