Derek McInnes insists the recognition he has received for SPFL Manager of the Year is lovely, but he has put in less work for that than he did to keep Kilmarnock in the Premiership last term.

The former Aberdeen boss kept Killie in the top flight by the skin of their teeth in the 2022/23 season after post-split wins over relegation rivals Dundee United and Ross County. He’s been on record several times saying that it was a slog and emphasised how unenjoyable it was.

This Killie team has been a far cry from those doom and gloom moments, with fourth place, and in turn, European football this summer, all but secure for the Rugby Park outfit.

This has put him in the running to become Manager of the Year alongside fellow nominees Tony Docherty and John McGlynn. However, looking back fondly on his memories of old friend and Rangers manager Walter Smith, it’s the tough times that helped McInnes realise his greatest strengths as a head coach.

“It is quite ironic,” the 52-year-old admitted. “As tough as it was last season, you probably feel you do more as a manager, you feel that you do a lot of your better work when you have to deal with a crisis and try to make sure we are good enough to get over the line. I don’t think I have become a better manager this year than I was last year.

“I remember Walter saying how he got recognised by so many awards when he won trophies but he felt he did his best work a lot of the time when he was at Everton. He was firefighting, having to put teams out onto the pitch to compete with so many things going against you. There were so many challenges.

“It’s nice to be recognised this season but last year was far tougher. You feel you do so much better work because we didn’t have a recruitment team in place, we had two-thirds of our squad under contract already, and we didn’t have the scope we had in the summer.

“In the summer we had the scope, a head of recruitment, we’d already used that head of recruitment to get Vassell and Chambers in January which played a big part. All these support networks that are there for every manager and every manager needs were there for me this summer.

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“Then you see the level of player we’re able to bring and we maximise the budget afforded to us. It allowed us to be competitive. We’ve made good signings.

“I knew early on that I could enjoy this season and the demand would shift as the season went on and we have obviously met that demand up until now. But it’s actually been less frantic, less stressful, easier.

“Management looks easy when you know what you have got with your team. We’ve only lost two games in the league in 19, so that is half the league games and only seven all season. We have been better at both ends of the pitch, carried more of a threat, had more clean sheets. Every aspect of the performance has been improved.

“You get nominated but you have probably not, personally, had to work as hard at it. You still need to work hard and keep a motivated group, but the players make it easier. There’s no real secret in that.”

Philippe Clement could potentially win a treble during his first season in charge of Rangers, with the league title and Scottish Cup still up for grabs against Celtic.

McInnes isn’t a fan of when the votes take place for the awards, as he acknowledged the job carried out by the Belgian in Glasgow so far.

He added: “Philippe Clement has done really well to keep Rangers in the fight. Obviously, it’s not easy getting over the line and I think both teams have so much to play for, still.

“People say: Oh you can still have a big say in what happens in the title race. But the biggest say will come from Rangers and Celtic. It’s not from other teams. We just concentrate on ourselves and know we have to be so good to compete and try to beat these teams.

“But the team that finds the best form between now and the end of the season will win the league. And Clement has at least got Rangers in a position where there is still a title fight.”