IAN MURRAY has spent the last few years preparing for life as a football coach. However, even the former Hibs midfielder has been surprised by the speed at which his management career has taken off.
Murray is a meticulous planner, using his spare time during his playing days to help out at training with East of Scotland side Coldstream while also working away in the background towards achieving his SFA coaching badges.
And his ‘early learning’ appears to have paid off.
The 31-year-old is currently just over three months into his first coaching role with Dumbarton and his arrival has come at the same time as a dramatic change of fortune for the Sons.
When Murray took up the post of manager back in November, Dumbarton were cast adrift at the foot of the Irn Bru First Division and didn’t look to have much hope of hauling themselves back into the pack. However, his appointment has sparked a real revival in his team.
Six of their seven victories in the league this season have come under Murray’s stewardship – the other while his assistant Jack Ross was placed in caretaker control following the dismissal of Alan Adamson.
Murray concedes that things couldn’t have gone much better for him although he acknowledges that there will be many challenges ahead.
He admitted: “I thought it might have taken a bit longer for us to make any kind of difference because, when I looked at the fixture list, we had the top four on the bounce straight away.
“When I first came into the club in November we had a lot of games postponed because of the weather and, at that point, we were rooted to the foot of the table. We were starting to get a bit worried about all of the call-offs because we didn’t want to be miles away from the rest of the teams.
“Fortunately for us, that didn’t turn out to be the case, and it is all going well at the minute.”
The First Division is one of the most competitive in the country and a tough challenge for the most experienced of managers, never mind one in his first coaching role. Murray, though, is relishing the test which lies in front of him and he added: “This is a great chance for me. I am coming in at a decent level and it will be a real test for me but it is one that I am looking forward to.
“The First Division is a really competitive league and we were struggling when we came in. The main objective was to stay in the league so if we were to finish the season in eighth position that would be a real achievement.
“Staying off the bottom is still our main priority and, although we have made up a bit of ground in recent weeks, we know that it is still going to be a hard ask. We have at least given ourselves a chance. We’ve managed to get ourselves ahead of Airdrie and we’re level on points with Cowdenbeath, so we’re pretty happy with the way that results have been going but we know that there is still a long way to go.
“I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know too much about how Dumbarton’s season had been going before I joined because I had been out in America. I had only been back in Scotland for two days when I took the job and obviously then did a lot of research.
“You could see that the team were really low in confidence but, at the same time, you could also see that they had ability.
“All of the games that we have played in, if we have lost then we have lost by a single goal so even when we have suffered a defeat there have still been positives to take.”
Murray, who has enlisted former Hearts and Scotland stopper Craig Gordon as goalkeeping coach, admits that management has been a real culture shock to him after 13 seasons as a player with Hibs (twice), Rangers and Norwich.
He continued: “I understand that when you play in games no-one goes out and tries to make mistakes or lose concentration.
“It is frustrating sometimes for myself and Jack.
“The worst thing is that you can see things happening and you can’t do anything about it.
“The players have been great though. Everyone will make mistakes every now and then but I can’t fault any of our guys when it comes to concentration or application.
“I like the training side of things and game day, getting things organised with Jack. The e-mails and paperwork side of things is a different matter. Having to deal with agents and speaking to players about certain things is a real change for me too but it’s something that I will have to get used to. Now that the transfer window is closed everything has quietened down a little bit but I am expecting it to be hectic when it comes to the summer.
“I am not sure what this job is like compared to full-time management. We only train twice a week and probably the most difficult thing is just trying to get everything you need to get done with the players dealt with in those two days.
“On a training side of things as well, on a Tuesday, we only have half a pitch and on a Thursday night it’s a quarter pitch. Obviously, that brings its own difficulties but I knew all of this when I moved to Dumbarton and you just get on with it.”
Murray spent more than a decade at Easter Road over two spells before leaving last summer and will be a keen observer when his former club take on Dundee United at Tannadice this Sunday.
He added: “Tannadice is always a difficult ground to go to. United are a difficult side to play anyway but particularly when they are on their home ground. Hibs have done okay there in the past although I didn’t realise that it has been almost three years (May 2010) since their last win up there.
“I remember that game well. It was the last day of the season and we had just drawn 6-6 with Motherwell.
“It was a big game for both sides because we were looking to clinch a place in Europe while United had the Scottish Cup final to think about the following weekend. Big Colin Nish got two goals that day and we kept a clean sheet as well which was exactly what we wanted to do after losing so many goals in the previous game.
“I made my debut up at Tannadice and I have always liked playing up there.
“Whenever I went there with Hibs I always felt that we could win, especially if we managed to hold our own playing up the slope.”