They only worked together for 18 months so it was surprising to hear Jim McIntyre nominate Tommy Burns as having a major impact on his career.
But in his hour of glory the Ross County manager has made special mention of the late former Celtic midfielder, who was his manager for a spell at Reading in the late 1990s. McIntyre would like to think he was looking down on the scenes at Hampden on Sunday while rubbing his eyes to check it really was who he thought it was making history with County.
“If he was looking down at us winning this cup he would have a smile on his face,” said McIntyre. “Without any shadow of a doubt. He would probably think, ‘ooof, I never saw him being a manager’…”
McIntyre might have seemed an unlikely manager back then. But he has developed into one capable of achieving something as improbable as County winning a major honour, which they did on Sunday with a 2-1 win over Hibernian. He also rehabilitated himself at Queen of the South after being sacked at Dunfermline, when he feared he might not have further opportunity to put Burns’ advice into practice.
“I only worked with him at Reading for 18 months,” said McIntyre. “But he made such a big impression. It wasn’t a great time in my career. He signed me for good money and I kept picking up injuries. I didn’t do great for him at all, but I learned a hell of a lot.”
McIntyre played under the likes of Bobby Williamson at Kilmarnock and Alex Smith at Dundee United but he credits Burns with impressing upon him the importance of obtaining his coaching badges – as did Smith later at Tannadice.
Like Smith, Burns was a “fantastic football man” according to McIntyre. He could be fiery at times but then passion was a mark of someone who put so much into life, tragically short though it was. Burns died eight years ago in May after a battle with skin cancer.
McIntyre was one of seven players – a number including five Scots – signed by Burns on transfer deadline day in England in 1998.
The manager himself had been in the post for barely a day and the signing splurge – after which Burns said Reading owner John Madjeski needed “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” – did not pay off, with Reading relegated from the First to Second Division.
McIntyre’s spell at Reading was also interrupted by injury that caused frustration for fans expecting great things from a striker who cost a relatively large fee of £420,000 from Kilmarnock. But the player himself took advantage of his time spent on the sidelines.
“I hadn’t done any coaching badges until I worked with Tommy at Reading,” revealed McIntyre. “Tommy just had that knack of knowing how to make people better. I don’t just mean as a footballer, but as a person as well. And he did it without preaching. He was a fantastic human being and I was really privileged to work with him.
“Listen, he was a firebrand as well. If you didn’t do your job right he would rip you to shreds. But it was passion.
“The next day he would pick you back up and you would go again. Alex Smith was also instrumental in encouraging me to do my coaching badges when I expressed an interest. Alex was another fantastic football man who I still speak to regularly.”
But Burns taught McIntyre lessons that were discernible in County’s performance on Sunday.
“In terms of coaching and getting the ball down and play with width and get people wanting the ball, his message was not to be scared of the ball,” explained McIntyre. “Whatever your role was within the team he wanted you to go and make things happen. He was annoyed if people were shirking their responsibility. If you were a wide player he wanted you to take a man on.”
McIntrye knows he and his players cannot afford to celebrate their League Cup win too wildly. Not yet, at least. They are back in action again tomorrow in the league at St Johnstone.
McIntyre has not imposed strict rules on the players with regards to partying because he already trusts them implicitly.
He went from being as low as he has felt as Ross County manager to reaching what some contend is the pinnacle for such a club in eight short days. That ability to redeem themselves says everything about the strength of character of the players and also underlines McIntyre’s own motivational powers.
“Last weekend losing in the Scottish Cup to Dundee United was the sorest one I’ve had as Ross County manager,” he said, with reference to the 3-2 home defeat. “That was up there as one of my lowest weekends in football. The manner of the game and the fact we were masters of our downfall.
“But then we bounce back and take the cup back up the road. I trust my players completely. If one of them comes to me and says ‘gaffer I need to miss training because I feel a bit tight’ then they miss it. It’s important to have that bond between the manager and player.”