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Paul Third: Solid foundation has been key to Cove Rangers’ rise through the ranks

Cove Rangers defender Harry Milne moves in to block Chris Mueller
Cove Rangers defender Harry Milne moves in to block Chris Mueller of Hibs.

Dick Campbell, bless him, has been the centre of attention in recent months following the remarkable job he has done in taking Arbroath to the top of the Championship.

The Red Lichties are threatening to upset the apple cart after mounting an incredible title challenge in Scottish football’s second tier.

It has been a fairytale run for the part-timers so far and while there is a long way to go and much work to be done, none of Arbroath’s rivals are anticipating the Gayfield club to lose their head for heights anytime soon.

The feelgood factor has been evident at the Angus club this season, but in League One another club is in the process of writing a remarkable story of its own in Cove Rangers.

A quick glance at the league table shows Paul Hartley’s side eight points clear at the top of the division.

Scottish Cup display shows progress being made

Their Scottish Cup exit to Hibernian at Easter Road on Thursday was their first loss in any competition since October 16 and ended a nine-game winning streak.

The sense of relief around Leith following Kevin Nisbet’s winner eight minutes from the end of extra-time told the story of how close Cove came to taking a cup scalp.

Hartley was justifiably proud of his players’ efforts after watching his players run themselves into the ground for the cause.

All the praise and plaudits for a one-off display should not overshadow the rise through the ranks which is happening at Balmoral Stadium.

It’s easy to forget three years ago Cove were still a Highland League club and it was not until the end of the 2018-19 season that they earned their place in the SPFL thanks to a 7-0 demolition of Berwick Rangers in the play-off final.

Since then, the progress made by the club has been astonishing.

League Two champions in their debut season, Cove finished third in League One last season before missing out on back-to-back promotions following a play-off semi-final loss to Airdrie.

Cove Rangers manager Paul Hartley receives the League One manager of the month award for December. Photo by Dave Cowe
Cove Rangers manager Paul Hartley receives the League One manager of the month award for December.

The club has regrouped, reinforced and returned stronger than they were a year ago to take control of their own destiny in their second campaign in the third tier.

It not doing them a disservice to suggest there would a huge feeling of disappointment were they not to go on and finish the job with 14 games remaining.

Building blocks are in place at Cove

The Scottish Cup dream may be over for another season but there is still the SPFL Trust Trophy to look forward to in little more than a month’s time with Cove facing Championship side Queen of the South for a place in the final.

Whatever happens in the remaining games this season it is clear as far as the bigger picture is concerned that Cove is a club firmly on an upwards trajectory.

They are not a club propped up by a wealthy benefactor as Gretna were under the late Brooks Mileson.

Their meteoric rise between 2002 and 2008 was driven by his significant investment and when he fell ill the support was no longer forthcoming ending in the club being formally liquidated and relinquishing its league status.

Cove is not reliant on one individual. Yes, there is investment, but comes from several sources with the infrastructure being built brick by brick – literally in the case of the club’s home at Balmoral Stadium.

They are always looking to the future and the signing of Mark Reynolds was the latest step on that journey last week.

Cove Rangers new signing Mark Reynolds
Cove Rangers new signing Mark Reynolds

The former Aberdeen and Dundee United defender can help Cove over the line in League One but really, he is the first building block for the Championship.

A hybrid model of part-time and full-time players seems inevitable in the club’s near future until such time as it makes sense financially to go full-time throughout the club.

That has been the Cove way – step by step, walk before you can run.

But as the scare they gave Hibs on Thursday showed – the strides being made are echoing louder.

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