Brora Rangers are used to taking the road less travelled.
Their Scottish Cup run two seasons ago took them to Edinburgh, Stranraer, East Fife and Kilmarnock, all from their Sutherland base.
Tomorrow sees them head for Cappielow to face Morton in the competition’s fourth round, as the Highland League leaders look to add another leg to their memorable journey.
But these forays to SPFL grounds give the Cattachs a flavour of what it would be like should they be successful in their aim to get into the Scottish leagues. Player-manager Steven Mackay, one of numerous Brora staff with experience of SPFL football, acknowledges the logistical challenges they would face, given they are 46 miles north of Dingwall and would replace Ross County as the most-northerly league side.
He said: “We know, first and foremost, that it’s going to be difficult. We have the challenge of winning the Highland League and then the play-offs, but we are focused and hungry. We’ve got the appetite for it as a club.
“These games give you a taste of what it could be like. It’s a massive commitment travel-wise but the boys are up for that. We think that with the squad we have got, we could compete in the Scottish leagues, certainly in League 2.”
They had the chance to go up in 2015, the first year of the SPFL play-offs. Reservations were held at the time about leaving the Highland League but those concerns did not come to pass, with Montrose denying them at the final hurdle.
Among their squad, which is primarily based in Inverness, they have players who have represented Caley Thistle, Ross County, Elgin City and Peterhead. They have tooled up this summer with the signing of four promising strikers; Greg Morrison, who was released by County in the summer, Jordan MacRae from Cove Rangers, ex-Inverness youth graduate Andrew Macrae from Forres Mechanics and James Wallace, a teenager signed on loan from the Staggies.
Mackay added: “We have got a lot of challenges geographically. We don’t have a massive pool of players in the Sutherland area and that’s going to be a challenge. It’s the same with the infrastructure at the ground.
“But we have a driven board and a set of players that want to take the club up and create a bit of history.”
Firstly, Morton come into view. The side sitting eighth in the Championship have had a sketchy start to the season, with the optimism of David Hopkin’s return to the club not yielding the results expected.
Mackay, who scored the stoppage-time winner against Stranraer in the second round in 2017-18, appreciates the enormity of the task in front of them.
He said: “It will be a massive challenge. Last time we played a Championship side – Queen of the South – we put in a really good account of ourselves. It was 2-1 until the last 15 minutes where fitness kicked in.
“We want to showcase the Highland League and put on a show for the band of fanatical supporters that we’ll have. Hopefully we can do them proud.”
Mackay’s own Scottish Cup memories as a player have come late in his career with the Dudgeon Park side. He missed out on a trip to Celtic Park with County in 2004 and had the odd upset while with Nairn County, but Brora’s 2017-18 adventure tops the lot.
Their run to the fifth round against Killie, then led be Scotland boss Steve Clarke, saw Brora clock up 2000 miles and a raft of support, before their elimination at Rugby Park. Memories are still fresh from their giant-killing exploits.
“We played Civil Service Strollers, Stranraer, East Fife and Kilmarnock – all away. But that didn’t seem to affect our performance,” added Mackay. “We won 1-0 against two League 1 teams and then capped it off against a Premiership team that had beaten Celtic the week before.
“We’ve got a lot of experienced players that have played at a higher level and been involved in this competition. There’s no pressure on us; in the Highland League we have our own expectations and always go out to win games. Today will be different.
“It’s a case of enjoying it and doing what we’ve done so far this season. Perhaps we can catch them on an off-day.”