THIS is a column about Andy Murray. But it starts with a self-deprecating anecdote from Kilmarnock full back Stephen O’Donnell.

When he was plucked from his boys’ club Wishaw Wycombe Wanderers to Aberdeen at the age of 10, the future Scotland international defender was told by then Pittodrie youth supremo John Ward that he had a chance in the game – “because he had the three As”.

You can imagine the ten-year-old O’Donnell’s ears pricking up. What were these mythical three ingredients which provide the perfect recipe for every aspiring young sportsperson?

“They were attitude, application and ambition,” O’Donnell recalled. “I wish he had said ability – but he didn’t!”


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What has all this got to do with Andy Murray, I hear you ask.

Surely Scotland’s superstar is simply a singular phenomenon?

What resemblance does the finest sportsman of his generation bear to a Kilmarnock full back who has become an easy target for fans who believe he isn’t Scotland class?

Well, as other worldly as it seemed out in Antwerp this week when the Scot made an emotional return to the winners’ rostrum in an ATP singles tour event in Antwerp just nine months after his career was assumed by the world to be ended by injury forever, it all goes back to those three ‘As’.

Andy Murray wasn’t born with a two-handed back hand and an ability to lob the ball within an inch of the baseline.

But whether it was nature, nurture, or a combination of both, he did have those three A’s. And it was those which gave him a chance of greatness.

While those phenomenal bank of skills – which appear instinctive but in fact were developed painstakingly over the years – was always there to rely upon, it has been his attitude, application and ambition which has brought him back from the brink in such remarkable fashion.

If he didn’t have the right attitude he would have crumbled at any stage in the process, not least in the Antwerp final when he trailed his old adversary Stan Wawrinka by a set.

If he didn’t have the application, he wouldn’t have done the long hours with his coaching team in training, nor made the painstaking changes to his game style which have born such fruit.

And if he didn’t have the ambition to get back to the summit of his sport, he wouldn’t have bothered trying in the first place.


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Lord knows, he has achieved enough in the game with his three Grand Slam wins, two Olympic gold medals and former World No 1 status to have quite happily retired to spend time with his family.

While the Scot will take the next three weeks or so off to be with his wife Kim as they prepare for the birth of a third child to go with Sophia and Edie, those ambitions still burn bright.

While the next trick for that metal hip of his will be making it through best-of-five sets for an extended tilt at a fourth Grand Slam title, Antwerp was hardly a walk in the park, being required to play four matches in four days, the last three of which all went three sets.

That world ranking of his is already back to 126, not far off automatic qualification for Grand Slam play even without utilising his protected ranking. He is already capable of beating top 20 players on the singles court and there are a couple of intriguing chances to add to his legend before then.

Next month’s Davis Cup finals in Madrid, for instance, where his selection along with his brother Jamie at one stage might have been controversial but was now anything but.

There is the inaugural ATP Cup, too, out in Australia at the start of a year in 2020 where Murray seems set to start a stunning second life in the sport. Pick up a fourth Grand Slam crown or make it a hat-trick of Olympic wins in Tokyo and it would be a comeback story to rival anything which Tiger Woods, Roger Federer or Muhammad Ali ever managed.

Incidentally, pondering what Andy Murray the promising Gairdoch United youth striker who once tried out for Rangers might have achieved had he stuck with football remains one of Scottish sport’s great parlour games.


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He might have been released a couple of times along the way, been played out of position, not been rated by a coach or two. But armed with those three As, I reckon he would have had a pretty good chance.

RIP John Fleming

I was saddened to hear yesterday of the news that John Fleming, the SFA’s head of refereeing operations, had passed away after a prolonged illness at the age of 62. Fleming, who also lost his wife Ann in recent years, spent eight years in total in charge of Scotland’s refereeing fraternity.

Lord knows, his was a tough gig. While he wasn’t afraid to fight the corner for Scotland’s referees, he was widely respected across the game as the kind of man who managers could pick up the phone to and contact if there was a decision or other which they wanted to talk about. He wouldn’t whitewash problems if he knew something had occurred in a game which had gone awry.

Last season was a difficult season for Scottish referees. There was so much uncertainty about the implementation of certain rules via IFAB that Fleming felt moved to write to Fifa for clarification.

Match appointments were another messy business. I disapproved of the way that Willie Collum and John Beaton seemed to be kept clear of Rangers and Celtic matches respectively for a while.

But Fleming was a good man and his passing leaves a void which the SFA must fill, not least at a time where Scotland’s referees are in danger of being left behind due to our game’s apparent unwillingness to implement VAR.