In what has been a very settled Dunfermline team, one player has been able to move from the bench to the starting 11 in recent games and has fully taken his chance - Rhys McCabe. As is often the case in football, an opportunity can arise due to the misfortune of someone else. McCabe's chance came when first team regular John Herron was suspended for one game, at the same time as he picked up an injury. McCabe himself had lost his starting place due to illness in December, after scoring a penalty equaliser against Falkirk. In the past month he has grasped his chance and looked like a player who now has a future at the club. Those are words which seemed highly unlikely in the early weeks of this season, when a McCabe and Andy Geggan midfield pairing struggled badly. McCabe reached a low point with a very poor performance in the home defeat to Queen of the South on 27 August, when pass after pass went astray, and he also inexplicably played Queen's striker Stephen Dobbie through on goal with a perfectly weighted throughball.
McCabe's form improved after Nat Wedderburn came into the side, but Herron soon established himself as Allan Johnston's preferred partner for big Nat in the centre of midfield. For the first 2 months of 2017, McCabe sat on the bench and was rarely used.
His chance came following Herron's injury and suspension, but in the weeks leading up to that, he had made 2 impressive substitute appearances: on 4 March, when replacing Herron in the 59th minute of the home game against Dumbarton, with the score at 2-1, he was a lively presence in midfield during the last half hour that saw 3 further Pars goals. In the next League game, he once again replaced Herron, this time at Morton, in the 73rd minute, and had one good attempt at goal and contributed to an excellent Dunfermline victory. In the next game, Herron - who had already picked up several knocks during games that caused him to be substituted - went off after 80 minutes at home to Hibs. McCabe replaced him as the Pars gained a creditable draw against the future title winners. The following week, McCabe played the whole 90 minutes in the 1-0 home win over Raith. A few days later, he was the Pars Review man of the match in the narrow defeat at Tannadice, during which he played a superb pass to the Moff, which should have resulted in a goal with the game at 0-0.
Saturday's away victory at Dumbarton saw McCabe turn in another man of the match display. His willingness to shoot from distance, so often a missing element in Dunfermline's play this season, was eventually rewarded when his 20 yard shot gave the Pars the lead with 10 minutes remaining. His ability on the ball is now in evidence, he can pick out a pass, isn't afraid to shoot, and has a very good long throw. He looks a more confident player than at any other time since he joined the Pars 2 summers ago.
It is always heartening to see a player recover from a prolonged spell of indifferent form, and show why the manager had faith in him, particularly after the summer of 2016, when it was a surprise to some that he was given another 1 year contract after being little more than a squad player in the division below in 2015/16. It is only now that we are seeing the best of Rhys McCabe, and at 24 years old he could go onto become a vital player for Dunfermline over the next few seasons.
Photos by Pars Review. Edits by www.instagram.com/thedunfermlineway/.