In just his second season in charge, David Butcher steered Kyleakin to the Skye and Lochalsh Football League Championship with a 5-4 victory over holders Portree Juniors in an action-packed encounter last Saturday.
With their final league match of the season on the horizon, David spoke to Adam Gordon about last weekend’s nail-biting championship win, which opposition player he would like to add to his squad and his overriding memory of what has been a season to savour for his side.
Given the nature of your title-clinching victory — a dramatic 5-4 win over Portree Juniors — was your overriding feeling after the game more relief than joy?
David Butcher (DB): “It was a big relief to get the win and take the title on the day and not have to wait till the last game of the season. I was always fairly confident we would get the win, but, given the drama that unfolded in the last ten minutes, I did feel it might be taken away from us.”
Kyleakin’s only defeat in the league, so far, came against Juniors back in June. With that in mind, were there any doubts within the squad that you could get a result against them last week?
DB: “I’m always quite nervous before games, I always was as a player as well, but I can usually tell within the first few minutes how we are going to play. On Saturday, I did think we would be too strong for Juniors, who were missing a few key players. We have had a rivalry with them over the last few years, we have lost twice up there but beaten them fives times down in Kyleakin, so we are always confident at home.”
Juniors won the title last season without losing a match. Do you think their high standards helped to push your side to the next level this year?
DB: “Juniors actually clinched the title against us last year – we were 2-0 up and lost 3-2. We had that in our minds, that it only takes a few minutes to lose concentration and anything can happen, so that did spur us on. Winning two cups last year also gave us the desire to go on and get more.”
This has been your second year in charge of the team – how has your approach differed, if at all, in this campaign?
DB: “I’ve been lucky to have a team with a great balance of youth and experience. The experienced guys in the squad such as Micheal Taylor, Keith MacKenzie, Calum and George Nisbett, have all managed the team in the past and have been a great help to me with anything I have asked or even just pointing out things at games that perhaps I haven’t seen myself. I’ve definitely got a lot more confidence in myself as a manager and in making decisions at crucial times such as personnel changes or formation shuffles.”
Players such as Innis Thomson and Gordy McCarroll often stand out for their attacking contributions, but if you had to pick an unsung star from your team who would it be?
DB: “Yeah Gordon and Innis both stand out in games and get a lot of praise and rightly so, but our defence this year has been first class and has conceded the fewest number of goals in the league. That work hasn’t gone unnoticed by myself, and I have Mike Taylor to thank for marshaling them.
“My unsung star would probably be Cameron Thomson – the younger brother of Innis and Oliver. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying he’s not quite as gifted as his older brother, Innis, but he will play anywhere you put him and gives you everything. He also puts in a fair amount of miles traveling, as he lives in Applecross. Not many people know he’s played the last five or six games with a knee injury that would definitely sideline other players – but he told me there was no way he was going to miss the run-in.”
Your final opponents this Saturday, Portree, have struggled this season – how important is it that the team avoids complacency and finishes the season with a win?
DB: “Well, I will look to make a few changes for Saturday’s game, but as I’ve told the 11 on the pitch, all season, we will have five guys on the bench more than capable of coming on for anyone not giving 100 percent! It’s a tough one as everyone is excited about getting the cup, but it’s down to me to make sure everyone knows the game comes first.
“We still have the chance of retaining the Ewen MacRae Cup and completing a treble, so getting a win and continuing our momentum going into that cup has to be the goal.”
Looking ahead to next season (already) – if you could choose one player to add to your squad from any of the other seven teams, who would it be and why?
DB: “I’m pretty happy with the squad we have and I think I’d be hard pushed to find a space for anyone new, as quite often, I’m leaving a few guys out of the squad on Saturdays including myself. Very diplomatic, I know, but that’s all I’m saying.”
Finally, if you had to pick an abiding memory of your title-winning season, what would it be?
DB: “There have been a few key moments for me; young Raymond Cameron getting a hat-trick away to Portree when we had 10 players injured/missing, Craig Wilson’s penalty against Gairloch in the run-in at 2-2, and then McCarroll’s wonder goal to make it 3-2 in the same game – we actually said we would look back on that game if we went on to win the league.
“Saturday’s winner was special, though. I ended up with a burst nose and lip during the celebrations, it was just such a relief for the boys after they put everything into the game. The two “controversial” penalties to snatch the victory away would have been so cruel, so when Gordy scored the winner on Saturday, that was my highlight.”