JACKIE MCNAMARA has experienced plenty of lows amid the career highs of Scottish League titles and playing at a World Cup. But nothing quite to compare to last season.
York City’s relegation from the Football League hurt the 42-year-old deeply, the Scot cutting an increasingly frustrated figure as the club slid inexorably towards the drop during a miserable final few weeks.
Three months on, however, and McNamara has rediscovered his footballing mojo. A total overhaul of the squad has helped, 20 new faces having arrived ahead of the Minstermen’s return to the National League.
“It has been a busy summer,” reflected the City chief when speaking to The Yorkshire Post. “And I am delighted with the work we have been able to do.
“On and off the field, the squad has been terrific. The new players have brought a real hunger and desire with them. I think that is reflected in the atmosphere around the place. That is what I have been looking for.
“I want players who are hungry and willing to fight for their place – and capable of showing plenty of character. I feel we have that now.”
‘Character’ is not a word that many would associate with a City squad that slid out of the League with barely a whimper last term.
York finished rock bottom with just seven wins and 34 points, nine adrift of safety. The 87 goals conceded by a team that kept just four clean sheets – and only one after the opening month of the season – also told its own story.
McNamara, who succeeded Russ Wilcox as manager in early November, took the brunt of criticism from supporters and he admits the experience was a chastening one.
“Last season was tough for a lot of reasons,” said the former defender, who during an illustrious playing career won three Scottish titles and played at the 1998 World Cup.
“As a manager, I found it very frustrating at times. And very difficult. Power became a big thing. Having so many players out of contract meant it was tough. Many of them weren’t good enough, not contributing enough to the team or simply weren’t ready. Or motivated.
“I found that very hard to understand coming down here from Scotland. The power had drifted away from the manager.
“I felt some of them weren’t interested if they played or not. Just not bothered. They also weren’t hurting enough when we conceded a goal or lost a game. Nowhere near enough.”
McNamara, who is targeting another striker after Richard Brodie suffered an injury scare in midweek, arrived at Bootham Crescent with York already deep in trouble. Just two wins from the first 16 games had left the Minstermen just one place and three points above the relegation zone.
Defeats to Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup and then Barnsley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy followed in the Scot’s first two games, and he admits the danger signs were there straight away.
“Barnsley was a game where we were comfortable,” he said about a third-round tie that York led until midway through the season half.
“But then one of the players switched off – I won’t single him out – for the first goal and then allowed the guy to run in for the second.
“The crowd had turned that night because the pressure was on Barnsley and we let them back into it. Six months later, they won the competition.
“Thin margins and, to me, it summed up a lot of things that were wrong here. No-one took responsibility. I pulled the lad afterwards and said he had let us down. His response was to say, ‘But I didn’t mean it’.
“Words are easy and, to me, if it means that much then you put your body on the line, to make sure you are not the one to let the team down.
“Again, it is all part of the learning curve for me. Coming here and learning what makes people tick, what makes players motivated.
“That is the big thing. Where do they want to go? Do they just see this as a job? They are well looked after here at York.”
McNamara’s response to last season’s relegation was to let 15 players go as part of his overhaul.
“You can look at last season’s squad and see where they are now,” he added. “A couple are playing in the Football League with a team that came up (Luke Summerfield and James Berrett joined Grimsby) and our captain (Russell Penn) is at Carlisle.
“But the rest are either in the league below or not even fixed up. Even the ones that left us in January, the (Marvin) McCoys and Eddie Nolans, haven’t played since. That says a lot.”
York kick off the National League season a week today with a televised trip to Maidstone United. Much is expected of the new-look Minstermen and McNamara is excited about the challenge that lays ahead.
“A lot of time was consumed by meeting the players and interviewing them,” he added. “But that has been so beneficial and, to me, why they have adapted so quickly.
“They all come from different backgrounds. Some University, some leaving jobs, one PE teacher, others who were rejected earlier in their career by Academies – there is a big difference between the lads but they have gelled very well.
“The hunger is there in them all. Some have had jobs but want that real crack at full-time football. It is a healthy thing to have at a club.”
As for McNamara, he is eager to get the season under way. “I managed a couple of weeks’ break, including a family holiday in May,” he added. “Though I am sure my wife will say I never switched off at all. I was taking calls all the time and trying to arrange meetings for when I got back. I wanted to start rebuilding the team.”