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23 "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn"


About tenthreeleader

  • Rank
    FM Stories Moderator


  • Biography
    | 31-time FMS Award winner
    | FMS Writer of the Year 2008-09-12-15-16
    | Rob Ridgway's doppleganger

About Me

  • About Me
    FMS Hall of Fame Class of 2012


  • Interests
    "Raising Cain" - 2016 FMS Story of the Year

Favourite Team

  • Favourite Team
    Rangers, MUFC, Reading

Currently Managing

  • Currently Managing
    Lisburn Distillery

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  1. Perhaps Davide just wanted to receive a glowing report. (rimshot)
  2. After the first time Sage spoke with the woman running training for the Northern Ireland u-21 ladies’ team, he went and ran five miles on his treadmill. She made him feel fat by comparison. He was embarrassed. To suggest that Kylie Flanagan was the source of more than one man taking exercise more seriously after they had met her would have been an understatement. The former Arsenal ladies’ star had taken excellent care of herself and as the led training at New Grosvenor Park prior to a match there, it seemed obvious to everyone. It was a glorious late mid-August afternoon and with the team playing away at Ballinamallard United, the home ground was open that weekend. The scheduled matches against Wales u-21s wound up at the Whites’ home due to a rather astonishing set of circumstances at the grounds of bigger clubs in and around Belfast. Still, the Whites had a wonderful little ground and it didn’t seem to bother anyone that it would host an international match, least of all the young Irish ladies working hard on the pitch under the watchful eye of their coach. Sage watched the training closely – not because he was eyeing up the raven-haired boss, but because she was having her players perform their drills at an unusually high pace and Sage wanted to see how they would handle it. She wasn’t sparing the rod, Sage knew – and the women held up very well. Finally, Flanagan blew her whistle sharply three times while walking toward the center circle and everyone knew what that meant. They gathered around their coach in a school circle and she gave them her evaluation of their day’s training. “You’re getting there,” she said. “I saw more from you, and better from you, than I’ve seen in some time. Shower off and head to the coach – we leave for the hotel in half an hour.” With that, she walked toward Sage and they shook hands. “A pleasure,” Sage said, meaning it sincerely. “Your reputation precedes you.” “Gallantry precedes you,” she replied in a teasing tone. “How did you like our training?” “You do things at a pace I wish my lads could do,” Sage answered. “I have a hard time thinking you’ll be anything but successful when Wales come here.” “You’d be surprised,” she said, with a rueful smile. “They’re still kids, after all. They do the most extraordinary things sometimes and it’s hard to drill those things out of them.” “The manager’s eternal problem,” Sage agreed. “Let me tell you, that doesn’t change with the age of the player.” They chatted for a few more minutes until she had to leave to do the other things required of coaches – namely, ride herd on the players until they were all sat on the coach in the required time frame. McCabe approached and gave Sage the same evaluation of the training that he had already formed in his own mind. “We can learn from those people,” Sage said. “If they play like they train, they’ve some creative ideas we would be wise to learn from.” And with that, Sage hit his treadmill. # # #
  3. 8 August 2020 PSNI v Distillery – Bluefin Sport Championship Round 1 Sage sat on the bench, thunderstruck. Was this really what life in the second tier was going to be like? Alex McIlmail was striding toward the corner flag, fists pumping, celebrating a goal in the first minute of second half added time. The fact that there were less than a dozen people there to greet him, and nine of them were his teammates, literally gave silent testimony as to the size of the crowd. But it was the team’s fourth goal of the contest, while playing its opening match away from home. That was what Sage was struggling to understand. In a good way, mind you, but struggling nonetheless. The new captain, Aaron Harris, had rightly been the first one to open his account, in fifteen minutes. Johnny McCaw had thundered home from twenty yards six minutes later, only to see striker David McMaster equalize with a nine-minute brace later in the half. With five minutes to play in the half it was already 2-2 and Distillery had already shown themselves to be more than makeweights. Despite the two quick goals conceded, Sage was pleased at half, and his team took the positive attitude out for the second session. In 66 minutes, there was the former PSNI man Ryan Berry celebrating a goal against his old mates, and his teammates made it hold up until added time. That was when McIlmail broke through after a terrific weighted pass from Harris, slotting past a stranded Jonny Parr in the PSNI goal for a 4-2 lead. “Honestly, I hadn’t expected this,” Sage said to his right-hand man, watching his team celebrate. Barry had laid on assists for both the first two goals and scored one himself. Harris had returned the favor on the new man’s tally. The central midfield partnership sure looked like it was hitting in mid-season form. “They can’t be this dangerous already,” Brian McCabe replied, sharing some of the manager’s reaction, but with a bigger smile on his face. “Ball don’t lie,” Sage smiled, using the American phrase which sounded sufficiently foreign coming out of his mouth. McCabe shot Sage a sidewise glance which indicated the manager might