NOBODY knows quite what the effect of taking a year out of football will have on the game’s elder statesmen, but Auchinleck Talbot captain Willie Lyle, who will be celebrating his 37th birthday in two months’ time, is optimistic that it will not spell the end of his career just yet.

Last season fizzling out to an unfinished conclusion denied the former Ayr United and Stenhousemuir full-back an opportunity to make history by emulating the feat of former Bot playing legend Billy Young in skippering the famous Ayrshire club to "three in a row" Scottish Junior Cup wins.

Talbot had been due to host Hurlford United in a delayed last-eight tie with the winners taking on Pollok in a two-legged semi-final, while the other half of the competition’s draw had set Beith against the winners of the Broughty Athletic v Darvel quarter-final replay.

Lyle and his team-mates being declared Premier Division champions on a points-per-game average meant an astonishing sixth title success since his arrival at Beechwood Park from the Senior ranks in 2012, but was scant consolation for Lyle who is conscious of the huge obstacles in the way of playing the 135-year-old cup competition to a conclusion.

“Auchinleck are in decent fettle as our playing squad is more or less the same other than the loss of Gordon Pope after he decided to hang up the boots. But at least eight Beith players moved away at the start of this season and my old team-mate Butch [Bryan Young] has replaced them with a mix of experience and youth. However, just about all of the older heads, like Ally Park and Callum Watt, were cup-tied with their previous clubs.

“And matters are even more confusing at Pollok who have signed Darvel’s captain from last season, Stephen McDevitt, as well as Darren Christie who played with Beith in the Scottish so the situation of them playing against their former teams in the cup remains a very distinct possibility even though the rules say it’s a total no-no. It’s shambolic and a tearing up of the SJFA rule book might be the only way to sort the whole fiasco out, but is that what people really want?”

Talbot boss Tommy Sloan recently strengthened his playing hand with the capture of former midfielder Willie Boyd who played in the 2-1 cup final victory over Musselburgh Athletic in 2015 before moving abroad to work.

The 26-year-old is regarded as one of the cornerstones of the rebuild for when Talbot eventually resume playing after opting to withdraw from this season’s inaugural WOSFL campaign and Lyle is hopeful of standing shoulder to shoulder with him even if there remains uncertainty over what the future holds for players of his advanced years in the wake of taking almost a year out of football.

"There is a bit of an unknown to it all, but people are too quick to say this long period out spells the death knell for careers because the other side of the coin is the rest might actually do me the world of good," he said. “I’ve had eight seasons now of playing July to June and that takes quite a toll on the old legs so I’m not complaining about the enforced break, not least because I was in full agreement with the club's decision to pull the plug on our season.

“Yes I desperately want to play football but what was on offer [no fans, no dressing rooms and no mixing with team-mates] is not football as I’ve known it throughout my career.”

Lyle maintains his personal goal of again leading out Auchinleck pales in comparison to his bigger ambitions involving the collective.

“I live in Catrine, a village fairly local to Auchinleck, and I know only too well what a successful team means to our supporters. Yes, they can often be demanding, but all they genuinely ask is that you put in the effort and give your all for the team each and every time you pull on a Talbot jersey.

“I couldn’t bear to let them down if my mentality isn’t right or my body won’t allow me to do my best for the team, so when those signals come, I’ll recognise the time has come to walk away rather than hang around.

“Thankfully that day appears to be still some way off because the hunger to be part of a Talbot team winning major trophies and seeing the enjoyment it brings to our supporters is burning as strong as ever inside me.

“I cannot wait to get back to normality and it would appear everyone in our dressing room is on the same page and looking forward to the lockdown restrictions being eased to let us finally come together for a first training session since last March.”

Meanwhile, word on the grapevine is that Ayrshire amateur outfit Kilbride Thistle, based in Saltcoats, are on the verge of submitting an application to join the WOSFL for the start of next season.