The St Johnstone players have returned for pre-season training and the business of impressing their manager starts all over again.
One man for whom the next few weeks will be particularly significant is Cammy Ballantyne.
The 21-year-old now has two seasons of League One football under his belt with Montrose and will be determined to catch the eye of Callum Davidson to prove he is ready for the step-up to the Saints’ first team.
No easy feat given the fact that this is a double-winning Perth squad and that central midfield is an area of strength.
Eric Nicolson gives some background on Ballantyne and the challenge that awaits him.
How long has he been on the books at St Johnstone?
Ballantyne, who turned 21 in April, joined Saints from Hearts in 2015.
A Lothians boy, he also played some development football for Hibs.
Saints’ head of youth, Alistair Stevenson, has strong scouting and coaching connections in the capital city and its surrounding area and snapped him up for a switch to the McDiarmid Park academy.
Ah, the St Johnstone-Edinburgh link. There have been a few who have made this journey, correct?
As far as players who have signed for Saints after progressing through boys’ club football in that part of the country are concerned, you’re talking about Chris Kane, Jason Kerr and Ali McCann in recent years.
Striker John Robertson, freed a couple of months ago, was another one.
Liam Gordon should also be mentioned. He is Perth born and bred but was released by Hearts.
There’s no doubt that Stevenson’s capital connections have been hugely significant for Saints’ modern history.
So how much ‘men’s football’ has Ballantyne played?
Ballantyne was just 17 when he made his first appearance for a Saints colts’ side in the Challenge Cup against Aberdeen at Glebe Park – the same age he was playing for Scotland schoolboys.
A number of first team players have since emerged from both sides – two of them are now full internationals.
The Aberdeen line-up included Bruce Anderson, Scott McKenna, Frank Ross and Dean Campbell, while Ballantyne had McCann, Callum Hendry and Kyle McClean for company.
He played against a strong Dundee United team in the same competition the following season, with Hendry scoring twice in a 3-2 defeat.
A first loan swiftly followed – to Lowland League side BSC Glasgow.
The most high profile game of that spell was a 2-0 defeat to then League One club Forfar Athletic in the Scottish Cup.
BSC won the Lowland League Cup, with Ballantyne scoring in the final, and were runners-up in the league.
At the start of 2019/20, he got his customary Challenge Cup Colts start – this time with Gordon as a team-mate. Cove Rangers won that match 4-1.
Tommy Wright felt that Ballantyne was ready for a bigger jump up the Scottish football pyramid by this point – to League One Montrose.
So how did that go?
He played 21 times in a strong Montrose side that finished fourth when the points per game calculations were made after the season was curtailed in early March.
Well enough for manager Stewart Petrie to bring him back for another year.
There were 29 appearances in 2020/21.
What type of midfielder is he?
A central one.
While Davidson has worked on adding strings to McCann’s bow in the Premiership, Petrie has done the same with Ballantyne.
Speaking to Courier Sport, this is the Links Park manager’s description of him.
“When St Johnstone fans get to see him they’ll be watching a player who gets box to box and covers every blade of grass on the pitch.
“He’s composed on the ball and his engine is incredible. He’s got such good energy to make those forward runs.
“We’ve been at him to improve his goal ratio and he’s done that as well (there were three, the most important by far being the 87th minute winner against Partick Thistle that got Montrose into the promotion play-offs at Falkirk’s expense).
“We’ve played him in different positions – as a holding midfielder as well as an attacking one – which will benefit him in the long-term.”
You can be drawn into making the wrong sort of judgment on the back of brief social media highlights but a goal scored towards the end of the season against Falkirk when Ballantyne took a ball down on his thigh, flicked it over the defender’s head with his second touch and then scored with a volley into the bottom corner with his third was a thing of beauty.
Beautiful goal from on-loan Saints midfielder Cammy Ballantyne for Montrose at the weekend. After two seasons at Links Park, hopefully another young player ready to make his mark in Perth. pic.twitter.com/VCPzrONmgn
— St Johnstone 1884 (@stjohnstone1884) May 4, 2021
What’s next for him?
That’s the big question, of course.
Davidson and his coaches were in regular contact with Ballantyne through last season and Liam Craig watched a lot of his matches.
But pre-season represents a huge opportunity for him to get his elbows out and show he’s now ready to be part of a Premiership squad that qualified for Europe or, failing that, a loan to the Championship.
They have stylistic differences as players but Ballantyne just has to look to McCann, who is only a year older, for the prime recent example of taking your chance.
Ballantyne actually has more first team experience under his belt than McCann got at Stranraer but, on the flip side, midfield competition in Perth is now fiercer.
Petrie understandably didn’t want to make any predictions on that front but he would be very surprised if he got the opportunity to work with Ballantyne at Montrose for a third time.
“I’d be astonished if Cammy doesn’t go on to have a career as a full-time footballer,” he said.
“He’s been outstanding for us. He’s a great lad as well.
“I‘m certain bright things lie ahead for him at a higher level than us.
“I’m sure Callum will bring the best out of him with his coaching. He’s still young and has a lot to learn but his attributes certainly by far outweigh any deficiencies.
“I’ve no doubt he’ll have a successful career.
“I’d like nothing better for that to happen for him. I know how good it is to be a full-time footballer and be paid for something you love doing.
“He knows how much time we’ve got for him at Montrose and if for some bizarre reason it didn’t work out for him, we’d certainly welcome him back.
“We’ve brought a few through from St Johnstone. It shows the conveyor belt they’ve got.
“It helps us and gives the players important experience. We’ve got a close relationship. Long may that continue.”
The likeliest outcome for this season would be another loan for Ballantyne, this time to the Championship, possibly with a contract extension beyond the current one which runs out this time next year.
Davidson will have an open mind, though. And the player will have higher ambitions.