The marquee signing of Andrew Greig kicked off the year in fine style as the former Highland League Player of the Year and two-time league champion made the switch to Station Park from the Formartine United.
In just his second outing for us, we fought back from 1-0 and 2-1 down to edge a derby classic at Mosset Park with Fraser Dingwall – marking his return from knee surgery – and Glenn Main on target before Ciaran Young’s last-minute strike secured all three points against Forres Mechanics on January 22nd.
A second winter arrival, Cameron Lisle, marked his debut with a goal as he was on target away at Wick Academy on February 26th to add to a Conor Gethins opened as we won 2-0 in Caithness.
Angus Dey, Seamus McConaghy, Tom Maclennan and Ciaran Young found the net against Strathspey Thistle before Maclennan again, a Lisle screamer and efforts from Main and Gethins against Fort William made sure it was back-to-back 4-0 wins at Station Park in the space of four days to kick-off March.
Six consecutive defeats followed – with the last three all 1-0 reverses – before we ended the season on a high thanks a 5-3 home win over Turriff United with goals from Gethins, Young (2), Greig and John Treasurer securing an eighth-place finish in the table.
Off the pitch, chairman Donald Matheson stood down from his position at the end of the season. He capped his reign by bringing the Highland League (Morganti) Cup final to Station Park for the first time since 1983. Brora Rangers took home the silverware thanks to a 2-1 win over Buckie Thistle with our former son Jordan MacRae among the goals for the Cattachs.
Gethins took the Players’ Player of the Year award, the Supporters’ prize went to goalkeeper Dylan Maclean and loanee Ryan Fyffe was named our Young Player of the Year.
A new main sponsorship deal with Murray Travel was agreed in the summer for the next three years taking over from Camm-Pro with our charity partnership with Mikeysline also renewed for a further two seasons. Meanwhile, S. Owens Kitchens and Bathrooms teamed up with the club as our Training Wear partner and Scotsafe became our new Matchday Warm Up Wear partner with Hope and Glory Sportswear taking over as our new kit supplier.
Ahead of the new season, Maclennan, Cohen Ramsay, Callum Ednie and the on-loan Fyffe all departed while Treasurer was loaned out to Fort William. Gordon McNab re-joined the club following a season at Forres Mechanics and Nathan Grant was promoted from the Reserves Team.
A unique friendly saw US college team Washington Huskies visit Station Park during the pre-season build-up, after which Mark Kelman was appointed the club’s new chairman.
An innovative partnership with local charity, TeamHamish and the revealing of our colourful new third strip capped off the launching of our new kits for the 2022/23 campaign, with each of the three bespoke shirts containing their own unique “Nairn” identity.
The season kicked off with Liam Shewan on target in an opening day draw at Banks O’Dee on his return from injury before Greig’s double in the home match with Rothes made it two points from the opening two fixtures.
Another striker troubled by injury this year was Scott Davidson, who scored for the first time in 10 months in the home match against Deveronvale in August in which Young found the net in the 90th minute to put us 2-1 up only for the Banffers to strike in injury time and deny us that elusive first win of the campaign.
We became the first club in the country to offer bespoke Stag and Hen Party packages and welcomed our first ever Hen Party to Station Park for our home match against Fraserburgh in August.
Ahead of the Scottish Cup first round tie with Drumchapel United, Wayne Mackintosh and Paul Macleod returned to the club with left back Stephen Rennie also joining to complete a triple swoop.
Despite the new additions being pitched in, it was the Glasgow outfit who progressed to the next round in what was manager Ronnie Sharp’s final match in charge as he and assistant Michael Rae stepped down from their positions. Sharp took charge of 204 matches in his second spell in charge, bringing his total as manager to 363 across two terms.
Former player Steven Mackay – who won the Highland League (Morganti) Cup with the club in 2011, scoring twice in the final – returned to Station Park as Manager having been assistant manager at Elgin City last season before which he had won the league championship at the helm of Brora Rangers and led the Cattachs to a famous Scottish Cup victory over Heart of Midlothian.
He became just the third man this century to manage the club and brought two former captains of the club with him as David Hind was named Assistant Manager and Brian Macleod appointed First Team Coach, joining existing Goalkeeping Coach, Ryan Main and Physiotherapist, Catherine Johnson to complete the Backroom Team.
In Mackay’s first match in charge on October 6th, goals from Gethins and Davidson had us 2-0 up at home to Inverurie Locos before the visitors fought back to claim a point.
A new Football Pathway in Nairn was unveiled in November, bringing Nairn Soccer 7s and Nairn Fire under the club’s umbrella to create more opportunities for children of all ages in the town to play organised football with the chance to progress seamlessly into the Nairn County youth teams.
After back-to-back defeats to Huntly and Brora Rangers, Strathspey Thistle visited Station Park for a crunch clash where the losers would end the day bottom of the table. Goals from Callum Maclean, Gethins (2) and Davidson ensured it was the Grantown Jags who were propping up the rest come 5.00 pm as we emerged with a 4-2 win. It was the start of a seven-game unbeaten run which took us up to the end of the year.
Mackay sprung a surprise with his first new signing as Ross Tokely was added to the squad ahead of an away trip to Keith on October 29th. That decision has been vindicated though, with the team conceding an average of less than one goal per game since the veteran defender’s arrival.
Paul Macleod, Will Counsell and our longest serving player, Glenn Main were let go with Main finishing a quite remarkable career with the club on a record-breaking 496 appearances. Goalkeeper Lewis Munro then joined on loan from Inverness CT until January.
In the Highland League (Morganti) Cup, Lossiemouth were outclassed at Grant Park as Young netted a double before substitute Liam Shewan rounded off a comfortable 3-0 win. But preparations for the Quarter Finals were cut short when a failure to notice Stephen Rennie’s suspension being carried over from his red card for Strathspey Thistle in last season’s competition resulted in our ejection from the tournament.
That failed to stop our momentum on the park though and just as our second match of the year had been a dramatic late win away at Forres Mechanics, so was our second last.
We trailed 2-0 at the break and although Sam Gordon struck to half the deficit, we were soon two goals behind again as the hosts went 3-1 up at Mosset Park. Step forward Conor Gethins, who netted a 15-minute hat-trick to take the points back to Station Park in a memorable 4-3 success. The Irish striker is now on 197 career goals for the club.
We ended the year sharing the points with Formartine United in a 1-1 draw at Station Park with Dey finding the net before Adam Porritt moved on and Seamus McConaghy and Rory Williamson were loaned out to Strathspey Thistle as manager Mackay continues to shape his squad ahead of the New Year, which starts with us in 10th position in the table and holding games in hand over all but two of the clubs above us.
Many thanks for all your support throughout the year and best wishes for 2023 from everyone at Nairn County FC.