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    Cawley Triple Centurion 

    Monday, April 01, 2019 1:24:07 PM

    Cawley the triple centurion

    Last weekend Kevin Cawley made his landmark 300th appearance for the Wasps. The 30 year old became just the eleventh Alloa player in the post-WW2 period to do so, and in this era of diminishing player loyalty the first for sixteen years to reach this considerable milestone.

    During two spells spanning almost seven seasons in Clackmannanshire Kevin has helped Alloa win one league title (Third Division in 2011/2), win promotion to the Championship via the play-offs twice (2012/3 and 2017/8) and avoid the drop from the Championship after winning the play-offs (in 2014/5). As such, he is one of the most decorated players to ever play for the club. Only two Alloa players have played meaningful roles in three separate promotions for the club. The other was Craig Valentine, who was also the most recent previous Alloa player to reach 300 appearances in 2003, with 'Vali' winning a league title in 1997/8 and promotions in 1999/00 and 2001/2. However, with that further relegation saving play-off victory, not to mention the 2013/4 season when the Wasps dramatically finished 8th in the Championship to beat the drop without the need for the play-offs, Kevin is arguably Alloa's most successful ever player! 

    Cawley is a joy to watch when in full flight. The former Celtic youngster is particularly adept at finding space, playing between the lines and picking up the ball and running in places away from his normal position. This makes him a particularly difficult opponent to mark and hence, in doing so, he creates space for his team-mates by dragging the opposition out of position. Neat and tidy on the ball, there is no better sight than Cawley, with his naturally low centre of gravity, twisting and turning in the final third to either find space to take a shot or play in a team-mate. Over the years Cawley developed a telepathic understanding with long-time creative team-mates such as Graeme Holmes and Iain Flannigan in weaving and linking play to help unlock often bamboozled defences.

     

    Another of Kevin's main attributes is his ability to win back possession high up the pitch. I've lost count of the number of times Cawley has nipped in to dispossess  an unsuspecting defender to begin a counter-attack which ends in an Alloa goal. This is perhaps a more unnoticed attribute, but is a key component of his game. Simultaneously Cawley's workrate is absolutely phenomenal and is probably taken for granted by Alloa supporters, in that he almost doubles up as two-players in one on occasions. Going forward Kev almost has a free role at times to create his magic, but when out of possession Kev is guaranteed to be back in his regular position and helping his team-mates. This outstanding discipline is a side of the game so many forward thinking players struggle with, but Kevin is a master of the art and his defensive colleagues must appreciate this the most. That quality has undoubtedly made him a favourite with all five of his Alloa managers, from Paul Hartley, Barry Smith and Danny Lennon during his first spell, to Jack Ross and Jim Goodwin most recently.

     

    Cawley was Paul Hartley's second signing in June 2011 and soon endeared himself to the Wasps faithful by scoring the match-winning goal on the opening day of the Third Division league season down in Stranraer, cutting inside from the left to fire home to secure a memorable 3-2 win for 10-man Alloa. Cawley was arguably the standout Alloa performer during the first half of the season, leading to a new 18 month contract midway through the campaign. The second half of the season Cawley formed a terrific partnership with young loanee Stevie May as the Wasps romped to the Third Division Championship. For Kevin personally it was a highly profitable first season, with ten goals, a place in the Third Division team of the year and a nomination for the divisional player award (which was won by May).


    The Second Division was no problem for Cawley either, as the Wasps secured successive promotions and 'the wee man' finished top goalscorer with a career high 14 goals. In the end of season play-offs Kev excelled by scoring a crucial goal in the semi second leg versus Brechin and then producing a man of the match performance in the memorable final first leg 3-0 demolition of Dunfermline. Cawley was everywhere that famous night, linking play and pressing the wilting Pars at every opportunity. In a simply excellent Alloa side Cawley was an integral part of the Wasps success.

     

    The first half of the 2013/4 season was arguably Cawley's finest of his Alloa career to date. Now regularly playing in a more withdrawn attacking midfield role, rather than primarily as a striker like in the two previous campaigns, Kevin was an unknown quantity for most second tier teams. Put simply teams didn't know how to handle Cawley and he was again a standout performer as the Wasps were as high as 4th in the table close to the midway point of the season. Cawley's effectiveness diminished in the New Year as he was more closely marked and the team struggled after Paul Hartley left. Nevertheless, the former East Stirling man still finished top goalscorer again (with nine goals), as the Wasps dramatically avoided the relegation play-offs on the final day of the season at Falkirk.

