Written by Nairn County FC June 28th 2017

THE under-20s returned to pre-season training on Saturday and Stuart Finnie's squad now have two sessions under their belt after another tough workout last night. The team finished second in the North of Scotland League last season behind champions and Alness United and Finnie wants to take his young side one step further in the new campaign. He said: "The first two training sessions have gone very well. I have been impressed with the attitude and commitment of the players and although there has been a few boys missing, I am looking forward to seeing them link up with the squad later in the week." "Pre-season training is extremely important to get set for the coming season, so it is imperative for the boys to make as many sessions as possible. Obviously, you cannot avoid family holidays etc but I am looking for everyone to be there for as many sessions as possible." "We also had Craig Munro and Matty Macleod with us for training on Saturday. They have been doing pre-season with the first team and trained with them and then came and joined us once Saturday's first team session was over. They did not have to do that but they chose to do extra and that sort of attitude will get them far. That is what I am looking for from all of the players." Finnie saw no fewer than 11 players who were still young enough to represent the under-20s appear in matchday squads for the first team last season and that is something he wants to build on during the forthcoming campaign. He revealed: "My aims for this season are to develop the boys as much as their potential and attitude allows and to hopefully see more of them gain first team experience. It is all about the level of performance and attitude but at the end of the day, we all want to matches and trophies, so we will look to try our best to win our league and get a good run in the cups." The club has entered the under-20s side into three North Caledonian League Cup competitions this season, having competed in the Jock Mackay Cup last time out. As well as that trophy, the team will also pursue the Football Times Cup and the North Caledonian Cup (full draws below), giving them further exposure to adult football. Finnie added: "The benefits of the cups are massive to the boys as it gives them a chance to test themselves against some decent teams but more importantly, gaining experience in some tough situations, which means if or when they move up to the first team then they will have gained some good experience and hopefully developed a better mentality. It would also be good for the boys' confidence and for the club if we are able to go on a good cup run." As well as fresh opposition in those competitions, the team will also come up against different league sides for the first time with Brora Rangers and Elgin City having been added to the North of Scotland League to bring the number of competing sides up to seven. "The addition of new teams to the league is good news as it gives us more games and also makes the league a bit more exciting," said Finnie. "No one want to play in a five-team league, so I am looking forward to testing ourselves against them and the other teams once again this season." The under-20s' first pre-season friendly takes place on Monday July 10th when they meet Inverness Amateur League Division One side Belmac at Culloden (full schedule below). That is the first of four pre-season fixtures and Finnie said: "I am just looking to get all of the boys up to speed on match fitness and to try some different systems out in the friendly games. We want to get all of the boys as much game time as possible to get the touch in, in preparation for the start of the season and to build confidence." "All four games are against adult sides and that is going to be a big leap for a lot of the squad, who were playing under-17s football last season. We are confident they can do it though as they proved in the friendlies we played at the end of last season but it is certainly going to be tough for them. We have deliberately taken on that level of opposition because we want to stretch the boys out of their comfort zones and see what they can do. If we lose all four pre-season games and go on to win our league then it would have been worth it I would happily settle for that." The team received new training kit when they arrived for the start of pre-season training at the weekend. Finnie added: "The boys are all delighted with the new kit. It makes them feel part of it at the club and they are mixing with the first team boys more than before now, too. That is important to integrate them and it all shows that the club is taking the under-20s team seriously." "Previously, the boys only received hand-me-down kit from the first team, so I have to thank the committee and our sponsors, John Gordon & Son for their continued support. We have had it confirmed that we will play our home games at Station Park again this season and we are looking forward to the start of the season." Pre-season schedule: Mon Jul 10th – Belmac AFC (Culloden Pitches, Culloden) 7.00 pm Mon Jul 17th – Forres Thistle (Roysvale Park, Forres) 7.15 pm Thu Jul 27th – Inverness Athletic (Pavilion Park, Muir of Ord) 7.00 pm Mon Jul 31st – Ferrybache (Culloden Pitches, Culloden) 7.00 pm   Football Times Cup draw: First round Elgin City U20s v Lewis & Harris Nairn County U20s v Tain St Duthus Thurso v Shetland Bunillidh Thistle v Golspie Sutherland Inverness Athletic v Halkirk United Quarter finals Alness United v Nairn County U20s / Tain St Duthus Inverness Athletic / Halkirk United v Orkney Invergordon v Thurso / Shetland Bunillidh Thistle / Golspie Sutherland v Elgin City U20s / Lewis & Harris Semi finals Alness United / Nairn County U20s / Tain St Duthus v Bunillidh Thistle / Golspie Sutherland / Elgin City U20s / Lewis & Harris Invergordon / Thurso / Shetland v Inverness Athletic / Halkirk United / Orkney All ties to be scheduled.   North Caledonian Cup draw: First round Golspie Sutherland v Elgin City U20s Alness United v Inverness Athletic Quarter finals Golspie Sutherland / Elgin City U20s v Invergordon Bunillidh Thistle v Tain St Duthus Halkirk United v Nairn County U20s Thurso v Alness United / Inverness Athletic Semi finals Bunillidh Thistle / Tain St Duthus v Halkirk United / Nairn County U20s Golspie Sutherland / Elgin City U20s / Invergordon v Thurso / Alness United / Inverness Athletic All ties to be scheduled.   Jock Mackay Cup draw: First round Golspie Sutherland v Elgin City U20s Shetland v Thurso Bunillidh Thistle v Invergordon Inverness Athletic v Halkirk United Lewis & Harris v Nairn County U20s Quarter finals Tain St Duthus v Shetland / Thurso Bunillidh Thistle / Invergordon v Alness United Lewis & Harris / Nairn County U20s v Inverness Athletic / Halkirk United Orkney v Golspie Sutherland / Elgin City U20s Semi finals Orkney / Golspie Sutherland / Elgin City U20s v Bunillidh Thistle / Invergordon Lewis & Harris / Nairn County U20s / Inverness Athletic / Halkirk United v Tain St Duthus / Shetland / Thurso All ties to be scheduled. Graeme Macleod

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