Derek McInnes has been named the Scottish Football Writers’ Association manager of the year.

The Kilmarnock boss has guided the Rugby Park outfit to an outstanding fourth-place finish in the Premiership this season, achieving some huge results with victories over Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and several others in their quest for Europa League qualifying.

It’s ten years since he last picked up the award – and he’ll be in Glasgow tonight to receive the 2024 edition following an excellent campaign.

“I’m thrilled to win the award,” the 52-year-old said. “Any recognition at the end of a season is indicative of good work done at a club. Any manager is happy to pick up awards, that’s human nature. So I’m delighted because the writers deal with all the different managers and see a lot of the ins and outs of what happens at clubs.

“Brendan can still do the double in probably his most challenging season at Celtic. Philippe can still get a cup double which, given where Rangers were, would be seen as a success.

“Then you look at the various other great work done by the other managers. Even when I was asked for my vote, it was difficult to pick one.

“I’m totally appreciative of how tough a job it is for us as managers. It’s important to have enthusiasm for your work because it’s so much more difficult if you don’t. You get tested by criticism, focus and spotlight now. Everyone’s an expert and it’s different from when I first started in the job.

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“There are far more issues and challenges so I have such high regard for my fellow managers. I know how it feels when you’re not winning and searching for results. It can be a lonely place sometimes as a manager. So I’m trying to enjoy it. And if the SFWA thinks I deserve this award, I’ll take it all day long. I’m over the moon because I’ve really enjoyed this season. No manager likes watching their team lose games and we lost too many last season. So I’ve certainly been more relaxed this year and less stressed.

“Am I a better manager than I was last season? No. But my team has been better. The way we work has been better, our recruitment has been better and my staff has been unbelievable.

“With Paul Sheerin and Alan Archibald as two former managers, as well as Chris Clark and Chris Burke - I’ve got such a good core of important staff. Not one decision gets made without consultation with these guys, whether that’s about training, the shape we’re going with or the team I pick. What they offer and how diligent they are, is brilliant for me. I feel invigorated by them, as much as anything.”

McInnes is nearly two and a half years into his stint in Ayrshire, having joined in the early weeks of 2022.

He’d spent around ten months out of the game after leaving his long-term position at Aberdeen, and was feeling ready to get back into management. Dropping into the Championship was not something he envisaged for himself, but the risk and reward element of his decision has paid off.

“I hadn't applied for the job,” he admitted. “I saw it on the Sky ticker that Tommy [Wright] had lost his job but I was preparing for Christmas. I hadn’t given it a thought which, with hindsight now, I ask myself why not?

“There was an element of risk but it’s both ways. For the club and also for myself. I’ve always been pretty protective of my career. I always ask myself if I’ve made the right decisions.

“After eight years at Aberdeen, it was the first time in a while that I had to decide on my destination. I was offered a job 10 days after leaving Aberdeen in England at a decent club. But I rejected it because I felt that I needed a break. I wanted time out.

“I was enjoying the media work and the life I was leading. But I was also getting dug-out envy and I knew I had to get back to work soon. When I had the conversation with Kilmarnock I felt there was a big job here. There was no certainty that we’d get up and the club was in a poor state. We were fourth in the Championship and couldn’t win at home. We were struggling.

“So it was far from straightforward, so was there a risk on my part? 100 percent. But I weighed everything up and you don’t just work for a club, it’s the people within it. And I saw an opportunity for quick gains if I could get the whole thing moving.

“But now, two years on, if we’d said we’d be where we are - it would have been brilliant. It shows there’s a lot of unity here. The infrastructure is in place and I feel like we’re a real credible club again. We were a million miles away from that when I came in. The club was in a poor place, not because we didn’t have money.

“There was still a good budget and we got a squad together to win the Championship. But the balance wasn’t right. Thankfully it’s worked out for the club and myself.”

The Herald: Derek McInnes winner of the SFWA Manager of the YearDerek McInnes winner of the SFWA Manager of the Year (Image: NQ)
On finishing fourth and qualifying for Europe, he added: “Getting Kilmarnock into Europe is probably better than doing it at Aberdeen. We had four second-place finishes up there and secured Europe pretty quickly, usually before the split. The club hadn’t been in that place for a while but it became what was expected. And I liked that.

“In the last 11 years, I’ve had six months in the Championship and last season fighting. But in nine of those 11 seasons, I’ve got my team into Europe. That’s because I trust what I do with my teams and how my staff work.

“We prepare to give ourselves the best chance but you’re only as good as the people around you. I had that at Aberdeen, being able to build my own squad and have that autonomy on key decisions. And I get that here as well.”

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McInnes is contracted until 2026 at Killie. He is open about his ambitions to fulfil certain aims before he calls time on his career in the dugout.

He’s still full of plenty of drive, and while that’s the case, he believes there’s much more to come from him, whether that be for an extended period with Killie, or elsewhere.

“There are certain things I would like to do and certain jobs I would love to have, to experience,” he said. “Sometimes you need to have a plan for yourself. It’s the same in any walk of life — where do you see yourself in two years, five years, ten years?

“I feel like I still have loads to do and the enthusiasm to do it is there. I think I have had the benefit of doing the job since I was 36, when I got the player-manager’s job at St Johnstone. I think now a lot of how I managed then is still what I’m doing now and the enthusiasm is still there.

“It helps if you’re working with good people, both above you and around you. Having that spring in your step. I take my son, Harry, to work every morning in Cambuslang. I drop him off and I can’t wait to get to work. It’s the same for my staff and I want it to be the same for my players. I want them to bounce in and enjoy being here. I want them never to be in a rush to leave. That’s where I’m at.

“By the same token, the motivation to keep doing well here and rinse every I can out of my managerial career is there. It’s sometimes folly to look too far ahead and see what’s next but if you’re going well and getting recognised, then good things normally happen, and you get decisions to make. Hopefully, in the future, there will be some decisions to make.

“I have a really good relationship with people at the club – Gregg McEwan, and I know that Billy [Bowie] or Phyllis [Carroll] are on the other end of the phone. There’s conversations going to happen about plans for next season and we’ll try to make the most of the budget.

“I still have two years left but you know how quickly these things can change for managers, both ways. I think it’s clear how happy I am here and I hung about my last club for a long time, probably too long — eight years at Aberdeen — I look at that and can see that now.

“But while you’re enjoying yourself and the job’s as rewarding as it was at Aberdeen and you’re working with good people, sometimes it’s difficult to leave certain situations. I feel something similar here. I’m enjoying the people I’m working with here.”