    In the 2014/5 season Cawley continued to play a key role in a golden era for the club. Although missing for the 3-2 Petrofac Cup semi-final win over Rangers that season (a rare injury keeping Cawley sidelined) he appeared in the (instantly forgettable) cup final defeat against Livingston and then played a full part in the miraculous escape from relegation under Danny Lennon. Spectacular goals were a key feature of this season, with the televised 25-yard thunderbolt versus Falkirk eclipsed a month later by a 30 yard breath-taking strike versus Dumbarton in Lennon's first game. In my opinion that is still the finest of Kevin's 56 goals for the club, making him joint 7th on the list of Alloa top goalscorers since WW2.  At the end of the season that famous side went their separate ways, with Kevin electing to move to Dumbarton, the highest placed part-time team in the country.

    After a year at the Rock Alloa manager Jack Ross was seeking to assemble a side to challenge in League One after Alloa's relegation from the Championship. The signing who acted as a catalyst for other players to join 'the Ross revolution' was Cawley, with some grinning photographs of Kev 'returning home' alongside captain Graeme Holmes still amongst my favourites. Kev slotted straight back into his familiar surroundings, proving that he hadn't lost any of his old magic with a number of man-of-the-match performances. Kev's seven goals that season contributed to seven Alloa victories and he also had the pleasure of returning to Celtic Park in the Betfred Cup Quarter Final, giving Kieran Tierney a few problems along the way in Alloa's late 2-0 defeat. The end of the season finished in crushing disappointment, with Cawley quiet in both legs of the sudden-death penalty shoot-out defeat to Brechin. 

    Last season Cawley was almost every-present in the starting XI in the first half of the season and scored in three successive games during September, including a fine looping header away at Ayr (being a fine header of the ball is Kev's secret weapon, as opponent's naturally expect the diminutive  Cawley to be the last that needs to be marked at set-pieces). That took his overall tally in an Alloa shirt up to 49, but we had to wait until December for the half-century to arrive. When it did it was a 1 yard bundled home late consolation goal at Raith, but in reaching that mark Cawley became just the 11th post-WW2 Wasp to do so. The second half of the season was slightly frustrating for Kev, as he was forced to appear from the bench as the Wasps accommodated loan signings. However, come the 'business-end' of the season Jim Goodwin reverted to his trusted lieutenant Cawley, with Kevin starting the final seven matches as the Wasps developed a phenomenal momentum which culminated in a glorious promotion at Dumbarton. Cawley was involved in the late equaliser and was still full of running in extra-time when others around him were visibly tiring. Cawley's third promotion was just reward for another fine season personally.

    This season Cawley has returned to the Championship and continued to demonstrate all the qualities which Alloa fans have become accustomed to over the years. In the league Cawley has been typically hard-working, although four of his five goals so far this campaign have been in cup competitions. In August a first half double against Stirling raised the prospect of Kev scoring his first ever Alloa hat-trick, but alas that didn't materialise. In January Cawley scored another special goal, a rasping 22 yard drive arrowed into the far corner after a customary drop of the shoulder to find space, putting Alloa 2-0 ahead at St Mirren in the Scottish Cup. Unfortunately it didn't lead to a famous cup win as the Saints roared back, but it once again demonstrated the undoubted quality Cawley possesses.  Kevin was scheduled to reach the 300 landmark on the weekend of his 30th birthday, but a waterlogged Cappielow Park put paid to that double celebration, so instead Cawley's substitute appearance at Tannadice marked the triple century.

    Looking forward, there is undeniably many more years of appearances ahead for Cawley, who somehow manages to stay injury free despite often being on the end of robust challenges. Rightly regarded as one of the finest part-time players in the game, I for one hope that Cawley continues to ply his trade in Clackmannanshire with Bobby Gray's 359 appearance record on the horizon. Nothing would be better to see Cawley, an unassuming and dedicated team player who has been a tremendous servant to the club, become the Wasps top post-WW2 appearance maker in the future.    

    Jonathan Markwell (Programme Contibutor)

    (Article included in issue of "The Wasp" v. Ross County on Saturday 30th March, 2019

     

     



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