Regardless of the outcome at Dens Park today, John McGlynn will look back on the 2020/21 campaign as one of the most enjoyable of his career.
McGlynn’s Raith Rovers side have played some scintillating football, developed young players and consistently punched above their weight to reach the Premiership playoff semi-final.
For a team newly-promoted from League 1, that would be sufficient to ensure this goes down as a memorable season.
However, considering McGlynn was seriously ill in hospital back in October, resulting in a two-month hiatus from the sport he lives and breathes, the club’s progress has been remarkable.
The 59-year-old underwent surgery to have his gallbladder removed last year after enduring excruciating pain through the night. When he was seemingly on the mend, McGlynn contracted a kidney infection and developed pancreatitis.
His trusty assistant, Paul ‘Smudger’ Smith, did a wonderful job of steadying the ship during that period and is a true unsung hero of this term.
McGlynn is an understated character and would always prefer the focus was on his players rather than himself but, make no mistake, he was in a bad way. That he is even back in the dugout, let alone managing such an entertaining side, is a feat in itself.
“It’s one of the seasons I’ve enjoyed the most of all my time in management and coaching,” explained McGlynn. “That’s because of the style and the team goals we’ve scored.
“There have been a lot of positives and we’re going in the right direction.
“At the start of the season, I was ill and not necessarily in a good place and that’s part of it too – you start to consider a lot of things when you’re not well.
“So, you pick up things like just being grateful to be in this position; being able to come in every day and work with the fantastic people and players I do. Sometimes you just have to weigh up things like that.
“I can stand back and watch the team develop and play and I’m so proud of what they’ve done.”
However, Raith were, in McGlynn’s own words, ‘brought right back down to earth’ by Dundee on Wednesday evening.
The Dark Blues defended well, allowed Rovers to play their pretty patterns in search of a picture-book goal and, when the time came, they pounced on the break. A 3-0 win for James McPake’s side has, in all likelihood, settled this tie.
“I’ve not been into Willie Hills this morning but I’m sure we’d be a 1,000,000/1 outsiders,” smiled McGlynn. “Not that I can bet on football . . . greyhounds and horses perhaps.”
Nevertheless, this is a man who has already climbed from his hospital bed to reach the playoffs. He is unwilling to meekly accept that his players will not be able to climb from the canvass and achieve the seemingly impossible.
“Liverpool in the Champions League final comes to mind,” continued McGlynn. Indeed, more recently, Dundee themselves threw away a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 with Dunfermline in December.
“There have been games like that and we have to take every positive thing we can take. The challenge is: get the first goal while there is enough time to score at least two more. That bit of panic might set in. We’ve got to hang onto that hope.
“The only way we’ll get them nervous is by being on the front-foot and getting the ball in the box, while making sure we don’t get caught.”
Intriguingly, given the plaudits McGlynn has received for Rovers’ style this term, he is ready to pitch a curve-ball in Tayside.
Modest resources mean that he is limited in how much he can truly alter, but more physicality in attack and more direct passing are likely to be the order of the day. The pursuit of ‘the perfect goal’ is no longer viable.
Iain Davidson’s age and fatigued hamstring have caught up with him. That will be another change, albeit an enforced one.
“I think we need to change it,” added McGlynn. “More of the same means we need to score the perfect goal, maybe with ten or 20 passes and Dundee not getting a kick. To score three perfect goals is something else!”
Meanwhile, McGlynn have lavished praise on Regan Hendry after the midfielder was shortlisted for PFA Scotland Championship player of the year — and has urged him to relish his battle with fellow nominee Charlie Adam, who was irrepressible in midweek.
It is an invaluable learning curve, he contends.
“I’m delighted for Regan,” said McGlynn. “He’s had an amazing season and has got better and better. He’s been key to everything we do. He starts the game, builds it up; he has great composure on the ball, elegance and passing ability.
“He also reads the game particularly well.
“You can only use someone like Charlie Adam him as an example. For some of our guys with an aspiration to play at a higher level — well, that’s the level they need to get to.”