MARK McLAUGHLIN emerged from the Dumbarton dressing room on Saturday a new man, invigorated by the alleviation of a burden which had, until Friday, weighed heavily upon the defender's shoulders.
The boyhood Morton fan had been told in recent weeks by Kenny Shiels, the club's new manager, that he was a peripheral figure in his plan to save the SPFL Championship's bottom club from plunging into League One football, and that McLaughlin's future lies away from Greenock. However, the affable centre-half is the football equivalent of the man who jumped from a sinking ship only to land in the hot tub on Hugh Hefner's love boat during mating season. The 38-year-old had barely packed up his old kit bag before he signed on at Dumbarton, steered by the steady hand of Ian Murray.
That journey from Cappielow to the Bet Butler Stadium may have been short, but the outlook is a world apart for the former Hamilton Academical player, a point hammered home to McLaughlin in Saturday's 2-0 victory for his new team, courtesy of a first-half Bryan Prunty penalty and a late Chris Kane header. "It's a good feeling to win the game but it's sad to see the club you support go through what they are at the moment," McLaughlin said. "It's a fresh start, a relief to be away. I spoke to Kenny when he came in and we were both honest. It became clear I wasn't going to play a lot under him and he suggested I could go out on loan, but that didn't appeal to me."
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The involvement of four debutants, including stand-in captain David Robertson and Rangers loanee Barrie McKay, did little but offer the large, annoyed travelling Morton support somewhere new to direct their frustration. In truth, both provided most of the productivity and punch amid the frustration of another blunt showing as the search for their first win since November 9 trundles on. A cutting edge is most definitely required, with Shiels hoping to finalise Garry O'Connor's contract within the coming days.
"This season just didn't happen for me or the other players at Morton, but I need to move on," added McLaughlin, with his old manager or team-mates refusing to offer their thoughts on the match afterwards. "When I finish playing for good I will go back to Morton with my kids, as I grew up supporting Morton. The fans had a go at me today but I'll go back with my head held high."
It is a characteristic few at Cappielow are familiar with just now.