One year at Lairds for Mick
Wed 25th October 2017 | Cammell Laird 1907 | By Patrick Burke
On 7th October 2016, Mick McGraa was appointed as permanent manager of Cammell Laird 1907.
He inherited a side low on confidence, and Lairds struggled to achieve the results that they wanted.
So much so, it took them until March to win their first league game of the 2016/17 campaign, but the hard work put in during the months before that paved the way for a young, promising side to restore the optimism at the North West Construction Stadium.
Lairds were relegated from the Hallmark Security League Premier Division, but a six game unbeaten run towards the end of the season was a marker of the progress that they had made with McGraa at the helm.
In the summer, Sean Rogers was appointed as his assistant manager and was able to keep the core of his side together whilst making several smart additions to boost the squad depth.
With progress also made off the pitch, the ‘#LairdsRevolution’ was taking shape, and Lairds are now in 9th place in the First Division pushing for a play-off spot.
Reflecting on how the club has transformed, McGraa feels that Lairds are in an immeasurably better place now compared to when he took over.
“The club has massively improved. To be honest, it was in a bit of a mess when I came in. We had four players who stayed on and it just generally wasn’t a very nice place to be at.
"Now, our committee have been really good; they’re proactive and they’ve just made the club more professional on every level.”
Having given a host of talented young players the chance to develop, McGraa has been pleased with the progression that both he and his team have made.
“I’m 34, so I’m still young. I’ve played at a decent level, but managing is a totally different ball game. Last season, we brought lots of young kids into the side, and it might sound daft, but we needed to be relegated.
"We gave it a good go and we put up a fight, but we needed to be relegated to allow us to develop. I’ve worked hard on and off the pitch for Lairds, and I’ll continue to do that.”
McGraa feels that his side’s togetherness has stood them in good stead and has given them a real advantage.
“With us having no budget and limited resources, we decided we needed to bring some youth through, and we’ve worked on creating a good team spirit and making it a happy place to be at, and when you’ve got those things, results will come.
"Just taking last Tuesday’s game against Congleton, we lost 7-2 to them around the same time last year and they’ve improved themselves since then – they’re a quality side – but we’ve improved as well and we’ve shown that.”
Quizzed on his best and worst moments as Lairds boss, McGraa said:
“My biggest low was getting relegated, even though it was expected.
“My biggest high was probably progressing in the FA Cup against Maltby Main. It was my first win in the FA Cup as a manager, and it was just a great day.
“I’ve got to say getting the job was a huge high as well. It’s a job I’ve always wanted and I never thought I’d get the chance, but I did and I’m so grateful for that.
McGraa reserved special praise for his backroom staff, especially the likes of coach Steve Foulkes and physio Shirley Whittaker, who have worked with the manager since his appointment.
“Being brutally honest, we knew the side last year was a losing team, so the lads who stayed loyal to me have been brilliant, because they’ve been through hard times as much as anyone. We knew that we had to make the squad better, stronger and increase competition for places over the summer.
“Bringing in Sean Rogers as an assistant was great. Mark Toner did a great job for me last year, but Sean has been really good as he has experience as both a manager and an assistant.
“I also have to mention Foulkesy. He has stuck by me since I initially took the Reserves job. Even through the toughest of times, he’s always been there for me, so I can’t praise him enough.
“Sean’s been an amazing assistant, tactically he’s brilliant, and Foulkesy’s been there from the start.
“So too has Shirley and no one deserves a mention more. She’s stuck by me too, and she’s quality. She’s really good at her job, and is a massive part of our club.”
Lairds have made a solid enough start in the First Division, sitting just outside the play-off places in 9th place as McGraa spoke. The manager is satisfied at his side’s start.
“We’re quietly happy. We’ve lost games we should have won, we’ve won games we should have lost.
"We haven’t got a penny to pay which puts us at a bit of a disadvantage. But if you’ve got team spirit, if you’ve got fit, quality young players and the right blend, you don’t have to pay and we’re proving that.
"I think we’ve played seven or eight of the top 10 so far, and we’re in and around the mix, so if we can stay in and around the play-offs after Christmas, I’ll be happy. It would put us in a good position as we’ll have played quite a few of the top sides twice, so we just need to keep progressing.”