The G Taylor League saw one of the closest runs title races in Dundee as Dryburgh Athletic clinched the league title on the final day of the season. They also lifted the Tommy Clark Trophy and the Jean Pierre Babin Cup as they completed a domestic treble. We caught up with captain Aidan Nelson and top goal scorer Ewan Stewart to find out about their super season.
Dryburgh’s success this season highlights a powershift in the 2002 age group. Two years ago, Fairmuir completed the treble, at Dryburgh’s expense. Nelson was part of that squad, and he explains how he and his teammates managed to turn the tables on their nearest rivals.
“We work hard for each other. We all can’t play well at the same time and it is all our job to work even harder when we see a teammate struggling. It is my responsibility as a captain to push all the players to work as hard as they can and my responsibility to work hard every game to set an example for the whole squad.
“On top of that we have some very talented players defensively and offensively. In goal, we have, in my opinion, the best keeper in the league in Aaron Cosgrove. We also have Aaron Flynn in defence who has had a fantastic season for what seems like every year since we came up to 11-a-side.
“In midfield, we have fantastic depth with Marcus Gray who is a rock in the middle of the park, Ross Mcnaughton who always seemed to score when it mattered most and Dylan Smeaton who created chance after chance down the left-hand side.
“But our main strength is our squad. Whoever comes in works as hard as they can for the team. No player in our team could do it by themselves and we know that.”
13 of Dryburgh’s treble winning squad were part of the side that lost out to Fairmuir two years ago. Striker Ewan Stewart was one of the players they brought in at the beginning of the 2015/16 season, and he has flourished into one of the most dangerous forwards in the league over the past two years.
His 48 goals were instrumental in Dryburgh’s success, and there was one goal that sticks out in his mind as the best of the bunch.
“My first in the game against Fairmuir back in March. It was nine minutes in and it was enough to settle the nerves. We knew the title was on then.”
Dryburgh ended the season three points ahead of second place Fairmuir, and in the end, it was their two wins over the Graham Street side that clinched the title.
The sides met in the quarter final of the Tommy Clark Trophy just before Christmas, and it was this game, that was decided by a penalty shootout, that was Nelson’s highlight of the season.
“The strength and determination shown by the team to grind out a 2-2 draw even though we were not at our best really showed why we achieved so much this year.
“Again, we came from behind in the penalty shootout, but thanks to our brilliant goalkeeper we managed to bring it to 3-3, which meant if we scored our penalty we’d be winners. Ross Mcnaughton took our final penalty and as if under no pressure calmly rolled it into the corner for us to grab the win. It was a great moment which showed the strength of our team.”
Striker Stewart explained what has given Dryburgh the edge in the big matches this season.
“Our fitness levels and desire to win gave us the edge. We wanted it more.”
As for the captain, he made it clear why Dryburgh have had the edge over Fairmuir.
“We’re better than them.”
Dryburgh’s only domestic defeat came against Logie Harp, and Nelson felt that the games against the side that finished fourth in the league were some of the toughest of the season.
“We suffered our first defeat in about 18 months against them, although we had had a serious lack of preparation before this match, they were the better team on the day.
“The next time we played them was in the cup and we managed a 1-0 win. However, the score didn’t really represent just how well we played to beat them. We had to be at our very best to beat this team and thankfully we were.”
As for Stewart, he thought that Tynecastle were their most testing opponents of the season.
“They were a big physical side that could also play football.”
While Stewart and Nelson have grabbed the headlines for their performances this season, the captain picked out fullback Kalin Jones as his unsung hero of the season.
“Kalin shows up every week and does the job he is asked to do. He constantly puts in a shift and sometimes doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.
“In the first cup final, he was one of our best players and was always calm on the ball when others were panicking. Whoever plays in front of Kalin, he seems to form a good partnership with and always seem to play well with them.”
As for Stewart, he was full of praise for midfielder Jamie Gelly.
“Jamie is a very consistent performer who has chipped in with vital goals at vital times. He plays in the same school team as well and to win four cups and a league in one season is a real achievement. He’s had a great season.”
Despite Dryburgh completing a domestic clean sweep, the 2002 age group is one of the most competitive in Dundee, and captain Nelson knows that he and his teammates will be taking nothing for granted in the coming seasons.
“It became clear at the end of the season that quite a few teams were making huge improvements so I think next year the league will be very open and a lot more challenging than the past two years.
“As a team, I think the only way we could do better is to improve on our Scottish Cup run from last year where we reached the Last 16. If we make a few good signings I think going further in the Scottish Cup is a reasonable goal that we could achieve.
“It’s up to us to continue improving, continue winning and hopefully carry our success into next season.”
48-goal Stewart is also well aware of the tests waiting for Dryburgh next season.
“Fairmuir will be strong again I’m sure, but there are teams strengthening over the summer so I expect maybe one or two other teams to be up there challenging also.
“As a team winning the treble again would be a real achievement. Personally, I hope to have more game time so I can get more goals and be top goal scorer again at Dryburgh.”
With the season finally done and dusted, Nelson had this message for his teammates and coaches.
“Although this season we had incredible success in all competitions, it is still clear that improvements have to be made individually and as a team for us to really challenge for the Scottish Cup. Which this season has showed should now be our main goal.”
While Stewart added: “See you all at pre-season!”
There isn’t much for me to say about this Dryburgh team that hasn’t already been said. Having seen them in their biggest matches this season, there is a confidence amongst their players that no other team they have faced seem to have.
In their two cup finals, they weren’t at their best, but there was an inevitability that they would eventually get the win. It has been their ability to grind out wins without being at the best that has seen them lift three trophies this season.
While Fairmuir ran them close for the league title, Dryburgh always had the upper hand when the two went head to head. While there isn’t much between both sets of players, Dryburgh have a stronger unit, and in Aidan Nelson, Ross Mcnaughton and Ewan Stewart, have three players more than capable of producing a moment of magic to win any match. Add into that, the strength in depth in their squad is unmatched by any other team in the league.
Next season, they will be the favourites to win the league and domestic cups, a title that they deserve, but one that will bring about a fair amount of pressure. As their players have said, with the other teams strengthening, the title race may well be a close-run thing, and this season has shown that every team in the 2002 age group can cause an upset in the cup competitions. If any side manages to finish above Dryburgh, then they will likely be the champions.
In the Scottish Cup, they were comfortably beaten by Tynecastle. That is the standard they have to reach and surpass to succeed at the top level. If they can bring in a couple of quality additions, that might just be a possibility.
In the East Region Cup, there are plenty of strong teams, and Dryburgh are one of them. If they get a favourable draw, there is no reason they can’t go and reach the latter rounds of, and maybe even win, that competition.
Dryburgh Athletic 2002s Treble Winners: Aaron Cosgrove, Ryan McKay, Ross Mcnaughton, Marcus Gray, Ewan Stewart, Ben Wilson, Sol Heary, Daryl Tosh, Keillor Lowe, Cory Finnigan, Jamie Gelly, Aidan Nelson (c), Kalin Jones, Arron Flynn, Brandon Mcginnis, Dylan Smeaton