just be a little bit out of his mind, but it was all in good fun. The team had performed brilliantly in their first match a league up. And while they were talking about just how good they had been, Harris repeated his feat, finding McIlmail over the top in the last minute of stoppage time for the striker to volley home, capping a convincing win. PSNI 2-5 Distillery (Harris 15, McCaw 21, Berry 66, McIlmail 90+1, 90+5) “Before we kicked off, I had half expected to roast you lot right now,” Sage smiled as the team sat in the changing room following its cool-down run. “The fact that I’m not means you did very well indeed,” he continued, and he knew what reaction he’d get. He got along well with them. None of them were on full-time contracts and so that called for a different manner of handling players. Sage was already finding out that he was very good at it. There were lots of happy smiles and laughs. That was the reaction he wanted. There was just no sense in handling these lads roughly, Sage had reasoned. Everyone in that room was there because they wanted to be, and the money was obviously secondary. He had succeeded in bringing in veteran players and young alike because word had already gotten out they’d be treated like men. That counted for something. As the players boarded the coach for home, Sage nodded with satisfaction and as he took his customary place in the front seat opposite the driver, he just let the moment flow over him. It wouldn’t always be like this. Everyone knew that. But as of that moment, Distillery was top of the table and though it surely wouldn’t last, this was a moment to savor. # # #
  4. You are a good man, Mark Wilson ___ There was a lot to think about. The 20-match season from the Intermediate League would metastasize into 32 the following year. There were still four cups to contend, two of which carried board expectations. There was no money for players – everyone had to be on a free and no full-time contracts – even Sage’s -- were allowed. The club, and it seemed far from alone in this, seemed to be hanging on the knife’s edge. Still, though, ambition is ambition and Sage took it as a challenge to bring in players to the club that could help without costing money. During the friendly season, Sage tried to build a spine around which the club could try to survive the longer fixture list against stronger opposition. First in was central midfielder Ryan Berry, on a free from PSNI. He had impressed Sage in the cup meeting between the clubs the season before, and could do a number of key things well even at age 32. He was a good passer of the ball, could man-mark, knew where to be when the time was right and could crack off a shot from distance like few in the league. Sage was frankly surprised to get him. Second up was to extend the loan of Leighton Jameson for a second season from Glenavon. The 19-year old was only starting to mature into his 6’1”, 175-pound frame and showed some promise that Sage was confident he could get out of him. The third signing held a bit of intrigue. 20-year old Ryan Waide came in as a free agent. He could play midfield and he could play different styles up front. Sage had inherited a strike force the season before consisting solely of poacher-type players, which limited his options in the final third as his strikers had to learn new ways to play off each other. Waide would bring variety. The last was big central defender Daniel White, in from Knockbreda on a free. Brought in as a classic cover defender, White was a lunch-bucket type of player who had the strength, leaping ability and marking prowess to stand in front of the goal and make opposing strikers pay for coming too close. The friendlies didn’t really do much to show the quality of the additions, since chairman Jim Greer had made some business arrangements to bring in sacrificial lambs for the friendly schedule. The lone exception to this was Scottish League Two side Stenhousemuir, who Distillery fought to a 1-1 standoff at New Grosvenor Park in the first friendly. The others – Crumlin United, Newtowne, Dunloy and Killymoon – fell by an aggregate score of 23-1, and it probably would have been worse had all four matches not been played away. Sage’s team would have to wait until the season proper began before finding out if the new boys were enough to make survival a possibility. # # #
  5. Thank you, Mark ... I need to earn my way back. ___ There had been bumps in the road in that first season. Most of them were due to the vagaries of life in the part-time football world. The transfer window essentially lasts for the entire season in Northern Ireland. So even as Sage appreciated the beauty of County Down, he wished more of his players would be willing to do the same. Roster poaching was constant and to make matters worse, Sage lost not one but two captains during that first season. First, midfielder Gary Workman left for Dergview in August with the team already topping the table and playing well. Then his replacement, midfielder James Wright, upped stakes for Dundela. This was in late March, with two matches to go in the season and the team clinging to the smallest of margins at the top of the table. While understandable, this wasn’t a slight Sage was willing to accept lying down. “You know, if you needed an extra tenner a week to play, I could understand that,” Sage told his team after Wright left. “But at least have the decency to help your teammates win the league first.” However, Sage himself wasn’t immune to the idea of either signing or poaching players. His best acquisitions, though, were all free transfers. 20-year old striker Alex McIlmail had been found without a team and contributed nine goals after a mid-season signing. 