SOFTLY spoken, gum-chewing but totally driven Jim Lynch was the head coach of the all-conquering Ayr Scottish Eagles, who completed a stunning Grand Slam success some 20 years ago last Wednesday.

At the Nynex Arena in Manchester on Saturday, March 28, 1998, Eagles overcome fierce rivals Cardiff Devils 3-2 in overtime to lift the Playoff Championship.

This came in the wake of their Benson & Hedges Cup, Ice Hockey Superleague and Express Cup successes as they won every trophy up for grabs.

There were celebrations at the Centrum Arena following the league and Grand Slam triumphs with kids and adults clamouring to get the autographs of the players, whose names still come tripping off the tongue.. Angelo Catenaro, Vince Boe, Scott Young, Rob Dopson, Mark Woolf to name but just five.

So many Polaroid moments never forgotten, although they are a distant memory with the rink replaced by Sainsbury’s and the allegiance of hockey fans now shifted to Braehead Clan, the nearest Elite Ice Hockey League team.

Eagles at times attracted almost 3,000 fans - which was even more than Ayr United, whose players often took in the action.

Now two decades on Lynch, who still lives in Ayr, recalled the glory days in a special interview.

He was given a special presentation in the form of a custom-made jersey to mark Eagles winning the league in 1998 by Clan at their recent home match against Fife Flyers. This recognised the link between Eagles and the Clan with many supporters of the Ayr club now going to Clan games.

Speaking recently on Clan TV he said: “Twenty years has gone so fast. You think of good times and bad times. But Eagles wasn’t just me - at the top you had Bill Barr, Kenny McLeod and Kevin McCoskrie, the team manager. But a lot of credit must go to Milan Figala, the assistant coach, who has been forgotten through his passing. He was a a huge part of our success.”

Asked what had made the team so successful he said: “I took a lot of time in not just the ability of the players but we did a lot of background checking on what they were like. They had a common bond as they were a Scottish team against all the English teams in the league at that time. Angelo Catenaro was a great captain. We had a reasonable first season but it all just took off in the second year.”

The Grand Slam success also gave Clan an opportunity to compete in Europe in 1998-99, when they just missed 

Lynch recalled: “The most pleasure I got when we played in the European tournament was beating the Russian champions home and away. It’s like a lower division team beating a premier division team twice - these wins were the highlights for me. Ice hockey is pretty popular now, it goes in cycles.”

McCoskrie added: “It was an exciting time for the sport. The guys in the team really took the town and the people of the town took to the team.

"It was something everyone was really proud of. We shouldn’t forget it was an incredible experience for people in ice hockey in Ayr. At times we didn’t have rink and played out of Glasgow. To get the reward for those times with the Grand Slam was a fantastic thing. 

“The recruitment job Jim and Milan did in getting the right players in terms of character was so important, it helped them bond as a team and to bond with the town and support as well. A good few hundred from Ayr go to Clan every week.

When Lynch quit the club in 2000, former Cardiff Devils coach Paul Heavey took over and he won the Challenge Cup in 2001-2.

Eagles only lasted six years - they folded in 2002 after moving to Braehead Arena, but they won’t be forgotten.