Thursday 28th July 2022
ONLY Stevie Farrell and his coaching staff know where it is.
But somewhere, there is a room which has become their Room 101.
Where all the disappointments, wounds and ultimate disappointment of season 2021/22 with Dumbarton have been stored, and will remain.
And it is an exercise that they hope can lead to the 2022/23 campaign being spent on cloud nine instead.
A full day of analysis of the previous season, and then thud – the book closed. And another one opened.
Not all of the changes that have taken place at Dumbarton Football Stadium over the close season have involved the playing squad. Additions have been made to club staff, alterations have been made to the post-match regime.
They are changes which Stevie did not have time to make when he first came back to Sons as manager 14 months ago.
And although he admits he is not one for looking back at things, he is confident that those changes will bear fruit, in the form of a decent season.
Speaking to dumbartonfootballclub.com, Stevie said: “There is a saying ‘look back, but never stare’, and that is my motto in life. You can learn from looking back and that is exactly what we have done.
“After the season ended, myself, Frank McKeown and Eric Phillips sat down and looked at everything. Not just the players.
“We looked at everything that could help us improve and analysed it all. Over a full day, we looked at every statistic from last season.
“And then we left last season in that room that day.
“We came out looking at everything with a plan of action on what we needed to move forward into this season, and that is what we have done since then.
“We now see things like what a sports scientist (Matty Fenwick) and video analyst (Stephen Gray) can bring to us in terms of professionalising the club.
“We have people supplying meals after the games – all the small things that routinely happen at big clubs who have these things at their disposal, but not necessarily at smaller clubs.
“We wanted the players to feel a professional environment, because last year we were always chasing our tails.
“The priority was getting bums on seats. We did not have the time to get all those things in place last year but the break has given us the opportunity to reflect and move forward.”
One change which has involved the playing side of the club has been the transition of captain from Stuart Carswell to Ryan McGeever.
Carswell had been captain for three seasons before the change was announced late last month after a full discussion between manager and player.
McGeever has yet to get on the pitch, but is close to doing so, and the manager feels he will be an asset in the role.
He said: “As part of our reflections about last season, I had an honest conversation with Stuart, a good conversation.
“I have massive respect for him and I would like to think that is reciprocated. I was honest with him and said that I thought it was the best thing for the club and for him personally.
“I have liked Ryan’s qualities as a player, and his integrity and humbleness, as well as his real spirit while he has been injured.
“He has always been encouraging the players and that is difficult with a long-term injury like he has had.
“Sometimes you can be hacked off with your own journey, but he was the ideal candidate to take the role on and the early signs are that it has been the right call.”
Being newly-relegated into what is now cinch League Two is a reality Stevie is now confronting for the second time.
But the first of those occasions was enforced. Stranraer were bottom of League One with nine games of season 2019/20 left.
Then Covid struck, the league was declared, and the Stair Park outfit were relegated. They bounced back by reaching the top four.
Dumbarton cannot claim such bad luck in being relegated into the fourth tier for the coming season – something the manager readily admits.
But as we sit in his office ahead of the opening Premier Sports Cup tie against Stirling Albion, he is happy with where things stand.
He said: “Stranraer were four points from safety with nine games remaining, and I felt they had a chance.
“But we deserved what we got last year, and I take full responsibility for it.
“In terms of looking forward to this season, only two years ago we were in the league with Stranraer, so we know a lot of the teams and that has been important in building a squad.
“We had to get a balance of players who were already here against what we needed to bring in, and I think we have got that balance right.
“The proof will be in the pudding, but we are confident, although we feel we need to bring in another one.”
So will it lead to a 150th anniversary season which will go down in the club’s history for the right reasons?
Stevie said: “We feel that the squad is as strong as anybody over the course of 36 games. We feel we will be up to the challenge and we feel we have a chance of being successful this year if things go our way.
“You need a stroke of luck in any season, and also good luck with injuries. Cove Rangers won our league last season but they did not have any major injuries – all of their big players stayed on the pitch.
“We are going to need that as well. We will need our big players to stay free of injuries. I don’t think we had that last year, but if we have got everybody fit and healthy that will boost us.
“I feel I let the club down with the league position last year, and that is not me trying to be popular. I would like to do the right thing by the club and have a really successful season.
“I will be working tirelessly with the coaching team to ensure we get everything out of this group of players.”
There is one fixture which may stand out on Sons’ fixture calendar to those on the outside looking in.
On Saturday, September 10, Stevie will return to Stranraer, but spend the afternoon in the unfamiliar surroundings of the away dugout.
He did sit there for a Challenge Cup tie with Dumbarton in 2016 as Stevie Aitken’s assistant, but this will be his first time there in overall charge of a visiting team.
But does it bother him? Not one bit.
He added: “I am not an emotional person – you can ask my family that.
“I had fantastic times at Stranraer, but I am sure they would expect me to say that everything I do on Saturday, September 10 will be about Dumbarton.
“That is just the way life goes. I am not looking forward to that game any more than I am looking forward to the other 35 league games.
“I am not looking at any fixture with any sense of emotion or reflection. Jamie Hamill will be the same – we worked together at Stranraer. He was my captain, I made him coach and he became manager after me.
“He will want to get one over on me, and I will want the same.”
Dumbarton Football Club