NEW under-20s assistant coach Ronnie Sharp is calling on the club's youngsters to couple their natural ability with the required commitment to make it to the first team, writes Graeme Macleod.
Sharp played for Nairn in three spells from the mid-80s through to 2002 and was voted into the club's Team of the Century last summer.
He is now back at Station Park after a year-and-a-half out of the game following the end of his nine-year stint as manager of Nairn St Ninian.
Speaking to the club website before his first appearance in a County dugout for over a decade at last night's under-20s match against Alness United, he said: "It is up to the players. If they have the ability and the commitment then they will give themselves a chance. They need to be committed to it because they will not make it on ability alone. It is very hard to get in Nairn's first team but hopefully we can bring some through over the next while."
"It will take time and it is not going to happen overnight. It is the first season the club has had a team in the under-20s league, so we will get through this season and learn about it and hopefully it will take off next year."
He added: "It has been a long time since boys came through the youth policy here and got into the first team. Paul Macleod was the last one and before that, you go back to the likes of Wayne (Mackintosh) and the Main brothers (Glenn and Gregg)."
"We need more local boys coming through but only if they are good enough. With me playing in the Highland League for so long and managing in it, I know what is needed from a young player."
Sharp will be working with a squad that includes players such as Craig Munro, Matty Macleod, Jordan Macrae, Reece Barton, Chris MacKinnon and Jack Maclean, who have all been on the fringes of the first team squad over the last few seasons.
He said: "I do not know anything about the under-20s players here, so to start with I will just be having a look. I am here to help Ali and the aim for the two of us is to bring players through to play in the first team."
"I am not really bothered about winning games - it is more about bringing guys on to get guys into Nairn's first team."
This season has seen the club enter a team in the North of Scotland League for the first time, providing a vital stepping stone for players in their late teens to go from youth football to Highland League standard.
Sharp stated: "To go from 17 years old to playing in Nairn's first team is virtually impossible. You are talking about going straight from playing youth football to playing adult football when you are not fully developed to play adult football yet."
"The boys have to realise that - it is going to take them time because they have to get physically stronger and mentally stronger to play in the Highland League. It is not the easiest league to play in and very few players do it at 17 or 18 years old. The boys have to look at playing in the under-20s as their apprenticeship from now until they are about 21 years old. This is where they have to learn and hopefully I can help Ali to develop them because it is not my team, it is Ali's team."
Sharp revealed the background of his shock return to the club as he said: "Davy MacKinnon (Assistant Director of Football) spoke to me first of all and said they were looking for people to help out and I said I would if they needed it or were struggling to get people involved."
"Then, Peter Mackintosh Jnr phoned me and asked me to come up and meet him and discuss what was going on with the under-20s and see what I thought and I decided to do it."
"I have known Ali for years and he used to play junior football - we both played for St Ninian together, so I know him well already."
Sharp spent five years as manager of Nairn County towards the end of his playing career, taking over as player / manager in 1999 when the club was struggling in the lower reaches of the league. His appointment coincided with significant investment from Narden, which has completely revamped the entire club and allowed a squad capable of finishing in the top half of the table to be quickly assembled, a feat Sharp used his managerial acumen to achieve in 2003 to great acclaim from supporters.
Sharp then managed Nairn St Ninian and during his time at the Showfield, he achieved great success winning two promotions and two Elginshire Cups with a squad of predominantly local players. That led to suggestions from some fans that he should return to the top job at Station Park but the 49-year-old is unequivocal.
"No thanks! The under-20s suits me because it is not at weekends. I have had 17 years of every weekend being taken up because I have been in management and I do not want that anymore."
"I get on well with Les (Fridge, first team manager) and the main aim for Ali and myself is to produce some youngsters for him to use in the first team. It is up to them to show that they are good enough and hopefully we can get a few through in the next couple of years."
The under-20s head coach Ali Munro was delighted to bring Sharp in and is looking forward to working alongside his new number two.
After the 2-2 draw at Alness United last night, he said: "It is great to have Sharpie on board and it is a big boost for everybody involved. I think he really enjoyed himself and was quite surprised by the standard of the boys. He has great enthusiasm for the game and the boys embraced that as well."
"Our target is to have three or four of these boys knocking on the first team door in a few years time. There will be places up for grabs in the first team because players will move on as happens in football and it is our job to produce players who are good enough to one day step in."
We will have a round up on last night's under-20s game at Alness United tomorrow.