Scottish League Cup: MacGregor's gathering brings Ross County joy

Ross County celebrate beating Hibs 2-1 to win their first major trophy
Ross County celebrate beating Hibs 2-1 to win their first major trophy

Sipping from a cup of tea in the Hampden dressing room, surrounded by jubilant players and coaches, Roy MacGregor might have dwelled upon how far Ross County have come.

County's chairman might have felt that sense of reflection, too, as he watched long-standing members of staff, some of whose parents worked for the club before them, celebrate on the pitch at the national stadium after the team's 2-1 win over Hibernian.

Their Scottish League Cup triumph was a story of so many individuals, yet it all seemed to gather around MacGregor himself.

Jim McIntyre, the victorious manager, described his chairman as "Mr Ross County" and spoke afterwards of his delight at being able to deliver a first major trophy for him.

The two shared a long embrace as the cup was being paraded around by the players. If there was a symbolic moment, though, it was when MacGregor lifted up his grandson and the two were cheered and applauded loudly by the County supporters.

County on a journey

MacGregor was bashful then, but he has long insisted that County operate as a community club and with a strong sense of family values.

He has driven County's progress, shaping and enabling it with his personality and his wealth. For perspective, it is worth recalling that in 1985, County were bottom of the Highland League.

This moment, of glory, of joy, of sheer exuberance, belonged to all at County, but most fittingly to MacGregor.

"We've been on a journey together," he said. "This isn't the end of the journey."

He seemed appreciative of the values that McIntyre applies. The manager insisted that the celebrations in the dressing room would be curtailed, since there is training on Monday and a vital match against St Johnstone on Wednesday. A top-six finish is County's ambition, and so the parties would have to wait.

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Ross County's dressing room celebrations

MacGregor, a deeply religious man, built a global engineering business but strongly believed that his focus should be on his local community.

He joked that Dingwall, with its population of around 6,000, would have been emptied as more than 9,000 Ross County fans descended on Hampden.

If the game itself was a struggle at times for County - Hibs dominated possession for long spells in the first-half - the victory was littered with uplifting moments.

Jackson Irvine was a tireless figure in midfield, with his long legs eating up the ground as he ranged across the pitch, but also sliding in to steal the ball from opponents. He also had the nous to create the opening goal for Michael Gardyne.

Manager Jim McIntyre and chairman Roy MacGregor
County manager Jim McIntyre holds the League Cup trophy with County chairman Roy MacGregor, who prior to the cup final had stressed the importance of the Dingwall club's community roots

Irvine's boots bore the name of his grandfather, who first introduced him to football and coached him for four years in Irvine's native Australia, and the player paid for his parents and sister to fly over from Melbourne for the final.

The winning goal was symbolic, too. Brian Graham made a significant impact as a substitute, allowing County to become more competitive with his presence and movement up front.

In the 90th minute, it was Graham who won the ball in the centre of the pitch to allow Gardyne to scurry down the left.

Earlier in the half, it looked as though an injury would force Gardyne off, but he soldiered on, driven by the desire to deliver the best of himself in the final. His cross was cleared by Liam Fontaine, but only to Alex Schalk, who had been prone through cramp moments before.

Heartache for Hibs

After tapping the ball over the line, Schalk sprinted towards the County fans to celebrate. County's players had suffered at moments during the game, but they prevailed nonetheless.

The winning goal was cruel on Fontaine. The Hibs defender had equalised in the first-half and was so desperate to atone for the second County goal that he pushed upfield and his overhead kick in time added on was pushed over the bar by Gary Woods.

There was little to comfort Alan Stubbs and his Hibernian players after losing the final in the final minute
There was little to comfort Alan Stubbs and his Hibernian players after losing the final in the final minute

Fontaine looked distraught at the end, and several Hibs players looked to be in tears. They had brought so much to the game - in particular Liam Henderson with his energy and running, John McGinn's scheming and Darren McGregor with resolute defending - but they fell short.

Alan Stubbs said his side had been the better team. That was true for much of the first-half, but it still has to be made to count.

Hibs lacked composure in the final third, with Jason Cummings and Anthony Stokes often seeming estranged up front rather than an effective partnership.

The major call had been made by McIntyre, though, since he sent his side out with a back three for the first time this season. It could have failed badly, and it might be said that County toiled as they tried to impose themselves on the game since the players were unused to the shape. Yet still they won.

MacGregor's financial and personal investment, and McIntyre's management, combined to deliver a historic moment for County. In a sense, too, it is a triumph for football in the Highlands, where on Saturday, Ross County face Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Premiership.

Right now, it is those two clubs that hold the trophies for the two major cup competitions in Scotland. That thought would make MacGregor smile even more.

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