WHEN Highland hooker Kevin Brown pulls on his boots for his 17th season for the Inverness club tomorrow, he will be looking to the future, rather than reflecting on 16 campaigns in which the club has generally gone from strength to strength, while enduring some major lows along the way.
“It’s been a great privilege to play for Highland, giving me lots of great memories, including being promoted last season to National League 1, while getting to the final of the National League Cup in Stirling, and who knows, perhaps the best has yet to come under our inspirational head coach Davie Carson,” said the 32-year-old Inverness born Brown. “With Davie at the helm anything is possible!”
While most veterans might dread coming back for pre-season training, the enthusiastic Brown relished the prospect of being back in the paddock. “With our state of the art ground at Canal Park, it’s actually a pleasure to train on the all weather pitch. No more sitting in the changing rooms, dreading the idea of going out in the mud, especially under the watchful eye of our dedicated coaching team who have backed us all the way, bringing in young players with great success in recent years.
“They’ve taken us from the depths of Caley 2 North, right to within touching distance of the Premiership. It’s a great success story, but all been achieved on the back of partnerships, including the management team, the coaching team and of course the players, and all based on respect for each other.”
But if Brown was in danger of painting too rosy a picture, it was left to head coach Carson to point up the progress the club had made in the face of adversity less than 10 years ago. “‘Kevin has been immense over the years, and as my captain for four seasons he has bought into our philosophy,” he said. “It has been a privilege to work with him. He stuck around during the dark days, getting his just rewards. He will be a key player in the new campaign.”
Highland get their season under way this weekend with a mouth-watering home game against Watsonians in the preliminary round of the Scottish Cup. It is a game which Brown can scarcely believe is even happening.
“The very idea of playing a club which has produced players of calibre of Gavin and Scott Hastings is just mind blowing, but we’ll not be showing them too much respect, and we have our own secret weapon which is our very own Canal Park roar,” he said. “It will certainly be an occasion to savour, as will our season in National League 1.
“Realistically, we will do well to consolidate our position, but then you never know.
“Apart from myself, this is still a young team who will enjoy a season during which we will visit some of the best known grounds in Scottish club rugby, including the Greenyards, Goldenacre, Poynder Park and Netherdale,” concluded the enthusiastic veteran with all the joy of a youngster who has just discovered a new sweet shop.
While Watsonians are a rugby club with a famous pedigree, they will be something of an unknown quantity in this match. A significant contingent of last season’s players have either been elevated to their new Super6 team or moved on to other clubs, meaning that Bruce Ruthven – the new head coach of the ‘Club XV’ – will lean heavily on youth this coming season.
With their only pre-season outing against Lasswade last weekend being called off, they travel to Inverness cold, but Ruthven is in a positive frame of mind.
“There are a number of school leavers and other young players who have been training hard as part of the Club XV squad and they have shown up very well,” he said. “There are a few players unavailable for selection this week, but the guys who are available are excited to get the season underway and I am looking forward to seeing them out there as a team.
“With a lot of youth set to be given a chance as the season moves on the experienced guys who know the club well, like Jonny Duthie and Euan Martin will be key to helping this team show what it is capable of.”
Stand-off Chris Bell, who recently left Merchiston Castle School, will be a key man at stand-off; while the more experienced Chris Scott at No 8 will be charged with getting the Myreside men onto the front foot.
Elsewhere in the draw, a fierce match-up between two ancient Border rivals is on the cards at Mansfield Park, when Hawick host Melrose. The away side lost narrowly to Jed-Forest last week in the Border league, while the hosts all came up short in a friendly against Carlisle, so both will be desperate to kick-start their season.
Musselburgh will get a feel for how they are equipped for life in the new look Premiership when they host Glasgow Hawks at Stoneyhill,
Marr make the long trip north to take on Aberdeen Grammar, Currie Chieftains are at home to Biggar and Dundee High host Ayr.
