Sauchie Juniors are finding their feet in the East Region Super League after a difficult season last term.
Exciting signings such as Collin Samuel have helped them on their way, none more so than experienced goalkeeper Bryn Halliwell, who spoke to eveningtimes.co.uk about adapting to the juniors and his hopes for the club.
Name: Bryn Halliwell
Club: Sauchie Juniors
Previous Clubs: Clyde, Dunfermline, St Johnstone, Hamilton Academical, Queen of the South, Greenock Morton, Forfar Athletic, Partick Thistle
After 11 years in the senior ranks, what attracted you to Sauchie?
I just thought that it was time for a new challenge. I'd really enjoyed my career and there had been a lot of highs and lows, but I thought work-wise it was time to think of the future.
I went for an interview with the company that I'm working for now, and I thought I would make the sacrifice and hang up my gloves. I've got a boy who was four at the time and starting to play football, so I thought if he's enjoying his football then I can go and watch him on a Saturday and spend some quality time with my boy.
But everyone kept saying to me that you're a long time retired and not to be too hasty, but in my mind I was ready to call it quits.
And then Sauchie got in touch?
I received a call from Fraser Duncan, the gaffer at Sauchie, and he said that he needed a goalkeeper.
So I explained my situation and he said to come and have a chat with him and the chairman. So I went and met him and I thought you know what? Let's just give it a chance and see how it goes. We came to the agreement that if I wasn't enjoying it I could chuck it, carry on with my 9 to 5 and try to get my goalie badges. We got together a deal that we were both happy with and when I started playing I got the bug back, and now this is my third season.
It's a great club with good people around it and it's heading in the right direction.
How would you say the standard in the junior ranks compares to the seniors?
It's funny, when I was at Clyde we had some of the best junior players coming to us - Paddy Keogh, Richie McCusker - we had them all come through the doors. I'd listen to their stories about junior football that it's all about Bucky bottles and fighting, so if I'm being honest I never really took an interest in the juniors!
The standard was surprising. Being a goalkeeper my job never changes, teams still put in crosses and have shots and you've got to kick well etc. But the standard is excellent and most teams in the East Super League would easily hold their own in the bottom two tiers of the Scottish Football League, there's no doubt about that.
In your first season you won the East Premier Division. You must have been delighted to achieve promotion straight away?
Yeah absolutely. I was lucky enough to be involved in the squad that won the league at Hamilton, but winning the league with Sauchie was right up there if not more of an achievement. It was a really good journey with a bunch of boys that were very driven.
It was a great achievement for the club and it was great for the fans and for myself. I actually missed the last couple of games after hurting my ankle, but I was there and willing them to win from the side-lines because everyone wants to test themselves in the top league that you can achieve, and for us that was the East Super League.
Was it a disappointment to finish second bottom in your first season in the East Super League?
We were hugely disappointed. After Christmas we were out of all the cups, and there was no relegation that year which made the league a little bit farcical. There was nothing to play for really and you got dragged into it.
We could easily have finished mid-table if not higher, and that would have been a great achievement, but we just couldn't cross that finishing line of getting a win. We were pleased to be in the Super League, but I think we were all happy to see the end of that season.
Do you think the players are now adapting to the higher standard after the disappointment of last season?
I think that last season is done and dusted. It gave the boys a taste of what it's about, and this year we've done better, but there are a lot of games we should have won and we know that ourselves. We've put in a lot of good performances, but we've also put in a lot of poor performances where we've let ourselves and let the club down.
We had a good cup run but let ourselves down a bit with the way we bowed out to Camelon. We should also be further up the table, but this is football and how many times have you heard that?
I think we could quite easily finish in the top six, but it's all well and good saying it, it's about doing it on the park and we haven't really which is a bit disappointing.
There is relegation this year and with a few losses we could be right back in that mix, and there's no way we should be there at all.
Was the Scottish Cup exit particularly disappointing after doing so well away at Camelon to get the replay?
Yeah of course, we were absolutely buzzing to get them back at our place.
A good crowd turned up but then we were 3-0 down after half an hour which was so disappointing and sort of summed up our season. We've watched the video and there are things we could have done better, but credit to Camelon, they played to their strengths and scored a couple of worldy goals that on another day could have ballooned over the bar.
It was disappointing for the fans to turn up and we didn't put on a show. It was nice distraction, but it's done now and we've got to look to the next game against St Andrews and get three points.
Were you surprised that David Dunn and top-scorer David Winters have been transfer-listed?
At the end of the day they've both done fantastically well for the club. Winty has scored a lot of goals, and Dunny came in around Christmas but because of the cup run and having a lot of cancellations he's not been able to play that many games. It's nothing to do with them as guys, it must be a financial thing. The club must be trying to balance the books because they're not in the cup and must be trying to build for next season.
They'll be two huge losses, absolutely, but they've been in football as long as I have if not longer, and they will understand that it's just football. There will be no animosity from them to the club and vice-versa. If it's right for the club then they'll both move on, and if it's not right for the club then they will stay and they'll be there on Saturday giving 110% for Sauchie.
Steven Rennie has also left the club this week, how much of a loss will that be?
Stevie's a P.E. teacher and he's trying to further his career because at the end of the day that's what pays his bills. He's missed a few games this year and a lot of training because he's been on courses, so there comes a time when he's spoken to the club and said that he can't give 100% attendance, they've come to an amicable agreement and that's him away.
Unfortunately when it comes to the part-time ranks, whether it's in juniors or the football league, it's your job that pays your bills, and as much as we would like to play until we're in our 40s it doesn't always work like that because your job dictates what you can do.
It's unfortunate. He's done great for us and been a good servant to the club. I'm sure he'll be popping up with another club further down the line when his exams and all that are finished.
With three experienced players leaving the club, will the onus be on the likes of yourself and Collin Samuel to help some of the younger players that come in?
Most of the boys we've got in the changing room have played juniors for a number of years. There are gaps in the squad, but we've got a very good under-21 set-up, and I'm sure there will be boys coming in from there that will have a chance, and what a chance it is to play for a club on the up and be part of the Super League.
So they will have to step up and take that opportunity. A club like Sauchie needs to breed young blood for the club to progress, and they could be at the club for 10 years playing in the top league - that's what they should be thinking in their heads.
For me and Sammy, we'll be there to be the old heads if they need to come and speak or if we need to speak then that's fine. They're a good bunch of boys and why can't they step up? Sometimes it's just a case of a manager having the balls to chuck them in. So yeah, there are gaps, but they will be plugged and the older heads in the dressing room will try to steady the ship as best we can.
Finally Bryn, at 33, how long do you see yourself playing on?
Well this is the fittest I've felt for a long time. I've been at Sauchie for three years and I've enjoyed every minute of it.
I don't know with all the changes if I'll be there next year, I hope I am, but I've had more clubs than Tiger Woods so I know in football you don't generally stay at a club for any length of time!
I'd love to stay longer. I've enjoyed working with Fraser and Noel (Dalli) gives great guidance as the chairman. So as I say, I feel as fit as I have done in a long time, and I will hopefully be playing on for many years to come.