By Lewis Michie
NE98 Head of Content Lewis Michie recently had a chance to sit down with Montrose Captain Paul Watson to chat about Championship aspirations, how the club has changed over ten years, his gaffer and young loanees Cochrane, Ballantyne and Mochrie.
Paul Watson knows Montrose pretty well, to say the least.
He’s done the round in Angus, enjoying short stints on loan first from Arbroath in 2009 and then from Forfar in 2010.
Eventually in the Summer of 2012 he’d join up at Links Park permanently, 229 appearances for Mo later he’s not looked back.
Things have changed quite a bit since then, the chairman, the board, most of the squad – and the big one, Stewart Petrie’s arrival in 2016.
“Since the manager came in we’ve never really looked back to be honest”
Paul told NE98 that Montrose has as solid of a base you could wish for at a football club:
“The clubs changed massively from top to bottom since I came in”
“Really since the manager came in, and the chairman changed, and he brought in a new board”
“We’ve got a really strong board and they all love the club”
Stewart Petrie is a manager that has received a lot of praise, and rightly so. Taking over from Paul Hegarty half way through the 16-17 season, they ended that campaign in a play-off spot.
That would set a precedent, the next season they won League Two, gaining promotion to the third tier of Scottish football for the first time since 1995.
The year after that, a play-off spot in League One – taking a first leg lead against Queen of the South in the Semi-Final before things were turned round at Palmerston.
Last season, before Covid put a stop to the world, Montrose were on track for another play-off campaign, and they are looking like doing it again this season.
Petrie has instilled momentum, and an atmosphere of success.
Watson told us why he thinks Petrie has been so succesful:
“Just his mannerism and his style, his man management and the atmosphere that he brings around the club is really good”
“The players know where they stand, they know what is demanded of them – and training is good”
The belief and winning feeling that goes around Links Park, a confidence that they can go toe-to-toe with anyone, especially at home, is something even an outsider feels from the club.
“Once you start that winning mentality, it’s just built season on season” Watson continued.
“He’s also told us just to believe and be confident”
It’s been a frustrating time for everyone at Montrose. They’ve got this momentum, they feel like they can push at the top of League One – but this pandemic just keeps getting in the way.
There was a confidence last season that the Gable Endies could secure another play-off spot, they are praying they get to finish the campaign this season, because again they believe.
“It was really close, we’d kind of closed the gap and we had a good bit of momentum – so frustrating”
Paul says he’s enjoying some extra family time at the weekend, but is itching to get back:
“Struggling with the suspension to be honest, to get back playing and then for them to come out and put a stop to it – I know what’s going on, it’s hard for everyone – I just thought they were maybe a bit harsh with that decision.”
“Without consulting the clubs and without having a meeting or taking on any discussion at all”
“We had an eye on trying to squeeze into that top four again”
The thing with finishing in the play-offs in League One is that you are just four games from a potential Championship campaign.
Many would argue there isn’t that much of a quality gap between the Championship and League One – supporters of the likes of Raith Rovers, Partick Thistle and Falkirk can confirm that.
Sometimes you can go up – even as a part-time club – and like for example, Alloa, you can hold your own.
But in other situations, you might just find yourself in a bit of a mismatch.
It’s the danger of being happy to be a consistent League One club, have a good season and you risk being way in over your head the next year.
But Montrose, should they end up in the Championship eventually, won’t be there by mistake – it’s an aspiration.
Watson says they take nothing for granted, and it might never come, but he’d sure like to see the ‘Mighty Mo’ get their chance in Scotland’s second tier:
“I think a lot of people would have had us going straight back down from League One”
“The first year in League One we got to the play-offs and I think if we’d have gone straight up it might have been a bit too soon, maybe more of a Brechin season than an Arbroath season”
“But why not?, the club’s really built on solid foundations now, right from top to bottom”
“If we did go up, why couldn’t we go and do what Arbroath did last season?”
The final topic Lewis touched on with Paul is one that is bound to interest our audience – the club’s group of young loan players.
It would be easy for Paul to see the three young midfielders – Cammy Ballantyne, Harry Cochrane and Chris Mochrie – as a threat to his minutes in the team, but as far as he’s concerned, they are more than welcome.
“They’ve been excellent”
“They are all good lads as well, none of them are big headed, I’ve seen it over the years the young loan players coming in and they think they shouldn’t be there, they are too good to be there”
“We’ve been quite lucky over the past few years with our loan players”
Harry Cochrane broke through very early on at Hearts, and some Jambo fans might have hoped they could have seen him break into the team this season, but it was decided he was best off going out on loan – Hearts’ loss was Mo’s gain:
“Harry obviously broke through at a really young age, he’s still only 19 it’s hard to believe”
And St Johnstone’s Cammy Ballantyne has returned from a second stint:
“Cammy Ballantyne has just kicked on and kicked on, I said to him that he needed to add goals and he has”
“I’m surprised St Johnstone haven’t even given him a sniff around the first team yet, but I’m sure it will come for him if he keeps playing the way he is”
Chris Mochrie might be the one that’s garnered the most attention online, the Dundee United youngster is very highly thought of:
“Chris Mochrie is an unbelievable talent for only being 17, sad to see him go back to United, I think he still had a lot to offer us.”
“For 17 what a player he is, unbelievable, chasing him about training trying to get the ball of him”
NE98 would like to thank Paul for taking part in this interview, and also pass on our thanks to Graham Christieson – Chairman on Montrose Supporters Club – for setting up the interview.