I have absolutely loved my seven years here, says Mackay as he calls it a day at Wick Academy
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Danny Mackay has brought an end to his Wick Academy career after a seven-year spell at Harmsworth Park – but he believes the club will be well served by the next generation of players.
The 31-year-old defender from Castletown cited a number of factors – including an injury to his right knee that has been troubling him since the start of the year – as he confirmed that he has played his last game for the Scorries.
He was full-time at Ross County for three years, in the under-19s and then the reserve squad, and had six years with Brora Rangers before signing for Academy in 2015. Mackay made 175 appearances in all competitions for Wick, scoring six goals, and played in the North of Scotland Cup final victory over Nairn County in his first season.
“It has been a tough one," he said. "I have absolutely loved the seven years I had at Wick – it has been brilliant.
“I was six years at Brora and then seven years at Wick, and the travelling and the commitment has kind of been getting to me a wee bit lately.
“I've seen boys that I've played with for years and years starting to leave, and the dynamic has changed a wee bit for me with the younger players coming in. They are really good guys, really good young players, but it just changed a bit for me.
“I picked up a knee injury and I am struggling to shake it off. I am getting physio and I'm seeing a doctor about it, so it is getting there, but it is a bit demoralising.
“I spoke to Gaz [manager Gary Manson] about it and said if I can't give 100 per cent I'm either all or nothing.
“I just felt it's not fair on him. Gaz is very methodical. He likes setting out his training routines and his squad and I don't want to be in and out, in and out, and upsetting that.
“Plus it gives some of the younger guys a chance as well. You'll see a few of them maybe getting blooded in and he's got a few boys on trial just now.”
Mackay's final game for Academy was against Fraserburgh at Bellslea Park at the end of March, when he went off injured in the second half.
“I went up for a header and I came down and twisted and landed and I couldn't move it," he said. "Probably the way I played the last 13 years didn't help – the hard tackling doesn't really help knees, I would imagine.
“I loved my time, especially the first few years there and when we won the North of Scotland Cup. Even lately it has been really good seeing the young boys there – they are going to develop very well.
"It's just getting that mix between experience and knowledge, because the Highland League is a tough league. You've got a lot of ex-pros that are switched on.
"Maybe the fitness levels aren't so great, but they are switched on and they can play games out really well. Teams like Fraserburgh and Buckie are full of players like that.”
The 2021/22 campaign was a frustrating one for the Scorries as they had to contend with a long list of injuries. They finished in the top half of the table, in ninth place – helped by a run of eight wins from nine league games in November, December and January.
"It was kind of a threadbare squad, but I feel this year most of the squad will be back, Alan Farquhar is back, and he [Manson] is also looking at six or seven players to come in," Mackay said. "So I felt they had the depth there that I could make this announcement and then let Gary get on with it."
Mackay has been impressed with Manson's diligent approach to management.
"His coaching is fantastic," Mackay said. "He thinks about every session. If we're playing Rothes on a Saturday, he thinks about Rothes and the training on Tuesday and Thursday is moulded for playing Rothes.
"It's the most prep I've seen out of a manager for a long, long time. He puts an unbelievable amount of organisation into it.
"It was a shame last season because with the injuries and players missing he never really got a good chance, I feel. Most games he was missing key players.
"Against Buckie in midweek [a 1-1 draw in April] he went down with one sub."
Mackay, a decommissioning operator at Dounreay, is helping out at county league second division leaders Castletown under Tom McKenna, the former Academy boss. Mackay is sharing assistant manager duties with Gavin Henderson, another ex-Wick player.
He won't rule out a return to summer football when he feels fit and ready.
"If my knee does get better I'll definitely be playing football of some sort," Mackay said. "I'll try to keep going and keep ticking over."
Manson said: "It's disappointing to lose Danny, a very good player and a great guy to have around the dressing room. He's been with the club a few years now so obviously thinks it's time for a change, which I understand.
"It's a shame to see Danny go, but on the flip side it gives someone else the chance now to step up.
"Danny can be very proud of his Wick career and he'll be missed by everyone at the club."
Academy have lined up a series of summer friendlies ahead of the 2022/23 Highland League campaign.
They will take on Thurso at Dunnet on Wednesday, June 29 (7pm), then a Caithness AFA select in Castletown on Saturday, July 2 (4pm), as part of Alan Farquhar's testimonial season.
The Scorries will play host to Orkney on Saturday, July 16 (1pm), before taking on a Ross County XI on Wednesday, July 20, also at Harmsworth Park (7.30pm).