THE dust has settled from the fall-out of the contentious decision to call the leagues prematurely, and now it’s time to move on.

That was the message from Ian McCall after the Partick Thistle boss welcomed his squad back to training at the tail end of last week, as the former Ayr manager gears up for his first full season in charge of the Jags since returning to the Maryhill club last year.

It’s been a whirlwind few months for Thistle. Between missing votes and legal challenges, it has been a bumpy six months for the Maryhill side but their fate is now sealed. Firhill will be hosting League One fixtures this upcoming campaign, and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Naturally, it wasn’t long into McCall’s first press conference since the football shutdown was initiated in March that the Thistle boss was asked for his view on how the last six months have unfolded. He refused to speak publicly about how he felt about the Maryhill club’s eventual relegation unfolded, but said he will do so in future – just not while his players are preparing for a new season.

“I’ve made a vow not to talk about it,” he said. “In the five months when it was all happening I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me to speak about it. I’ve got my feelings about it and when the time is right I’ll talk about it but that’s not now.

“I just want to move on with the football, try and complete a season and see where we finish, respect every team we play and try to win football matches. I’ve got very, very strong opinions about it but it’s pointless me giving them just now. There will be a time and a place for that but it’s not before a season.”

It would be understandable if some players in the home dressing room felt a touch of resentment about how their club had been treated as a result of the Covid-19 fallout. After all, the Jags were relegated having played one game fewer than Queen of the South and were just two points behind when the season was called.

There are some managers that would utilise that sense of injustice as a motivational tool to inspire their players ahead of a new season. But McCall is more focused in instilling a sense of unity in his team – and getting them to put the pain of the last few months behind them.

McCall said: “Listen, I think every manager uses what they can. My mission was to change what I believe was a fractured football club and to get everybody pulling in the one direction. There are many, many ways to do that but the best way to do it is to get good footballers in my experience.

“I don’t want players to feel resentment, I want them to go out and enjoy playing football and win football matches fair and square.

“The other stuff, I’ll talk about that down the line but there’s enough going on for me and I don’t really want to add to that just now. Albeit when I do talk about it, I think some of my words will be quite strong. But now is definitely not the time for me to talk about that kind of stuff.”

A key factor in getting Thistle back on track lies in recruitment, McCall believes. Five new faces have pitched up in Glasgow’s west end so far this summer, while young loan players such as Blair Lyons and Mouhamed ‘Sena’ Niang have returned to Firhill to provide a new-look youthful exuberance within the squad.

The flurry of summer transfer activity is not over yet, with McCall outlining his hope that the Jags will add another midfielder and a striker before the season kicks off next month – “I might be [close to more signings] but I’m waiting to find out stuff for Friday” – but the Thistle boss says he is happy with the club’s recruitment so far this summer.

“I really am,” McCall said. “We are a midfielder and a striker short but I’m happy. But I think it’s a new chance for the players that have been here who I think are good players and have good attitudes.

“Ross Docherty was a no-brainer as he was my captain for five years. We’ve taken on two or three younger players in the forward areas. The last time I was in this league we scored about 100 or something goals.

“Blair Lyons and Conor Murray look like exciting young players. The centre-backs look like they want to play in the team and I’m really happy with them. They’ve all come back in really decent condition.”

Rebuilding a club that have fallen on hard times is not something that’s new to McCall, with the 55-year-old having previously worked wonders at Somerset Park. Getting off to a good start is crucial, he stresses, as is creating a positive mindset within the dressing room.

“I’ve been on record as saying when I went into Ayr many years ago, the dressing room – people wouldn’t believe what it was like,” he said. “It had to be changed.

“I’m not saying that’s what it was like here but certainly for me anyway, not everybody was pulling in the right direction and certainly there wasn’t a togetherness that there should be.

“One thing it has done is put me seriously under pressure. I need to try and do well this season. With the amount of games left to go, we felt confident that the new signings were starting to turn things around a wee bit and there was plenty of time to get out of it, but that wasn’t to be.

