Tuesday night was a reminder of how far Cove Rangers have come in the space of 18 months.
Now preparing for their first season as League One side, Cove faced their old Highland League foes Fraserburgh in a friendly, emerging as 3-0 winners.
The Broch were one of the sides that would regularly vie with Cove for top spot in the Highland League and provided stern opposition in the midweek workout.
Back-to-back promotions now see Cove competing in Scotland’s third tier and they are first side promoted through the pyramid play-offs to reach this level.
For Harry Milne, a regular in Cove’s Highland League success, it was a test to see just how far the Aberdeen side had come after back-to-back promotions.
“It’s good to get back playing games having been out for so long,” he said. “There was a lot of fresh faces in there. We know Fraserburgh are a tough team – every time we’ve played them in the Highland League has always been a dogged game.
“The additions in the squad and the players that were already here, myself included, have improved. That comes from playing better players and in better leagues, at a faster tempo. It’s helped the squad develop and the quality showed on Tuesday, especially when they started to tire out a bit.
“I’m definitely fitter than I was. That just comes – sometimes you won’t have the ball for long periods of time and you have to chase it. Maybe in the Highland League, without disrespect to some of the lower teams, there was a slower pace to the game and you didn’t need to be as fit.
“I’m sharper on the ball as well. You don’t get as much time on the ball and this season will be going up a level, playing full-time teams in the league.”
Jamie Semple and Ryan Mullen have joined on loan from full-time clubs – Motherwell and Celtic – while permanent arrivals Adam Livingstone and Seb Ross were professionals with ‘Well and Aberdeen last year.
“There’s quality in the squad here and a lot of the boys have played full-time,” added Milne. “Even in the new additions, there were boys that were full-time last year. We’ve more than held our own against Dundee. We’ve got no fear at all, we feel we can do that against any team.”
During the 1-1 draw with Dundee last weekend Milne, impressive as a regular at left-back, was deployed at centre-half by manager Paul Hartley. He played the first half as part of a back three before Cove shifted to a four in the second period.
“I played it a few times years ago when John Sheran was manager here,” said Milne. “It’s just trying different things, seeing what will work. Throughout the season there’ll definitely be boys missing, boys suspended. It’s working out different formulas and solutions to any problems that can arise.
“It’s good to be versatile – it means you get more game-time. I was always taught that as a kid.”
Cove will finally get their rewards for last season’s work this afternoon, with the players due to be presented with their League Two winners’ medals and the trophy ahead of their friendly with Banks o’Dee.
They have not had chance to celebrate their success in 2019-20 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a stark contrast to the party atmosphere that greeted their arrival into the SPFL 12 months previous.
Milne added: “It will be a bit different to what we did when we went up into League 2 – there’ll be no beers before the game.”