Malky Mackay believes Ross County’s young players will benefit from their involvement in the North of Scotland Cup this season.
The Staggies reached the final of the competition, but were defeated 5-4 by Nairn County after extra-time in a thrilling showpiece at Grant Street Park on Sunday.
It was a strong County side, which included six of the seven players who made up the first team bench for Saturday’s Premiership loss at St Johnstone.
The remainder of Carl Tremarco’s side was made up of players from the club’s under-18s squad.
This afternoon’s North of Scotland Cup Final team to face Nairn County. pic.twitter.com/a0ZCEAiniz
— Ross County FC (@RossCounty) November 12, 2023
Mackay, who was previously Scottish FA performance director, believes the experience gained against experienced opponents will serve the youngsters well in their development.
He said: “I was actually talking to someone this week about the Highland League, and the differences we’ve seen in the boys who have gone out on loan in just three or four months.
“They’re in here training every day, but they’re also going through and training once a week and then playing on a Saturday with men – and I keep reiterating that.
“The differences I’ve seen with my own eyes are great, and I think it will be the same for the under-18s who have played in North of Scotland Cup games with Premiership players.
“It has been good for the players we’ve needed to get minutes for. If you’re not doing a friendly – which we have done against a couple of Highland League teams and Inverness to help each other out – you need that.
“If the squad is stronger and there are players on the bench that need games, and aren’t playing on a Saturday, then you need those 90 minutes to keep you going.”
Staggies building strong local partnerships
County predominantly faced Highland League opposition in the tournament, beginning their North of Scotland Cup campaign with an 8-0 win over Wick Academy.
They defeated North Caledonian League side Golspie Sutherland 3-0 in September, before winning by the same scoreline against Brora Rangers in the semi-finals.
Mackay, who has farmed a number of his youngsters out to Highland League clubs, is pleased with the partnerships the Staggies have built across the local area.
He added: “It’s not viable for us to travel down to the central belt to play friendly games with three or four hours on a bus.
“We’ve got partnership clubs in the north of Scotland, who we’ve got really good relationships with, and can phone up for a game.
“The North of Scotland Cup, and the people who have been running it, has been excellent in terms of the dialogue we’ve had all the way through – even through to the skinny pitch at Golspie, which hopefully we never have to deal with again.
“All of these things are experiences that players have to deal with, and it doesn’t matter if they’re first team players or under-18s, it’s all good experience.
“They’re playing against men in a competitive environment, against a team that wants to beat you, and that’s the best way to prepare for professional football.
“My thanks go to the organisers of the North of Scotland Cup this year, and the Highland League for allowing our football club to be a part of their journey.”