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Revealed: The P&J’s Breedon Highland League team of the season

Callum Law had the unenviable task of selecting a 2023-24 Highland League select.

Brechin City's Euan Spark, left, Buckie Thistle's Max Barry, centre, and Formartine United's Julian Wade.
Brechin City's Euan Spark, left, Buckie Thistle's Max Barry, centre, and Formartine United's Julian Wade.

The dust has settled on another dramatic and memorable Breedon Highland League campaign – and it is time to pick a team of the season.

This term I’ve been fortunate enough to cover 68 competitive games involving Highland League sides for The Press and Journal.

The Highland League team of the season is always a challenging undertaking and the quality across the division is such that it would be quite easy to choose three or four different squads.

After a lot of agonising, I’ve whittled it down to a starting XI, in a 4-4-2 formation, and seven subs.


Craig Reid gets the nod after a tremendous season for Keith during which he made very few mistakes and showed himself to be a top-class shot-stopper as well as solid under the high ball.

Craig Reid saves a penalty for Keith.

Reid may also be the best in the division at saving penalties and his ability to repel spot-kicks earned the Maroons plenty of points.

He was a star performer during Keith’s 10-game unbeaten run in the second half of the season – which included scoring a last minute overhead-kick equaliser against Huntly.

Banks o’ Dee’s Daniel Hoban came very close to being included, and is on the bench. He impressed following his arrival at Spain Park at the end of September.

Elsewhere, David Dey, who has since retired, performed to a high standard for Turriff United. In his swansong season, Joe Malin only appeared a handful of times for Brora Rangers, but when he did play he showed he was still as good as anybody in the north.


Jack Murray was a simple selection at centre-back and would be my player of the year pick.

He was outstanding for Buckie Thistle with his displays dragging the Jags over the line in certain games.

On top that, the 23-year-old amassed a mind-boggling 26 goals in all competitions.

Next to Murray is Brechin City’s Euan Spark.

For the second season running, the Hedgemen conceded the fewest goals in the league (28) and the towering presence of Spark was integral to that.

Fraserburgh’s Kieran Simpson narrowly missed out on selection and is on the bench, and Kevin McHattie was also impressive for Brechin at centre-back and full-back.

Jack Murray in action for Buckie.

Elsewhere, the experienced duo of Ross Tokely and Paul Coutts were assured presences for Nairn County and Inverurie Locos, respectively.

Deveronvale’s Innes McKay and Keith’s Lewis Coull are two younger centre-backs with bright futures.

At right-back, the energy, physicality and aerial prowess of another of Buckie’s key men, Joe McCabe, earn him a place in the team.

Tom Kelly is on the bench after a stellar season during which he helped Brora win the GPH Builders Merchants Highland League Cup.

On the other side, a lot of teams have chopped and changed at left-back and plenty have operated with wing-backs instead.

Fraserburgh’s versatile captain Willie West demonstrated his dependability and is chosen at left-back as he edges towards 700 appearances for the Broch.

Another veteran, Formartine United’s Stuart Smith, and Mark McLauchlan of Forres Mechanics both had good campaigns, while Lyall Booth excelled for Huntly before leaving for Elgin in January.


On the flanks, I’ve plumped for two out-and-out wingers in Formartine United’s Adam Emslie and Hamish MacLeod of Banks o’ Dee.

Emslie weighed in with plenty of goals and assists during his season-long loan from Aberdeen. It’s also unlikely we’ll see him at Highland League level again as he appears destined for a career in the upper echelons of Scottish football.

MacLeod netted 13 goals for Dee and was a constant menace on the left flank with his ability to come inside or go down the line keeping opposition defenders guessing.

Banks o’ Dee’s Hamish MacLeod.

In the middle, Max Barry has the capability to take any game by the scruff of the neck and was a driving force in Buckie’s title success with 16 goals and lots of assists.

Next to him is somebody who has perhaps been overlooked in the past because his work commitments offshore limited the number of games he could play.

But this season Jamie Beagrie has been onshore and has seldom put a foot wrong in Fraserburgh’s engine room. A master at breaking up play and picking up second balls, he also has a good eye for a pass.

Fraserburgh’s Jamie Beagrie, left.

Buckie captain Sam Pugh is unlucky not to make the XI after another excellent season, but is on the bench.

Joining Pugh there is Andrew MacLeod, who impressed with elegant displays in Nairn County’s midfield – the Ross County loanee looks to be another who could forge out a career at a higher level.

Elsewhere, Banks o’ Dee skipper Kane Winton and Turriff’s Jack McKenzie shone in their sides.

Brora’s Dale Gillespie and Jack Halliday of Wick Academy – who have both departed the Highland League scene – also performed with great credit.

In the wide areas Robbie Foster produced a fabulous return of 15 goals in a vibrant Huntly forward line and Brora’s Max Ewan was in fine form until injury ruled him out of final few months of the season.


With such a plethora of quality marksmen in the Highland League, picking two strikers is a tough job.

But Brechin’s Grady McGrath and Formartine’s Julian Wade get the nod.

Although McGrath had spells were he seemed to be out of favour at Glebe Park, he still finished as the north’s top scorer in all competitions (34 goals) and in the league (28 goals). He’s a superb finisher who makes the most of chances that fall his way.

Grady McGrath in action for Brechin
Grady McGrath was the Highland League’s top scorer.

Wade is a great foil to play upfront with McGrath. The Dominica international is a constant nuisance for defences with his tireless work-rate and skilful hold-up play.

Wade grabbed an impressive 25 goals and was particularly effective in big games, scoring 12 times against the other seven sides who finished alongside United in the top-eight.

Scott Barbour – who netted 29 times and became Fraserburgh’s record scorer – and Huntly talisman Andy Hunter – who bagged 24 goals – are both on my bench and came extremely close to making the starting line-up.

Beyond that, Jordan MacRae of Brora, Dee’s Lachie MacLeod, Josh Peters of Buckie, Fraserburgh’s Ryan Sargent and Ewan Clark of Turriff all showed their qualities over the course of the campaign and were considered.


Now-departed Buckie boss Graeme Stewart is the selection in the dugout after leading the Jags to the title, a cup final and on a memorable Scottish Cup run which culminated in facing Celtic.

Josh Winton and Paul Lawson continue to make strides with Banks o’ Dee, finishing fourth and winning the Morrison Motors (Turriff) Aberdeenshire Shield this term.

Former Buckie manager Graeme Stewart.

Dean Donaldson did well at two clubs, making a strong start to the campaign with Turriff, before rejuvenating a struggling Inverurie side and guiding them to the Evening Express Aberdeenshire Cup.

Steven Mackay is also deserving of praise for leading Nairn County to the North of Scotland Cup – their first trophy since 2012.

Final selection

Starting XI (4-4-2) – Craig Reid (Keith); Joe McCabe (Buckie Thistle), Euan Spark (Brechin City), Jack Murray (Buckie Thistle), Willie West (Fraserburgh); Adam Emslie (Formartine United), Jamie Beagrie (Fraserburgh), Max Barry (Buckie Thistle), Hamish MacLeod (Banks o’ Dee); Grady McGrath (Brechin City), Julian Wade (Formartine United).

Subs – Daniel Hoban (Banks o’ Dee), Tom Kelly (Brora Rangers), Kieran Simpson (Fraserburgh), Sam Pugh (Buckie Thistle), Andrew MacLeod (Nairn County), Andy Hunter (Huntly), Scott Barbour (Fraserburgh).

Manager – Graeme Stewart (Buckie Thistle).

The P&J’s Highland League team of the season for 2023-24.