Lucky 13 for girls as Jack Bain bows out on a high
Much admired, feared and lauded across the North of Scotland and nationally in the Schools Scottish Cup, the Nicolson Institute Senior Girls have left their indelible studmarks across the top senior football prizes in the country.
Thirteen times in the 18-years of the existence of this competition the silverware has called Stornoway home. A quite remarkable record. The first six cups were won by the Niccy girls before a five year spell of dominance was smashed by a resurgent Nicolson golden generation.
They have now eclipsed their own six in a row run by lifting their seventh on the bounce just this very week in the shadow of Ross County’s Victoria Park in Dingwall.
Instrumental to the success of this all-conquering Nicolson girls revolution has been the aforementioned Jack Bain who after serving a near three decade stint as coach for various schools football team has blown the final whistle on his role as manager.
It was Bain who was the first ever manager when girls football teams first entered mainland competition wearing the Nicolson Institute crest.
This was back in 1995 and he has remained a huge supporter and driving force behind our female footballers ever since. His record with the school doesn’t so much speak for itself, rather it bellows from the rooftops.
In 18-years he has led the senior’s to glory 13 times in the North of Scotland Cup - including a record breaking seven-in-a-row run where he now hangs up his manager’s coat. Add to the mix his three Scottish Cup finals and he will pass a remarkable record and legacy on to the next girls coach whomever that may be.
So it was with a mixture of excitement, the usual big game nerves and also a little dash of sadness that Bain led his girls across the painted white line and into footballing battle on Monday. Squaring up against Ellon Academy it proved to be less of a battle when the referee kicked things off. Ellon were nowhere near the Nicolson and at times it was like seeing someone take a pea shooter into battle against a tank.
All over the pitch the Niccy won their battles, strutted about like Hebridean peacocks and scored almost at will in a 9-2 victory.
Even as Bain removed his first-half hat-trick hero at the break and midfield driving forced midway through the second-half to give the girls a break only as much as to give the Ellon rearguard some much needed respite couldn’t stop the incessant wave of pink attacks. The Ellon keeper’s goal was pepper with shots all throughout the 80-minutes and the 9-2 margin was more than fair - such was the Niccy dominance.
The game’s first chance arrived in the infancy of the opening two minutes as Shana Macphail spearheaded a counter attack, clipping the ball behind the static Ellon back line for Kayleigh Mackenzie. The Niccy teen had 20-yards of open grass to run into as the Ellon defence chased but she had a pop early with her first chance after taking the ball out of her stride and dragged it wide.
The Ellon keeper knew she was in for a long afternoon busy as the pink waves of attacks continued with Mary Macleod warming her palms with a stinging drive from 20-yards. Mary, who was the energy and thunderous heartbeat of the side, sparked another burst towards goal as she toed the ball past the Ellon left-back and stomped on the gas motoring past with ease. She dug her boot under the ball to send it skipping across goal between the defenders and the keeper but there were no takers from the Nicolson camp.
Ellon couldn’t get out of their own half and they hadn’t heeded their lesson of their high defensive line. Another simple pass in behind send Kayleigh, as always lurking on the shoulder of the defenders who turned slower than milk, and she galloped away in yards of space. This time she made no mistake with her finish as she prodded the ball past the keeper before wheeling away with her fist in the air.
For a cup final it was all too easy for the rampant Nicolson and Kayleigh curled a shot just wide of the post after cutting inside off the left flank. The 14-year-old was on fire now and she doubled her tally, and fired her side 2-0 up, moments later as she accepted the ball in to feet with her back to goal before she rolled her marker to get a clear sight of goal before booting home from 20-yards.
Maryam Lee joined the action from the bench and she exploded into the action showing feet quicker than barefoot Michael Flatley on a hot tin roof. She roasted the Ellon right back not once but twice in a torrid raid up the right which resulted in her picking up Catriona Bain at the back stick.
The left midfielder sent the ball goalwards and was desperately unlucky to see the ball hoofed off the goal line. The rebound was again blocked as Mary Macleod forced a stop from the keeper.
On 25-minutes it was 3-0 as Kayleigh Mackenzie completed her hat-trick. Still just 14 and beginning fourth year, Kayleigh has another three years at this level which spells bad news for the rest of the teams in the North.
Her third goal was another smart finish as she waited until the keeper charged off her line before whipping it past her on her right hand side.
Ellon were sinking without trace but a 20-yard worldy which David De Gea on a trampoline would have struggled to stop threw them an unlikely lifeline at 3-1.
The Aberdeenshire grins were soon back to frowns though as the Nicolson rolled up their sleeves and picked them apart again. Maryam Lee continued her blistering introduction to the game with the fourth goal which was entirely of her own making.
Chasing and retrieving a ball in the right hand corner she powered through two 50/50 challenges and showed more desire than either of the Ellon girls to force her way through an alley which should have been shut down.
She steadied herself before firing past the keeper at the near post.
At half-time Nicolson coach Bain, as much out of sympathy for the Ellon defence who were struggling to halt the tide of Nicolson attacks so badly it resembled rearranging deck chairs in a typhoon, he withdrew his hat-trick hero and handed the teenagers a breather.
The second-45 continued in much the same vein as the Nicolson continued to out pass, out fox and out fight their opponents. Another lung-bursting run by Mary Macleod saw her crank through the gears and motor past the Ellon left-back who was left so far behind her it seemed like she was towing a caravan. Her cross into the box was met by a well timed run by Holly McEwan who met the ball on the volley but steered it over the bar.
Mary Macleod rifled a 20-yard drive into the bottom corner to make it 5-1 before Holly chipped home the sixth with an effort again from outside the 18-yard-box.
To their credit Ellon netted again with another stunning goal which left Nicolson No.1 Chloe Nicolson with no chance as the ball was rattled into the postage stamp beyond her reach.
Catriona Bain forced a save with another near post shot as the Niccy juggernaut showed no sign of slowing down. Maryam bagged her second of the game with another battling charge which saw her refuse to lose possession before again finishing from close range.
Shana Macphail rattled the upright with a shot from distance before the same player finally found the net with a low shot from left to right where it nestled in the net with a kiss from the inside of the post.
It was non-stop and Mary Macleod was denied another goal herself with a ferocious drive which was parried up against the crossbar by the Ellon keeper who then gathered the dropping ball.
Shana wrapped up the goals with the game’s final strike in the final minute as she popped up in the heart of the six-yard box and leathered the ball forcefully home for the ninth.
All 15 players involved in pink played a huge part in victory. From Annie Maclennan’s thou-shalt-not-pass ethos at centre-half; or Annie Miller’s refusal to be ruffled or panic in possession even when rivals players leap on her like Doberman’s on fresh meat; Mary Macleod’s power and pace or Shana Macphail’s exqusiite technique and ferocious shooting prowess.
But perhaps most exciting for the Nicolson was the performances of 14-year-old’s Kayleigh and Maryam who have three and four years respectively left to play in this competion. What a prospect for rival teams.
For Bain though he can look fondly towards the trophy cabinet in the bowels of the school on Springfield Road where he has helped plunder 13 North of Scotland Cups. He will be a big miss to the girls squad but he has left a legacy and set a standard for the girls to live up to.
And with the school football production line continuing to churn out high class youngsters - I wouldn’t be against number 14 being thurst into the Dingwall sky this time next summer.