Jun 22 2012 by Mike WIlson, Ayrshire Post (main ed)
THERE was a rare fluttering among ornithologists in the west of Scotland caused by the sight of a flock of chickens heading for Govan looking for a home to roost.
Their excitement was increased considerably when a squadron of Hawks was spotted heading down the M77 in the direction of Millbrae, writes Ron Evans.
We all know what was behind the first sighting while the reason for the second was explained away by Ayr coach Kenny Murray.
He said: “Yes, we have been concentrating on strengthening the squad for next season and one of the things which has happened shows that it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
“Last season was a bad one for Glasgow Hawks and they didn't make it into the new RBS Premier Division. There are quality players who have been at Old Anniesland who want to continue to play at the highest club level and we are fortunate that they have decided to come to Ayr next season.
“Craig and Kerr Gossman have regularly shown that they are among the best back three players in Scotland, Dean Kelbrick is a centre whose ability can be judged by the fact that he played for the Scotland club international side this season, Peter Jricevich combines a real talent at No9 with a priceless ability to kick goals and prop George Hunter and lock Nick Campbell are hugely promising youngsters who involved in the Glasgow Warriors set up.
“We have looked to strengthen the No10 spot and we will have Finn Russell, who is currently with the Scotland U20 squad in South Africa, with us next season.
“He is primarily a stand-off although in the Scotland side he had been playing centre alongside Mark Bennett to accommodate Harry Leonard at No10.”
Last week Ayr pulled off a huge signing when it was announced that Calum Forrester would be back at Millbrae next season.
After a frustrating time with Glasgow Warriors when he was beset by a series of injuries which prevented him from nailing down a regular starting spot, he was released at the end of last season.
Several clubs were after the talented and popular back row man but Ayr was where he decided to sign. He will be welcomed back having been part of the championship winning side as well has having been in the squad for three of Ayr's British and Irish Cup matches last season against Munster, Cross Keys and Bristol.
Murray added: “Calum was a big and important signing and we know that he will do a really good job for us and we have some exciting young talent coming through who might just make the step up in the coming season.
“Colin Templeton is back to fitness and will be cover for the back five, D'Arcy Rae is currently propping with Scotland U18 and will move up to the U20s next season and we are looking at several of the youngsters who are in the Academy to make a challenge for a squad place.
“From overseas, we are looking at a South African prop and young number 10 from New Zealand but we are waiting on further reports before we take those any further but we are certainly looking at a back five member of the current Zimbabwe side, Shingi Mpofu, a team mate of Denford Mutamangira who made such an impression last season and will be back after playing something like six Tests for Zimbabwe in South Africa over the summer.”
Mutamangira is currently involved in playing in the Victoria Cup where the Zimbabwe international side the Sables in competition with Kenya and Uganda are doing pretty well.
Although John Willis and Rob Colhoun will not be back at Millbrae next season, the incoming players mentioned above will create a real competition for places so with the returning Graham Fiskin, Murray McConnell, Sylvain Diez, Ross Doneghan, Peter McCallum, and the possibility of Scott Nimmo alongside the seasoned regulars, Ayr could turn out to be a formidable force next season.
Murray admitted: “We are in a good position at this stage of the close season and we have recruited real quality players as well as still having some to consider further to perhaps bulk up the pack a bit more but things are looking really positive.”
It is a short summer break for the players at this level these days and after a coaches and players’ get together in the last week of June, pre-season training starts in the first week of July in the build up to the first RBS Premier League fixture on August 25 at Meggetland against Boroughmuir.
So how does the coach view what is by any standards a hugely demanding fixture schedule with Dundee at Millbrae on September 1, Gala at Netherdale the following week, Stirling at Millbrae on September 15, a visit to the Greenyards to face Melrose next up on the card then seeing the opening third of the season’s 18 league matches gone by the end of September with the visit of Heriots to Millbrae on the 29th.
"It is a tough start to what will be hard season in a 10 team league where the gap between the sides has closed and every game will be crucial" said Murray.
"However I think we will be fresher as the season goes on because although it is disappointing not to be competing in the British and Irish Cup, it took its toll on us in the latter stages of our league campaign last season and so we hope to be challenging again when it comes to the final stages of the Premier."
So that is the state of play at the moment with Ayr having embarked on a recruitment campaign which augurs well for next season.
The next column here will be in the last week of July with an update on further signings, pre season games and all the news from Millbrae so until then, enjoy the summer!