NAIRN County completed a triple swoop on Fort William this evening (6th July 2015) by snapping up three of the Lochaber club’s key players from their history-making side of last season, writes Graeme Macleod.
Andrew Hardwick and Callum Maclean have both put pen to paper on two-year deals at Station Park while Kenny McKenzie – who netted Fort’s winner in their record-breaking victory at Clachnacuddin in January – has signed on for the next 12 months.
All three players turned out for the club in the 6-2 friendly win over Spey Valley on Saturday with McKenzie grabbing a brace.
Centre half Hardwick (22) spent last season at Claggan Park having started out in the youth ranks at Ross County before moving to Glasgow for university.
He said: “Nairn are a big club and it is a big opportunity for me personally to play at a higher level. The opportunity came to step up having played for Fort William and now I want to break into what is a really good starting eleven already at the club.
“It went really well on Saturday. I was pleased to get going and hopefully I can build on that in training over the coming weeks. I am now looking forward to Wednesday’s game against Ross County and hopefully we can perform well.”
Maclean – a 23-year-old midfielder – is looking to break into the starting eleven but knows he faces a challenge with a stellar list of midfield names already at the club.
He said: “I am happy everything has been sorted out and we can now concentrate on getting started with the new season. I played on Saturday and I enjoyed it – hopefully I can build on that and improve over the next few weeks because I was a bit nervous with it being my first game for the club.
“I want to now break into the starting eleven here at Nairn and hopefully I can have a good season and we can break into the top four or five places in the league.”
McKenzie, also 22, spent time training with Nairn last season but opted to sign for Fort William shortly after being an unused sub for County in the 3-1 win at Claggan Park in October.
He scored the winning goal for Fort in their 2-1 win over Clachnacuddin at Grant Street, which marked the first time the West Highland club had ever won four league games on the spin.
Having sealed his return to Nairn this evening, he said: “I loved the setup here but I had never played in Highland League before, so when the chance came up to go to Fort William last season, I took it because I wanted some game time and I just wanted to see how it would go.
“It went pretty well down there. I was playing alongside Hardwick and Maclean as well and they are good pals of mine. Then when I heard Les was still after me and he wanted those two as well, it was a no-brainer to come back.
“There is a good, settled squad here at Nairn, so I know it will be tough to break into the team. I am just going to work hard in training and see how I get on.”
Manager Les Fridge was pleased that his persistence had finally paid off having initially targeted the trio over a year ago.
Speaking before overseeing his squad’s latest pre-season training session at the Academy Pitches, he said: “They were three players I looked at last summer, in particular Kenny McKenzie, who came here and trained with us.
“They were playing amateur football and they then got the opportunity to go to Fort William and gain some first team experience in the Highland League, which all three of them took. They all did very well and I think they were a big part of the success that Fort William had last season.
“They all played in the amateur league again this summer and I watched them play in a cup final for Dores against Ardersier a couple of weeks ago. Kenny came on as a sub and scored a hat trick and has that capability, which he showed again on Saturday with his two goals. He is very comfortable on the ball and is a left-sided player who can find the net.
“Andrew Hardwick is a centre half and he is a big, strong boy. He is a no-nonsense defender who does nothing silly and just goes and defends.
“Callum Maclean is a very accomplished midfield player who is very comfortable on the ball. He does the simple things and does them very well.
“I think they are all good additions to the squad in general and I would like to think they would come in and challenge for a place in the team straight away. They all did very well in the Highland League last year, they have been playing regularly over the summer and they are all very hungry.
“There were several Highland League clubs in the area interested in all three players but they wanted to come here and do well. They had a taste of it last year with Fort William but they are here now and hungry to challenge for a place.”
For Saturday’s friendly win, Fridge was without an entire team’s worth of players with Martin MacDonald, Robbie Duncanson, Adam Naismith, Ross Naismith, Conor Gethins, Sean Webb, Michael Morrison, Sam Urquhart, Wayne Mackintosh, Calum Antell and Bradley Halsman all unavailable for various reasons.
As well as McKenzie’s double, Alan Pollock also netted a hat trick while there was a debut goal for youngster Matty Macleod, who has just been promoted to the first team squad this summer.
Fridge added: “We had a lot of boys missing but it was a good opportunity to give the young boys 20-25 minutes each. Matty Macleod got himself a goal and he is very keen and eager. He knows where the goal is and he has a very good work rate. We will definitely be looking out for him and keeping an eye on his progress over the next couple of seasons.”
The club’s next pre-season warm up fixture takes place at Station Park on Wednesday evening against SPFL Premiership side Ross County (kick-off 7.30 pm) before League 1 outfit Airdrie visit on Saturday (kick off 3.00 pm).
Fridge will be without the services of MacDonald, Duncanson, Pollock and Urquhart for the midweek fixture and it may come too soon for Wayne Mackintosh, who returned to training this evening after suffering from a groin injury which ruled him out for the tail end of last season.
The boss said: “It is a good week ahead for us – training tonight, Ross County on Wednesday and Airdrie on Saturday.
“Like I said to the boys before Saturday’s game, I am not too worried about results because it is more about what we get out of it. We want to get our match fitness up and get a bit of work out of it. Don’t get me wrong, it is always nice to get a result but it is not the be all and end all – it is more about the performance and preparing for the opening game of the season.”
Admission prices for this week’s friendlies have been set at £8 for adults and £5 for concessions.
Meanwhile, Chris Moir is no longer a Nairn County player. The club thanks him for his service and wishes him well for the future.
Pictures by Kenny Macleod (Cutter Photography)