Dunfermline Athletic

Pars baby steps over two legs

Friday, 7th May 2021

Declan - “We’re going to have a lot of rugrats running around the players’ lounge at games next season.”

With the birth of his son on the eve of the home match against Dundee in April, Declan McManus became a dad for the third time and he now hopes for a double celebration with success in the Premiership offs. That would make the year 2021 a truly memorable one for him and assign to history the haunting memory of play off failure in 2018.

When signing back in July 2020 Declan was clear that he felt that he had unfinished business at Dunfermline declaring his ambition to be part of a Dunfermline team that would win promotion out of the Championship. He found the 2-1 play off defeat on aggregate to Dundee United as a really tough one to take.

“I thought we were by far the better team over two legs for the most part. We created numerous chances and just didn’t take them, or do enough to keep United out in the second leg. I felt we really harshly went out and it hurt a lot.

“It hurt me personally because, although I scored at Tannadice, I missed a really gilt-edged chance. So, we were left with a feeling of ‘we don’t deserve to be out’. That’s really hard to take.”

Dundee United went on to be knocked out by Livingston who duly defeated Partick Thistle to take their place in the Premiership. Livvy were the last team to win promotion to the top flight via the play offs. Declan still feels that it was a missed opportunity for the Pars:-

“We were the only team that season that Livingston didn’t beat — so we would have really fancied ourselves. It is all ifs, buts and maybes, but it makes me all the more determined to make it all the way to the final. We know we are more than capable of winning on Saturday and over two legs against Dundee — although it’ll be tough if we get there — we are more than capable of getting through.”

Declan had no luck in the play-offs when with Raith either. In season 2016-2017 he was part of the Rovers side that recorded two draws against Brechin City before going out on penalties to the League One side. He recalled:-

“That wasn’t great, that was probably in hindsight as a footballer worse than the Dunfermline one. But the Dunfermline one, for me, hurt a lot more, personally. Hopefully it’s third time lucky and I can change my luck in the play-offs.”

Although Dunfermline would rather have taken a lead out of the First Leg of the Quarter Final play off, Declan like his manager, stressed that there are positives to take from it and to Kirkcaldy on Saturday.

“The only negative for us what that we never took any of those chances but it was a positive performance and we can take a lot from that going into Saturday.

“Of course, Stark’s Park is not an easy place to go and they beat us the last time we were there, but a lot of that was down to our own performance, not being at it, and getting it wrong on the night. We’ll be taking Tuesday’s performance into Saturday and we have every confidence in ourselves — even the boys who missed those chances on Tuesday.”

Raith might take confidence from the 5-1 lashing they gave the Pars on their last visit to Stark’s Park but Declan reminded everyone that Dunfermline showed they could inflict comprehensive defeats on the Rovers as well. Declan pointed out that the home win in February gives the Pars hope for the Second Leg.

“Maybe people have forgotten that we beat them 4-1 as well. It was a really bad night all round and more than one thing went wrong. When that happens and you are playing a good team, they are going to beat you — and beat you comfortably. That’s exactly what happened that night, although they played well, I think we gave them the platform to beat us like they did.

“You saw on Tuesday that we were a lot more organised, harder to break down and, when we got the ball, created three or four really good chances.”

Dunfermline’s change of form has coincided with Declan being moved to play in a role behind the two front players and although that is something new for the 26 year old he is also playing the defensive part of that role particularly well:-

“For one of the chances on Tuesday, I was in my own box clearing the danger. It’s not normally where you would find me, but I’m more than happy to be doing that job and I’m learning game by game, in terms of the positioning. Whitts (Steven Whittaker) has been a big help too. I’m just enjoying it and glad to be involved in these games.

“The last time I was here, I was involved in the playoffs and I know how much it means to the club and the fans. I want to make sure we are going at least one step further — and all the way, if possible, this time. If that means I’m playing right back or left back, then I don’t care!”

Boss Stevie Crawford has several times referred to his Pars squad needing to take “baby steps” towards success and with Declan McManus and Craig Wighton recently becoming fathers they are leading the way for even more of the Pars squad soon expect to be welcoming new babies. It is the unlikely that the gaffer was talking about real babies but there appears to be a few more on the way revealed Declan:-

“I think there’s a few more expecting as well. We’re going to have a lot of rugrats running around the players’ lounge at games next season.”

The home game against Dundee on 13th April was just a day after his son was born but he was just as keen as ever to take the field against the Taysiders:-

“For me, sometimes when things in life are tough, football is my getaway. When I go on the pitch and the whistle blows that is my time to forget about the tough times and just go on and play the game I love playing.

“He’s doing really well. He was really ill when he was born and spent about 10 days in hospital, but he’s home now and gaining weight. With every pound he seems to put on he likes to sleep a wee bit longer - hopefully he keeps that up.”

Declan is looking forward to when his son and his two sisters can go to a game to watch him:-

“That will be brilliant. Even his two big sisters are missing it. They’ve been watching just about every game they can on the TV, but it’s not the same for them. They’re three and five and they’re kind of starting to understand it all, and they’re dying to get to the games. But there are thousands of fans out there at every club that are the exact same. It would just be good to get some sort of crowds back next season. I don’t know much, whether it will be full capacity, but just any number would be a huge lift.”

It would be an incredible 2021 for Declan if next season the crowds were witnessing him playing for Dunfermline in the Premiership. In closing he stressed again just how badly he wants to extinguish the memory of 2018:-

“Just from being here the last time, I know how much the club wants to get promoted. For a club of this size and stature, it deserves to be in the Premiership. The club’s had its tough times and the fans have been there and stuck by it.

“For me to be part of the team that got them there would be a massive, massive achievement and something I would definitely hold forever. It’s all about five more games that could possibly make you a hero forever. I’m all for putting every bit of energy and might I’ve got in me to try to help that.”

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