John McGlynn back in the old routine with Raith Rovers
“There is a whole generation, maybe even two generations, that have missed out on one of these special meetings. And when the clubs face each other in the Scottish Cup, because it is so rare, they are that,” said the Rovers manager. “The hope is that because it isn’t on the telly, more supporters will want to come out and we will get a real crowd into Stark’s Park. This is a fiercely contested derby, though a little more friendly than the Glasgow derby, and my hope is we can have two teams giving everything, supporters proving passionate – but not overstepping the mark for their behaviour – and, with all these strands, create a day to remember for the footballing folk in the Fife kingdom.”
McGlynn is five months into his second spell at Rovers. In his first, a five-and-a-half year tenure between 2006 and 2012 that ended when he was spirited away by Hearts, he provided plenty moments to savour.
The 57-year-old has essentially been tasked with replicating the achievements on the league front from his original stint. Then, as now, Rovers were stuck in the third tier. By the time the irresistible offer came from Tynecastle, he had earned promotion and crafted a campaign wherein the Kirkcaldy club seriously pushed for the top flight… only to come off second best in a scrap with Dunfermline. “I’m back to do it all again,” said McGlynn, not flippantly but with a sense of quiet intent.
The itch to coach again resulted in him leaving a post of chief scout at Celtic from which he derived so much enjoyment across three years. It was just not of the kind that slipping on a tracksuit and going to work can provide.
“My experience with Celtic was great, brilliant, I learned so much,” he said. “But I felt I had unfinished business in management. It was still inside me that I was a coach and a manager and I just had to bring it back out again; work with players again every day, work on tactics and formations and feel that delight at winning and despair at losing. Those elements stir me as deeply as they ever did.”
In terms of reviving Rovers once more, what McGlynn couldn’t reasonably be expected to do is repeat his Scottish Cup feat of 2010 at Stark’s Park. Then he led the club to the semi-finals, which required them to upset Dundee and Aberdeen on the way. A quarter-final replay success at Pittodrie, when the fates seemed to conspire against them as they lost a host of key players, remains a “great memory”. Not only for the man himself but clearly for Rovers. For it earned them a last-four tie in the competition at Hampden for the only time in the past 56 years. Eventual winners Dundee United proved too much for them in that match-up, but the run ensures McGlynn always sees cups as having the potential to present unexpected possibilities.
Yet he has also learned these need not always be of the desirable variety. McGlynn has twice helmed clubs to cup semi-final success, only to be removed from position before the finals those efforts earned had rolled around. It happened when he was sacked by Hearts weeks before their League Cup final loss to St Mirren in 2013, and then when Livingston replaced him not long before their Challenge Cup triumph of 2015.
“It was intensely disappointing on both occasions,” he said. “When you get a team into a cup final, of course you want to get the chance to lead them there. You feel you have that right, but it was what it was, and is what it is. You dust yourself down, and move on.”
Many of Rovers’ followers are thinking their club could make major moves on their Fife adversaries come Saturday. They are second in League One to runaway leaders Arbroath, while Dunfermline’s travails in the Championship cost management team of Allan Johnston and Sandy Clark their jobs last week. The East End Park club have subsequently restructured their football set-up, with Stevie Crawford promoted to head coach, Greg Shields drafted in as his assistant and another former player Jackie McNamara given a consultancy role. The timing “adds spice” to the club tie, believes McGlynn, and also a certain “awkwardness” to Rovers’ preparations.
“It gives us only one game to watch them under Stevie, so you can’t know how much they will really change from how the team was focused previously,” he said. “There is an element of the unknown about it, certainly, but we must just concentrate on ourselves.”
McGlynn doesn’t baulk at the idea that there could be little to choose between the teams, which are both full-time. And that this could provide a pointer to what he is desperate to ensure will be the challenges Rovers are facing next season.
“If you look at the last two winners of League One, you would be entitled to think there isn’t a great deal of difference in the quality of the two divisions. Ayr United came up last year and look at them now. Livingston won promotion the season before and look at where they are now. That gives us hope that, if we can somehow get up this year, we can zip up to the top of the string when it comes to Rovers being one of those yo-yo clubs, which there is no denying they are. Short term and long term, this Fife derby can tell us a lot about ourselves.”