21-year old wing Rhys Ferris always played bigger than his small stature, and could play either side of the midfield. Left fullback Jude Ballard filled a glaring need. Not the best crosser of the ball in the world, he was, however, a lockdown defensive player for this level and as such, Ferris had more freedom to get forward when he played that side. He wound up with six goals and assisted on seven others. Not bad for a player nobody else wanted. Holdover Nick Beta led the team with 16 goals – but 11 were scored in cup competitions as he was a holy terror outside of the league. Loan siging Leighton Jameson helped solidify the back line with help from free transfer Joe Reid. Where Sage had trouble, and by that he meant regular trouble, was in the coaching staff. Finding enough coaches to make sure players developed in part-time training was not difficult. However, getting permission from the board to actually pay them, well, that was something else. There was actual friction on that account. There was also discord over the board’s two failures to find a parent club for Distillery and its blanket refusal to let any staff members study for additional badges or certifications on the club’s money. It was fairly apparent to Sage that even his part-time staff and players possessed more ambition than its board did. He could have settled down into a bunker mentality and started an “us against the world” mindset, but players came and went far too often to make such an idea a good one. So instead, Sage became a “relationship” manager. He motivated. He praised. He disciplined when it was warranted and once the club had success, his players bought in. That was one reason some of them stayed. Regularly, players would be approached by other clubs and as long as they weren’t a captain, they usually stayed, expressing their admiration for their boss. So when it came time to yell, as Sage occasionally did, they listened. They didn’t take it personally. And they stayed the course, punching well above their weight. So as the 2020-21 season began, Sage Morison found himself facing a real challenge: keeping the part-timers in the second tier on two training nights a week. If this didn’t make him hate the beautiful game, nothing would. # # #
  6. For Sage, Distillery was the perfect starter club. Part-timers who had fallen from grace in the Northern Irish game some years past, they still took almost unreasonable pride in their accomplishments. They had a European pedigree, albeit one that was basically fifty years old. They had once played Benfica, in the preliminaries of the 1962 European Cup, and had somehow managed a 3-3 draw in the home leg. Away, though, was a different story and the tie was lost 8-3 on aggregate. Seven years later, they faced Barcelona in the first round of the 1971 Cup-Winners Cup. They got an idea of how the Hindenburg’s passengers must have felt in a 7-1 aggregate loss in a competition that was eventually won by Rangers. But since then, it had been dry, dry, dry, which is always bad for a Distillery. They were relegated out of the top flight in 2013 and had never come close to getting back. They had won the Irish Cup twelve times, but not since 1971, which put them into the tie against Barcelona. They had won the Irish premier league six times, but not since 1962. They were fourteen times winners of the County Antrim Shield, with a 97-year span from the first victory in 1888 to the most recent, in 1985. They were proud, but they were dormant. There were longtimers in the area who wanted to see that change – but unfortunately, they didn’t have money, so the part-time club that had once graced the heights of the Northern Irish game was now much closer to a bottom-feeder. And that stuck in every Distillery fan’s craw. That said, there evidently weren’t many of them. That first season, the team averaged a turnout of about 150 fans per game. The club was hemorrhaging money even paying part-time salaries. Sage had been careful with his money as a player and so wasn’t in need of a huge salary, but he had to be talked out of donating his salary back to the club by its chairman as a matter of club pride. In exchange for that expression of pride, Sage gave Distillery everything he had. He didn’t believe in a lot of swanning about at this level, so most of the time he kept it simple – 4-4-2 with attack-minded wingers, well-conditioned players and a requirement of every player to be willing to pressure the ball wherever it was found. It wasn’t long before Sage and his team figured out who wanted to play and who didn’t in their league, the Bluefin Sport Premier Intermediate, which to Sage was simply a fancy way of saying “third tier”. “We won’t be outworked by anyone,” Sage promised his players in their first team meeting. “None of us want to be in this league and I see no reason why after this season is over, any of us should be.” As such, Sage’s team swept seven friendlies and won its first three competitive games before falling 1-0 to Coleraine in the Bet McLean Cup second round. Thus inspired, it was a calendar month before they lost again, winning five and drawing one before losing 2-1 at home to Newington in the club’s first league loss in five starts. In the meantime, there were cup runs to consider. The County Antrim Shield, not won by a Distillery team for 35 years, had been identified as a priority target by the club’s board. Knockbreda and Newington were the club’s first two victims in that competition, falling to some inspired play by Sage’s men. That put them into the semi-final, where they fell 3-1 to Premier League opposition Larne in a game at Windsor Park that drew about fifteen times the usual attendance for a Distillery game. The board appreciated the cut from gate even if they hadn’t appreciated the