Brora Rangers midfielder Martin Maclean hopes the painful experience of falling short in the pyramid play-offs can bring about a stronger push from the Cattachs next season.
Steven Mackay’s men were unsuccessful in their attempt to secure promotion to League Two, after falling to a 6-1 aggregate defeat to Lowland League champions Kelty Hearts.
The Fife outfit will now face Brechin City in a two-legged final in a bid to make the step up.
Brora must now prepare themselves for a defence of their Highland League title, in order to earn another crack at the play-offs next year.
Maclean feels the standards displayed by their conquerors Kelty has shown the Sutherland outfit what they will be required to do in order to become an SPFL club.
Maclean said: “We can only try and move forward and improve. There is nothing else we can do.
“Whether that is improving the mentality among the boys that are here, or adding to it, I don’t know.
“We will see what happens, that is obviously up to other people to decide.
“I don’t think we can expect or hope to try and get into the league by performing like that.
“We saw the team we played against, that is the standard and we were nowhere near it.
“It’s disappointing not getting the chance to do it in the next game against Brechin.
“Kelty deserve their chance and they have a really good chance of getting into the league.
“From our point of view, we never got the chance last year, but we were delighted we got the chance this year.
“We were nowhere near taking that chance to get into the league, so we can’t have any complaints.”
Maclean famously netted the winning goal in Brora’s 2-1 victory over Hearts in the Scottish Cup earlier this year, however, the 29-year-old feels the shine has been taken off that memorable result by other disappointing results.
He added: “I don’t think we saw it coming, but in quite a lot of the bigger games this season we have been disappointing and let ourselves down.
“Stranraer at home went to extra-time, but I don’t think we deserved to go through.
“The Hearts game was a freak result, it was a complete one-off.
“I think, when the pressure seems to be on in bigger games, we don’t seem to turn up.
“That’s obviously something that the management team and the players need to look at and try to improve on.”
After Brora had trailed 2-0 from the first leg, Greg Morrison’s opening goal on Saturday threatened to revive the tie, before an instant Nathan Austin equaliser set Kelty on their way to a 4-1 triumph at New Central Park.
Maclean, from Back in Lewis, says the quick squandering of his side’s strong position made the result harder to take.
He added: “On Saturday we started OK. We managed to get ourselves 1-0 up to give ourselves a chance. That was all we had to do.
“After that it just fell away. They have got quality players that have managed to hurt us in big moments in the game.
“If you score a goal to get yourself back in the tie, the last thing you can do is give one away cheap the way we did.
“We had the ball near the edge of their box, and it’s just a long ball over the top and they have managed to get in and score.
“For the next 10 minutes, good teams and experienced teams would keep themselves a goal up, and keep getting themselves back in the game.
“But we just threw it away straight away after going 1-0 up, which is very disappointing.
“I think it’s a bit of a reality check to be honest. Over the two games, we were nowhere near it.
“In the first game at home we didn’t really lay a glove on them or create a chance.
“There are no complaints from our point of view. It was just nowhere near good enough.”