The 2016/17 Maryfield League was all about one team this season, East Craigie Swifts. The Scottish Cup quarter finalists went through the entire domestic season unbeaten, as they added three trophies to the Craigie Park trophy cabinet. YFS caught up with manager Steven Fallon to find out about their super season.
In previous seasons, Broughty United had dominated the 2001 age group, but over the course of the summer, Broughty United became East Craigie Swifts. As Alan Partridge once said, “They’ve rebadged it you fool!”. Fallon explains the move.
“I just wanted to give the boys a pathway into the junior game.
“I know Craig and Sean well (East Craigie managers) and trust them that if my boys are playing well then, they will get a chance with the junior team.
“We work close together, train on same nights and on occasion together, so my boys get exposure to a better standard of player.
“We also have better facilities to train on and a home ground.
“Hopefully it will benefit the whole club in the future.”
Despite their success in previous seasons, Fallon’s aims for his squad were simple.
“We aim to play attacking football on the ground and improve all the boys that play for us.
“Also, to enjoy it. If boys at our age don’t enjoy it they will stop playing.”
Clearly the manager’s message was well received by the players, as they won all 16 of their league games and picked up both local cups.
No Dundee club at any age group went further in the Scottish Cup than East Craigie Swifts, and it was one of their Scottish Cup ties that was Fallon’s highlight of the season.
“The best moment was without a doubt beating East Kilbride away from home in the Scottish Cup in extra time.
“They have just won a tough league in Glasgow, have amazing facilities and we managed to beat them 2-1 in with Reece Lornie scoring with the last kick of the ball to clinch victory.
“I have never seen us battle and work so hard to get a victory.”
East Craigie finished 19 points clear of joint second Ferry Athletic and Fairmuir, but it was their cup final against Fairmuir, or lack of due to Fairmuir having insufficient players, that was Fallon’s most disappointing moment of the campaign.
"We had done well to reach the final and were looking forward to playing against our closest rivals so to get that taken away from us was hard to take.
“It was very disappointing as we had reached two finals so my intention was to start every player in at least one final.
“Obviously, it was the same for both teams but it was not our decision to not play or reschedule the game so for that I really feel for our players.”
East Craigie eventually got their cup final in what was the final game of the DDYFA season. They fired eight goals past Forfar Boys, with striker Keir Gardiner finding the net five times.
Gardiner is the solo striker in East Craigie’s set up, and while many teams would look for a target man in that position, Gardiner’s pace and work rate cause defenders more problems than a target man ever could. Fallon was full of praise for the striker, who has 35 goals to his name this season.
“He’s had a really good season.
“If you added all his goals up they’d probably be about 20 yards out.
“The amount of goals he scores in and about the box is quite incredible.
“He’s always in and around there looking to finish things off.”
Despite finding the net 35 times in 27 games, Gardiner couldn’t think of a favourite goal.
“Probably the couple against Fairmuir. It was a big game, so probably them because they were important.
“Or the one’s against Ferry, I’ve not really got a standout one.”
Despite Gardiner’s goal scoring exploits, Fallon insists that East Craigie’s success is very much a team effort.
“We have a good balance about the squad with a lot of boys who can play various positions.
“They are all important and have all contributed so much at different times this season.
“We have good defenders, good passers, hard workers, players who create chances and players who finish them.”
One player that received praise from both his manager and his teammates was goalkeeper Charlie Kennedy.
Captain Aidan Mcirvine had this to say about East Craigie’s number one.
“He’s played every game, stopped a lot of goals and made a lot of good saves.”
Fallon was also full of praise for the keeper who conceded just 13 goals in the league this season.
“He had a difficult season last season Charlie and he’s come back this season, made himself number one and secured his spot.
“He’s done really well, he’s been really consistent and had a good season.
“He doesn’t get a lot of praise because we attack a lot, but everything we ask him to do he does well.”
While Fallon was full of praise for his players, captain Mcirvine was full of praise for his manager, citing him as one of the key reasons for East Craigie’s success.
“When I came here I wasn’t that good at football, but coming here every Sunday and winning 5-0, 7-0, it’s down to the manager really.
As for Gardiner, he put the team’s success down to their belief in one and other.
“Everyone’s full of confidence and we’re all behind each other. We’ve got good chemistry and I think that’s contributed to it.”
East Craigie were beaten just twice this season, by Blue Brazil in the East Region Cup, and on penalties in a Scottish Cup classic by eventual winners Tynecastle. And these were two matches that Fallon felt he and the squad learned from.
“I don’t class the Tynecastle game as a defeat as it was on penalties!
“We learned that two things really, that we can compete with the best teams in Scotland on our day and that we can bounce back from it and not let it affect us.”
Looking ahead to next season, Gardiner knows that maintaining this season’s high standards will be crucial if East Craigie are to keep lifting silverware.
“We’ve just got to go out next season and do the same as we’ve done next season and keep working hard.”
And Fallon believes that this group of players is well equipped to go and challenge at the highest level in the coming years.
“The boys have been absolutely tremendous every time we train, they are always available on a Sunday, they’re always up for it.
“If we keep going, keep together and keep improving, I think we’ve shown we can mix with the best boys clubs in Scotland.
“It’s just whether we can take it to that next level and be a wee bit better than them, that’s what we’re aiming to be.
“I think the boys are the same as me, they’re always looking to be better, always looking to achieve more.
“We will just keep trying to get better as a team and individually and keep taking friendlies against the likes of Blue Brazil.”
Fallon had one final message for the East Craigie players and parents.
“I hope you remember going a whole domestic season with a 100% record for a long time to come and you all enjoyed it, as a treble at any level is brilliant.
“You deserve everything for all your hard work and consistency throughout the season.
“The boys are fantastically supported and I would like to thank the parents, grandparents, family and friends for all the transporting, cleaning of kits, fundraising and backing me as a coach in my decisions throughout the season.”
Having seen East Craigie Swifts on several occasions this season, against teams from Dundee and sides from further afield, I can say that they are the best team in Dundee at any age group. Some of the football they have played this season has been magnificent and against Tynecastle, they showed that they can cut it with the very best Scotland has to offer.
East Craigie’s success comes from the simplicity of their play. The defenders defend, the midfielders are excellent with the ball, the wingers are direct and the strikers are clinical.
Next season, it will take a monumental effort from the other sides to dethrone East Craigie domestically, while the current champions will be setting their sights on the East Region and Scottish Cups. If they can get a bit of luck with the cup draws, then there’s no reason they can’t reach the latter rounds of these competitions, and potentially add even more trophies to the Craigie Park trophy cabinet.
East Craigie Swifts 2001s Invincible Squad: Charlie Kennedy, Aidan Mcirvine (c), Reece Lornie, Rhys Beattie, Leon Gibson, Finlay Baird, Ethan Bannon, Max Flucker, Jordan Conway, Euan Fallon, Ewan Faulkner, Josh McLaughlin, Callum McCleary, Cameron Christie, Keir Gardiner, Hayden Burr, Brandon Donnelly