Scottish Cup Preliminary Round – all games kick off at 3pm –
Highland (at home to Watsonians): C Findlater; C Ross, I Chisholm, S Ross, S Rutledge; S Fraser, H Crush; L Sinclair, K Brown, J Milton, S Blair, E Milton, L Quinn, S MacDonald-Butler, C Carson Subs: M Paterson, S Murray, R Dinnes, R Macdonald, M Gordon.
Watsonians: R Steele; A Spencer, V Kacori, K Currie, R Robshaw; C Bell, D Kennedy; C Wilson, C Willis, G Kelly, J Duthie, K Watt, C Pearce, H Fisher, C Scott. Subs; C McLeod, C Watters, E Martin, T Richardson.
Dundee HSHP (at home to Ayr): K Scoular; R Hood, S Gauld, P Kerr, C Nicol; R McGinn, D McGinn; J Newth, A Elton, J Brady, I Lockhart, L Macnamara, S Barlow, F Ormiston, G Hughan. Subs: T Smith, J Shellard, F Black, F Jacobs, C Lane.
Ayr: J Mccorkindale; J Baird, H Lynch, J Pinkerton, J Awhi; R Mccorkindale, A Morrison; B Paterson, S Clelland, C Miller, E Hamilton, S Rae, D Young, G Henry©, C Reece. Subs: S Collier, D Bryce, C Brown, M Leatherbarrow, Z Howard.
Currie Chieftains (at home to Biggar): C Brett; S Hamilton, A Hall, A Harley, W Nelson; G Hunter, M O’Neil; G Williamson, F Scott©, G Carson, M Vernel, M Poole, H Ferguson, D Dee, R Davies. Subs: B Slessor, R Merillees, J O’Brien, A McLean, C Lessels.
Biggar: R Orr; R Bradford, R Stewart, A Jardine, M Bertram; J Barr, L Kotze; D Voas, D Voas, R Bassett, A Lyon, J Campbell, C Borthwick, E Sanderson, R Jackson. Subs; P Davidson, A Peacock, A Warnock, D Reive, S Horrell
Musselburgh (at home to Glasgow Hawks): F Reddick; J Ferguson, N Sweeney, R Watt, T Foley; P Cunningham, D Owenson; C Owenson, R Stott, C Arthur, W Fleiming, J Haynes, M Maltman©, C Pryde, L Hutson. Subs: J Crain, E Bonthron, F Craig, A Reddick, R Smith.
Glasgow Hawks: N Moffat; C McCarron, M Stewart, C Harrison©, M Prestly; L Brims, J Siems; P Cairncross, A Fraser, G Strain, L Archer, C Thomson, J Gammell, S Halfihi, R Sweeney. Subs: P Henderson, E Rintoul, C Shields, K Kay, Y Alagilly.
Hawick (at home to Melrose): A Weir; R McKean, A Mitchell, G Johnstone, L Gordon-Woolley; B Donaldson, G Welsh; S Muir©, M Carryer, C Bachurzewski, K McNeil, D Suddon, S Grahm, J Linton, B McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, D Johnstone, J Rowley, B McNeil, M Bannerman.
Melrose: K Clark; L Mallin, D Colvine, T Klein, J Brown; Donald Crawford, Douglas Crawford; W Owen, R Ferguson©, C Crookshank, T Brown, C Wilde, C Raymond, G Runciman, T Andrews. Subs: B McLean, M Wilson, G Lindsay, H Morris, G Wood.
Aberdeen Grammar Rugby (at home to Marr): S Mills; N Brown, D Russell, T Aplin, L Murphy; S Knudson©, T Morrison; R Anderson, B Inglis, M Schosser, L Govenlock, C Robertson, N Coe, W Alton, G Ryan. Subs: Y Ahmanache, J Robertson, P Muholland, C Ruxton, A Ovenstone.
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, J Scott; C Sturgeon, P Preston; B Sweet, O Rossi, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, C Cunningham, M Pearce, R Brown, B Grant. Subs from: J Drummond, C McMillan, C Steel, F Hazel, G Paxton, G Ness, I Turaga.