result, and it was then on to bigger things. The Steel and Sons Cup was next, and Sage’s men fared better. Dunloy and Ballymena Reserves fell easily to Distillery, and they had dismissed Ballymoney United 3-0 in the match before falling to Larne. By now cruising in the league, Sage could devote other resources to the cups. Even though the board had not identified Steel and Sons as important, Sage had because he wanted his players to get used to the idea of striving for something every time they took the pitch. As November arrived, Police Service of Northern Ireland, or PSNI, stood both a league up on Distillery and squarely athwart their road to the final. But in perhaps their best game of the season, Sage’s men stood tall in a 2-1 win that allowed the club to reach a cup final for the first time in God only knew how long. With Banbridge now providing the only serious opposition to a league title walkover, Distillery received a gut punch by going out of the Irish Cup in the fourth round on penalties to league rival Bangor on 7th December. That led to the first serious friction between Sage and the board – they had let him know that an exit at that stage was unacceptable even for part-timers – and the players, who already liked and admired their manager, were determined to bail him out. On Christmas Day, Distillery overwhelmed non-league Coagh United 5-2 to win the Steel and Sons Cup for the first time in 108 years. Yes, it was a diddy cup, but it was silverware and the feeling of winning it was the same as for any other -- for the time being. But by then the team’s lead in the league, which had been as high as ten points, began to melt as the trials of a long season started to take their toll on part-time players. A 3-1 crash at Banbridge in late February reduced the lead to two points, which made Distillery’s exit from the Intermediate Cup a welcome occurrence. In the six weeks from the middle of January to the end of February, Distillery managed just one point in the league. Banbridge was coming on strong and when the league took a break in early March, Sage scheduled two friendlies which he hoped would build confidence. Abbey Villa and Derry City provided no serious opposition, and a tidy 1-0 over Arragh at New Grosvenor Park meant the team needed only a draw at Tobermore United on the last day to wrap up the title. In the finest interests of doing just enough to get the job done, that’s exactly what Distillery did, in a 1-1 draw that enabled them to finish 12-4-4 in the league, two points clear of Banbridge – and up to the second tier. # # #
  7. Late to the Game Sage Morison figured that making up for lost time could be easy, or it could be hard. Impossibly hard. But then, life itself could be easy or hard. His hometown of Gorelston-on-Sea was living proof. Some folks said the name was a derivative of “Girls Town” and appears as Gorlestuna in William the Conqueror’s “Domesday Book” of 1086. It was a fishing town in medieval times, but once the supply of herring dried up, so did that industry. Since Edwardian times, Gorelston had been a tourist town. The people there had adapted over time. Sage wouldn't have dreamed of being the exception to the rule. He was a Norfolk lad, born and bred. He grew up supporting Norwich City, which is a bit like saying you grew up supporting Peter Pettigrew from the point of view of your heartstrings, but had played his entire career with Peterborough. It had been a good career, ended due to arthritis in an ankle broken against Northampton Town in a League Cup game in 2011. At age 36, with fifteen years in the Peterborough colors now over, he had to decide what to do with his life. He couldn’t even play in his own testimonial, which to him was highly annoying. He was bitter. He knew that feeling was selfish, but he indulged that selfishness for nine long years. It led to the creation of a vacuum in his life that wasn’t entirely self-destructive but as the young folk would say, he wasn’t living his best life, either. In the end, he had to admit this much to himself: Sage was looking for a reason to fall in love with the game again. Its absence in his life had proven too great. Having started his badges while an active player, he had let them lie dormant as a reward for all his hard work. His first step was to restart his work. His second was to try to find a club that would have him. He wanted to coach. He wanted to try to bring along young players and above all he wanted to find a group of people be could motivate. But he was 45 years old, long in the tooth to get into the business. He didn’t have a lot of time to make the mark he wanted to make. Once the job finally came, it wasn’t in England. Lisburn Distillery started Sage Morison’s journey back into the sport he loved – but he was late to the game. Author’s notes: FM20, major European nations loaded. Norn Iron, here we come. # # #
  8. One of the fun things about FMS to share ... Partick Thistle board chair Jacqui Low and I now follow each other on Twitter. Would never have happened without that story or this place.
  9. This is what I love about your style, Dave. You are very good with a turn of phrase. Makes for very enjoyable reading.
  10. I don't know about anyone else, but this got my attention.
  11. This is a wonderful start to a very well-written opening. Well done! I like that you are willing to take on character development of a manager (but then given my history and writing style, that should not come as a surprise). Will be watching -- keep it up!
  12. Just sitting down to this tale but I know what I'm likely to find. And that's a good thing.
  13. As always, a strong effort from the Mod. Well done, sir and good luck this season!
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