After a quarter of a century in which he has celebrated great successes, endured bitter disappointments, and kicked every ball from inside and sometimes outside the technical area, Sleat and Strath manager DL MacKinnon has decided to call time on his tenure as the team’s coach.
The heart-on-his-sleeve fisherman from Elgol leaves the club in rude health with the team fresh from winning its first title in eight years.
DL said he would be stepping down to spend more time with his family, admitting that football was no longer bringing the same enjoyment as it did in the pre-Covid era.
“It has been coming for a while, it has not been the same since we came back during Covid. It all went a bit flat, ” he told the Free Press.
“I lost my enthusiasm, and I thought if I can’t motivate myself then there is no way I can motivate the players.”
In Sleat and Strath’s final two seasons under DL, the club captured all four domestic trophies and made its mark in the region’s top competition, the Highland Amateur Cup, with a run which ended in the quarter finals with a narrow 2-1 quarter final defeat at six-time winners Avoch.
After no football in 2020, Sleat and Strath then enjoyed an excellent 2021, wresting the title back for the first time in seven years.
Despite that success, the restrictions introduced because of the pandemic have left DL’s characteristic passion and zest for the game diluted.
He added: “Things have changed, the dynamics have changed. There is no craic after games anymore, it didn’t fill me with the same enjoyment as before.”
Commenting on the demands of leading the club, he continued: “It totally takes over your life. That’s why I took some time out a few years ago.”
“The chairman was trying to get me to stay on and I nearly folded. There was a lot of disbelief and people still don’t think it is going to happen.
“Hopefully, John Angus MacCusbic and Iain Macleod will now take on the reins.”
Reflecting on a few of his fondest memories from his long period at the helm, DL said: “One would be a win up in Uig against a very good Portree United side after extra time. We were down to nine men at the end of the game, and we went on to beat them 5-3 with John Spod scoring a hat-trick, it was an incredible game, a game we should never have won.
He added: “The match against Avoch in the Highland Amateur Cup a few years ago put us on the map. We should have won that game, but we fell short. Perhaps we were a bit naïve, but it was a big achievement for us.
“Another would be around 2014/2015 when we won everything and went unbeaten for a year and a half, we had a fantastic team then.”
Remarking on some of the special players he has worked with he told the Free Press: “ I wouldn’t have been in charge at all, let alone for 25 years, had it not been for Stephen Orrick, He was the one that broke away from the crowd and nominated me for manager. I was still playing at the time. For the years he played for us, he never let us down.”
Looking at the current team, he added: “My son Martin is the backbone of the team, it gives me massive pride to see him there. Ben and Connaire Yoxon are just phenomenal players – who you never get tired of watching them, and in recent seasons Peter MacCusbic has played every single game for me, he hasn’t missed one. No other player has done that. He is a first pick every week.”
Looking ahead to life post-management, DL said: “I can now have a bit more enjoyment with my young family as they grow up.
“Saying that I’ll probably be tearing my hair out after the first game of the season and be wishing that I had never left!”
Club colleagues and opponents added their tributes to the outgoing manager.
Ben Yoxon, Sleat and Strath midfielder, said: “If anyone deserves to take a step back and watch from the back, it’s DL! Thanks for everything, both in and out of football, I now look forward to you shouting at me as a fan, rather than as a manager!”
DL’s son and club captain Martin MacKinnon added: “It’s definitely going to be weird.
“It’s all I have known since I was a wee boy, getting dragged to pretty much every football game to then playing since my teenage years.
“It’s not a bad way to hang up the coat after a successful managerial career, but he will be missed”.
Steve McNeil, Sleat and Strath chairman, added: “As chairman of the club I’ve always had a great relationship with DL who has been a great servant to the club, league, and community. I will miss him on the touchline, but all good things must come to an end – he leaves the club holding all the cups plus the league title that’s some act to follow.
Phil McCaherty, league referee and former Portree Juniors manager said: “He’s 100 per cent the same guy in victory or defeat and that to me is the mark of any individual.
“A really good friend in and out of football!”
Kyleakin manager David Butcher echoed those comments, adding: “It’s a very difficult job to manage in Skye and I’m sure the boys will really see that over the next couple of seasons when he’s not there.”
Heckie Cormack, SLAFA secretary, said: “DL is one of the easiest guys I’ve worked with in the association. He’s an old school – ‘a spade is a spade’ kind of person.
“I will miss working with him on the committee and also having to dodge him out on the park!”