THEY are the players who cost the club nothing but who were worth their weight in gold. A side blessed with so many star names they should have been lit up in six-foot neon.
But everything that has a beginning has an end – even an era as glorious as that of Lochs FC’s golden generation.
Every few years a side is forced to rebuild, to take stock of what they have and sort the diamonds from the rough. When eras come to an end, replacements must blend seamlessly into a successful side and time is not a luxury afforded to those at the top of their game.
The key to the unprecedented and remarkable success of the Magnificent Maroons was the fact the spine of the side grew up together.
Most football teams are forged through shrewd signings over a period of time but Lochs were different.
Their process began in boyhood and a burning desire to form the next great team of island football.
The spine of the side knew each other their whole lives and formed an unbreakable connection in the under 14 and under 16 ranks of the Creagan Dubh academy before progressing to the senior side.
However, now with striker Don ‘Lava’ Macleod – recognised as the club’s highest EVER goalscorer on 392 – hanging up his boots, midfield magician Andy Murray’s time as the creative hub being cruelly cut short by injury, winger David Martin’s time with the club now restricted to fleeting appearances due to work commitments, stopper Ally Mackenzie opting to retire and anchor man John ‘Uig’ Morrison, who has missed so much football in recent years, accepting defeat in his own battle against injury, it means the side who were as thrilling to watch as Braveheart in 3D are no more.
For newly appointed Lochs manager Roy Shirkie his focus is on building for the future now that the spine of the Magnificent Maroons is coming to a close – just David Macmillan and Graeme Mackenzie – from the under 14 side which graduated together - remain as an abiding memory of how good they were.
But Shirkie does have the luxury of building from a position of strength. The afore-mentioned Macmillan remains a bona-fide class act. A player so often the talisman for his side and one who is quick-footed, full of tricks, but knows when to pass. He’s also sensational when running with the ball and has scored more than 200-goals from midfield.
Mackenzie, younger brother of the afore-mentioned Ally and big brother to Danny who has also starred for Lochs in recent years, is another big player who will be one of the foundation stones upon which Robbie Mackenzie will build the next era of the Maroons.
Now 30, there is little Mackenzie hasn’t won but the current Lewis and Harris Select skipper insists he has no intention of packing in just yet and the ball-playing centre-half, who can play the ball around equally as well as he can win possession, has been tipped to continue with the armband in 2012.
Of course both will remain ably assisted next season by the likes of Donald ‘Nomie’ Macdonald, a two-time winner of the Lewis and Harris Player of the Year award, Peter Mackenzie, another former winner of the top player gong and a handful of top players and exciting prospects, but from the crop which grew through the ranks together only two remain.
This week the Stornoway Gazette looks back over the past decade and pays tribute to the all-conquering Lochies who dominated island football and speaks to key figures from the dug-out and the pitch from the golden period for the Magnificent Maroons and wonders if we’ll ever see their likes again.