After almost a year away from the professional game, there’s been a bit of time for Martin Canning to recollect his Hamilton managerial spell.
During his time with Accies, he consistently defied the odds and kept them in the Premiership season after season. In January 2019, his reign was ended after four years.
Away from the limelight that being a top flight SPFL manager brings, Canning’s as humble a man as you can wish to meet. He’s not one to lavish himself in praise or take credit for his great achievements.
Others would let everyone know about their Accies struggles and how much of an achievement it was to keep them up. That’s not his style though, instead insisting on trying to improve when he has the chance.
In an exclusive interview with NTOF, Canning has opened up on the highs and lows his South Lanarkshire stint brought him: “When you’re there for a while you get to know people very well.
“Anytime there was an opportunity to leave I wanted to stay. I wasn’t ready to stop playing when I did and I still miss playing. I think some come to a natural end but mine came quite abruptly for the opportunity to manage.
“I’ve done so much though in a short space of time for a young coach. I was lucky we managed to stay up continually. Results weren’t always what you liked as a manager but ultimately I was happy with what I did.
“I’m never one to speak about myself, but I am proud of the fact that I was the most successful post-war manager at the club in terms of keeping them up. It’s transformed the club and the money is there to put money back into the club.
“It wasn’t just me that did it but I’m proud that the club have put themselves in a good place. I think it’s a huge challenge to keep Hamilton up consecutively. I think you can do it for one or two seasons, as you have to remember, you basically lose your best players every summer.
“You want to try and establish yourself but then you lose guys like Ali Crawford, David Templeton, Mikey Devlin, all these important guys. It’s so hard to recruit and once you lose those guys it’s hard to replace them. It’s really difficult to attract players.
“With a club like Hamilton it’s always going to be tough and Brian’s doing a great job this season. They have been competitive in almost every game I’ve seen.”
Defining Easter Road clash
For Canning, there’s a certain match he can pinpoint as a big one across his whole time at Hamilton. Beating former employers Hibs in the 2014 Premiership-play offs was a huge moment.
Every Accies fans knows the story. Trailing 2-0 heading into a daunting second leg at Easter Road, Alex Neil led Hamilton to a 2-0 win before securing Premiership promotion with a 4-3 penalty shootout triumph.
Accies have remained in the top flight ever since. It was a big night in Scottish football that changed the face of it for a season, with Hibs, Hearts and Rangers all competing in the Championship during 2014/15.
For Canning, it’s just as well Accies got out the second tier when they did under the guidance of Preston boss Neil: “It did feel defining. I’m still very close with Alex Neil.
“Alex was excellent and he’s good at making you believe. He’s doing the same with Preston now, he’s brilliant at making you believe you can achieve anything. Realistically when you’re talking about sizes of budget they shouldn’t be where they are.
“He’s very good at what he does. Right from the first minute we believed. That season Rangers had won League One, Hearts had been relegated, so that year was a big year because we knew if we didn’t beat Hibs it was going to be really difficult the following season.
“It was probably defining for both Hibs and Hamilton. It was sad to see Hibs go down as I had a good experience at the club but for us at Hamilton it was a big moment. Alex has gone to big things since.
“If we hadn’t gone up I’d maybe still be playing, Alex may still have been up in Hamilton. He probably did enough to warrant a move over the piece but that following season you’re in the Championship with Rangers and Hearts, so it was the perfect time to get out the Championship.
“It’s been career defining for Alex and me in terms of managing Hamilton. It was a pivotal game.”
Canning’s work now consists of a role with North Kelvin Sports, a charity which aims to provide inclusiveness, opportunity, and access to sport for all. It’s perhaps a different route back into employment than Canning was expecting but he’s enjoying it nonetheless.
Careful in his approach, the ex-Accies boss knew he needed time away from senior football after a testing South Lanarkshire spell. He’s already knocked back some offers to jump in at the deep end.
When the time comes though he’ll back in the SPFL playground. Canning’s looking forward to a bright future which he think will come with a return to the senior game.
“The first six months after Hamilton I took almost all my time out,” he explained. “I went on a holiday with the wife and kids. Doing four years as a manager anywhere is tough, but four years at Hamilton, who are a great club, where you’re battling every week to try and stay in the league is mentally tough. I’ve had opportunities to come back into senior football and I’ve spoke to a couple of clubs and withdrawn from a couple of things because it didn’t feel right. I’m in no rush to jump back in.
“I want to do something good, something that will benefit me and this opportunity came up. I spoke to the charity and they are really nice people. I think this is an opportunity for me to get more young people playing football.
“I’m happy to be involved with this. As I say, I’ve spoke to a few clubs and I don’t want to put myself into a position where I’m not happy. I love football, I want to be involved at the highest level I can be.
“But it has to be the right thing for me and when that happens you’ll see me again.”