Carl Tremarco insists Caley Thistle could easily have won back-to-back Scottish Cups as the Highlanders hit the heights within Scottish football.
The 35-year-old former ICT skipper has retired from playing after 18 years as a professional.
He has accepted the full-time position of head of youth at Premiership side Ross County and will work alongside Gordon Duff, the club’s academy and community manager, to plan for the future.
His career in the north of Scotland began in 2013 when he was snapped up from Macclesfield by Terry Butcher for Caley Thistle.
He spent seven largely successful years at ICT and captained the club before limited opportunities saw him make the move over the Kessock Bridge to Ross County two years ago.
With the Caley Jags, he went on to win the Scottish Cup in 2015, despite getting a red card in the 2-1 final win over Falkirk.
That season, the club also roared into a third-place finish in the Premiership and qualified for the Europa League.
In 2015/16, ICT went on another daring Scottish Cup adventure, making it through to the last eight where they earned a replay after drawing 1-1 with Hibs in Edinburgh.
However, an Anthony Stokes double in a 2-1 win at the Caledonian Stadium saw Tony Mowbray’s Hibs progress and, of course, they went on to win the trophy for the first time in 114 years.
Replay defeat to Hibees denied Caley Thistle spot in semi-finals
Tremarco felt that was a real opportunity to pull off an even bigger sensation by holding on to the national trophy.
He said: “The year after we won the Scottish Cup, we could well have gone on to win it again. Hibs, who went on to win it, beat us in the quarter-finals. It could have so easily have gone on to do it again.
“The year we won the Scottish Cup was unbelievable. If I’m being honest, I don’t see that happening again for Caley Thistle.
“Look at St Johnstone last season. They won two cups and finished fifth. Where do they go from that?
“That was the position Inverness found themselves in after finishing third and winning the Scottish Cup and qualifying for Europe. That’s you peaked at a club at that level.
“The success we had over those few years was brilliant. Getting beaten by Aberdeen in the 2014 League Cup final was just the start of it.”
And the journey began back home in Liverpool and he hasn’t looked back.
He added: “Making my debut at 17 for Tranmere was undoubtedly a highlight.
“Since I left Macclesfield and came up to Inverness, my career has always gone upwards. I have played in finals and won trophies. Over the course of my 18 years, I’ve certainly had more highs than lows.”
Dropping down to Championship with ICT was the lowest point
There have been so many high points for Tremarco in the Highlands, but demotion from the Premiership in 2017 hurt.
Tremarco felt two years ago, the Inverness club were well placed to return to the top as well as contest a Challenge Cup final against Raith Rovers before the pandemic stopped play and denied them further glory.
He explained: “The one major low for me at Inverness was being relegated. When we were in the Championship, it was tough.
“The season before last, before Covid hit, we had a really good chance of being promoted via the play-offs. We hit form at a good time and we’d have had a good chance.
“We also had another Challenge Cup final to look forward to. I would have liked to have lifted another trophy as captain, but it wasn’t to be.”
‘Boring’ final had silver lining for match-winner Carl
The Liverpool-born player also scored the only goal of the 2018 Challenge Cup final against Dumbarton to seal another silverware success. He bagged the dramatic stoppage time winner at McDiarmid Park.
He admits: “It wasn’t a great game. In fact, it was a pretty boring game.
“It was two teams cancelling one another and Dumbarton spoiled it by sitting really deep.
“We didn’t have the quality to break them down. Luckily enough. I got on the back stick and put away the winner, which was brilliant for me.”
Staggies’ survival success was real boost for Tremarco
When he considers his final season, he says helping keep County in the top-flight against all the odds has got to be seen as success.
When Stuart Kettlewell was sacked and replaced by John Hughes, County were four points adrift at the foot of the table.
One of their relegation rivals, Kilmarnock, bolstered their pool with Northern Ireland international Kyle Lafferty and he banged in the goals – 13 of them to turn the heat on County and Hamilton.
However, County battled back and secured their safety on the final day with a win over Motherwell, although a draw would have been enough.
Accies went down automatically and Killie dropped via their play-off final defeat to Dundee.
Staggies defied the odds to stay in the Premiership
Tremarco stressed: “When Yogi came in, we were already written off.
“Hamilton beat us at home and Ketts (Stuart Kettlewell) got the sack and no one fancied us. It took a big effort and I think it was a great achievement for the club to stay up.
“We dug out some massive wins like Hibs away, Celtic, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock at home. These were big games and I played a part in them.
“As much as I would have liked to have played more last season, I can look at that as success as a team. Injuries prevented me from playing more.
“Staying up was something that I’ll hold highly as an achievement because we were dead and buried come January according to a lot of people.”
Happy in the Highlands
Tremarco’s family are settled in the Highlands and as he weighed up his future over the past few weeks there was little doubt he’d be going nowhere.
He added: “I was staying up here regardless of what was put in front of me, whether it was leaving County or going to play part-time.
“I am thoroughly grateful for this opportunity I have been given by Ross County.”