May 29 2009 by Gordon Bannerman, Perthshire Advertiser Friday
IT’S been a long time coming but Kevin Rutkiewicz admits he’s finally ready to step-up to the SPL.
The 29-year-old defender rounded off a memorable campaign by clinching the PA Sport/George Wimpey player of the year award.
After being listed among contenders for First Division player of the year, he recently signed a 12-month extension to commit himself to St Johnstone until 2011.
And Rutkiewicz is confident Saints are well-equipped to survive and even thrive in the top flight.
He said: “In hindsight it’s been a good division for me. I have matured and developed as a player and as a man. Possibly the long wait for promotion has been a blessing in disguise.
“I’ve come through a lot. I was almost away to Airdrie one deadline day and later I was out for a year and worried about my career after ankle reconstruction work.”
Rutkiewicz was lured from Aberdeen five ago by ill-fated manager John Connolly.
“It didn’t work out under John. I had a terrible time and we came close to relegation. We got along fine as people but it didn’t work on the football side.
“But Owen Coyle came in and everything began to change. He believed in me and Derek McInnes believed I should be playing every week.
“Jim Weir, our former coach, was a huge influence. He kept telling me things would turn for the better.
“Looking back, the injury I picked up early in the 2006/07 season against Queen of the South was a turning point in many ways. I was out for the season. Football was almost torn away from me. My fate wasn’t in my own hands.”
To stave off boredom, Rutkiewicz picked up a job pulling pints in a Glasgow bar, or plucked away on his guitar penning songs which got a public airing at venues including Perth Concert Hall.
He said: “When I finally returned to training I realised just how much I had missed football. I didn’t want it to end.
“But it wasn’t going to be easy getting back into the team with Kevin James, Allan McManus and Steven Anderson all playing so well. My place was on a shoogly peg. Things could have gone either way at that stage.
“Ironically, Coylie leaving probably helped. Derek McInnes made me captain in his first game in charge away to Partick.
“I’d been vice-captain but getting the armband still came as a surprise. The gaffer told me to bring more responsibility to the role, on and off the park. It’s not always been easy. I’ve made some pretty big mistakes, usually through petulance in training.
“Kevin James is the obvious role model and Russell Anderson at Aberdeen was not much older than me but the best defender I’ve ever played with.”
Rutkiewicz, who played around 50 SPL games with the Dons, is travelling across Australia toting his guitar and seeking out gigs en route. But back home there’s a brand new Fender waiting for him, courtesy of local motor dealership proprietor Alan Storrar.
“He gave me his player of the year award and it was an unbelievable gesture.
“Everyone, from the fans to Geoff Brown, have been tremendous. And we are all delighted for Paul Sheerin, getting his first title medal. I told him to come here and we’d back in the SPL.
“We’re already looking forward to the SPL and that performance against Morton to take the championship laid down a marker. We are a developing side and have still to reach our full potential.
“There have been big changes here and we had crucial players missing throughout the season.
“The results in August were a shock for us and the gaffer and it was back to basics, nothing fancy.
“It wasn’t down to coaching badges but character. We didn’t look anything like the team he wanted us to be. But we won away to Ross County and while it wasn’t fancy it was a turning point and we went on a club record run of games undefeated.
“That paved the way to the title and now we finally have the SPL to look forward to.”