“Never more so has it been important that we get off to a fast start but the last two or three years at Ayr we always got off to a fast start, so we basically need to just replicate that. A lot of the supporters and media don’t really know a lot of the things that I know that have been going on – just on the football side – that I think had to be changed and rooted out.

“There are some players here from last season but I’m hoping they’ll all be like new players. Nobody in this world can tell me Stuart Bannigan is a poor player. He wouldn’t be playing for us if it wasn’t for his injury, he’d be away playing in the English Championship.

“Tam O’Ware, who by his own admission didn’t have a good season, he was in the Championship team of the season two years in a row. There are good players and they maybe just need better people around them; a mentality, a togetherness around the football club which I don’t think was there.”

The honesty in which McCall brought up the prospect of feeling under scrutiny was surprising, leading to one obvious question: is getting promoted from Scotland’s third tier at the first time of asking essential?

“I think so,” he said. “Never will I say that we are too big to be in this division because that’s a load of nonsense. We are where we are. It’s not easy to win a league or get promotion no matter what league.

“There are other clubs like Falkirk who don’t expect to be down there and they may have felt that type of resentment with what happened in their league. That pressure has come on but that’s a football thing. I was at Ayr United for five years but what’s happening there has nothing to do with me now. I’ve been at Thistle for six months and Thistle’s problems are everything to me now. That’s just football and I’ve been in it long enough to know that.”

As Thistle prepare to regain their Championship status, McCall has to worry about more than simply getting points on the board. New protocols introduced to protect players from coronavirus are having real-world effects on the way training is conducted but the Thistle boss can take some solace from the fact that the SPFL’s other 41 managers find themselves in similar situations.

“This is no different from all the other managers,” he said. “I hope all the other teams in League One and League Two have protocols as stringent as ours because ours are incredible.

“Obviously, you’re used to doing seven or eight sessions in a week – that’s one of the basic differences – but now you do five. You don’t train in the afternoon because people go and shower and you can’t ask players to get all sweaty and then sit in their car for an hour and a half before they come back out. There are all sorts of things that have changed. Getting into Firhill has changed.

“Whether I’m called old fashioned or not – we’ve got a sport scientist and I get all the things that he does and it’s excellent – but I still think – and maybe this is because of how I was as a player, I spent half my career not being as fit as I could be – if A is fit and B is your level of fitness, there’s no shortcut to get there. It doesn’t matter about technology or this, that or the next thing, you’ve just got to work really hard to get as fit as you can be.

“I’d imagine it would have been really hard for the guys in the Premiership. They started with sessions of groups of six and how repetitive that must have been. I spoke to a few of them and I know they found that hard. We have found a lot of things hard; people having a cough and we’re going, ‘Is it this, is it that?’. We’ve already tested our players so we didn’t need to do that but it’s hard. I’m sitting here with you on a Zoom call – a lot of things have changed.”

Given the tumultuous nature of Scottish football since March, it would perhaps be understandable if McCall had fallen out of love with our game. But he is taking a more relaxed approach, having experienced far more serious adversity in his career that gives him a sense of perspective.

McCall explained: “I was disillusioned four or five years ago when I was recovering from a bad illness before Lachlan Cameron gave me my life back, that’s when I was disillusioned. Nothing fazes me in football now, even though it’s pretty weird times.

“I’m really looking forward to the football starting again. I hope the powers that be recognise the importance of supporters because it’s been tough watching the games with no fans. I don’t know whether that’s why there are so many games that are low-scoring. But I’m not disillusioned, I’m raring to go and getting back to some type of normality.

“Our fans have been through the ringer, and that’s not just to do with the last five months, the last three years at our club haven’t been good enough. And I’m part of that. Every single person involved would hold their hands up.

“It has to be better and it’s been a tough watch for the fans. To be in the top six of the Premiership and three seasons later be in League One, there are reasons for that, but ultimately the team hasn’t been good enough on the pitch and that’s what we’ve got to put right.”