My youngsters passed a true test of character

Craig Easton writes a fortnightly column for The Fife Free Press.
Craig Easton writes a fortnightly column for The Fife Free Press.

To become a professional athlete, there is no doubt that you have to have a certain amount of ability, and this can vary from player to player.

However, there are many characteristics that are needed for players to make the most of their talent and for me, these are minimum requirements. Dedication, application, resilience, making sacrifices - basically living like an elite footballer and doing everything in your power that you can control to try to become one. And it’s not easy. I tell this to every young player I coach.

At the start of the season, I made it clear to all of the new recruits in the Development Squad that they’ll be challenged physically, psychologically and emotionally, and how they react to, and learn from these experiences, will stand them in good stead further down the line.

Football is tough and I think you learn more about yourself as a player and a coach when you’re taken out of your comfort zone - it’s surprising what can be achieved individually and as a group if you have the right mindset.

A freak injury and another HGV driver with a dangerous disregard for Forth Road Bridge wind restrictions, meant that our most recent game against Stirling Albion provided an environment where most of the qualities mentioned above were put to the test.

With four starters (including goalkeeper Rory Brian) stuck in horrendous traffic, my game prep went out of the window in terms of the starting 11. That was flung into further disarray when our substitute keeper injured his ankle in the warm-up and centre half Josh MacDonald valiantly stepped up to take his place.

A slight delay in the kick-off allowed us to field 11 men as Fife Elite’s Euan Valentine made it in the nick of time. Usually a left back, but without hesitation, Euan took Josh’s place alongside me at centre half. Centre midfielder, James Berry, filled in at right back for the first time and first team attacker, Joel Coustrain, did a job at left back to complete a very makeshift back four. It was almost like a kick-about, asking the players where they wanted to play, and they took responsibility.

In the first half, Josh made two magnificent saves and was a constant voice encouraging and helping those in front of him. He certainly rose to the challenge and deserved a first half clean sheet as we went into the break level at 0-0.

We made a couple of changes at half-time as the rest of the lads turned up, with Rory taking his place in goal and Josh resuming his usual partnership at the heart of the defence with Dave McKay. This allowed Euan to go to left back and Joel right wing, which meant, positionally, we were back to a slightly more normal shape.

We started to control the midfield and a well worked move involving Jonny Court, Coustrain and Berry down the right ended with up Yaw Osei spectacularly heading home James’s superb cross.

Nine minutes later, we doubled our lead with Ryan Stevenson jnr smashing home a right footed shot into the top corner after some more good link play around the edge of the area.

Stirling had a few chances of their own, but we defended well as a team and deserved the three points. However it was the way the lads pulled together, focused on the game and didn’t let the extenuating circumstance affect them that really impressed me.

Despite the situation being far from ideal, dealing with adversity and actually thriving will help them to approach any similar scenario with confidence in the future. Hopefully not too soon though!