The outcome of Cove Rangers’ season will ultimately be defined by what happened on a wet Tuesday night in Airdrie. But there is much more to it than that.
The way this campaign ended might take some time to shake off for some. For others, it may be a more straightforward process, parking the disappointment and refocusing for what is next.
Despite missing out on promotion to the Championship, they should be considered one of the success stories of the season.
There has been a lot of dirge served up from a football perspective over the last year or so. Fans being locked out of stadiums has meant broadcasters embracing the opportunity of wall-to-wall games, on the basis of it providing supporters of all clubs the chance to watch their teams.
The downside to that has been games which ordinarily would not have been screened live – the dreary, dull, last-on-Match-of-the-Day ones – are now beamed into the homes of millions.
With watching football as part of my job, I soon found myself getting “football fatigue”. The enjoyment of watching a game had been ground down by the sheer, incessant nature of it in the Covid-19 era.
But I never felt that coming away from Cove. Sure, it is my job to say that, but I cannot recall a game which was not entertaining in some way. Even the defeats.
While one or two more boring games might have made a difference to Cove’s promotion hopes, you almost feel like it would be cheating their principles. The main thread through most Cove player interviews is how much winning is part of the club; sacrificing that instinct would not seem right.
Last night was football in its most visceral, emotive form. The roar, the surge of bodies piling together as Rory McAllister put them in front in stoppage-time, seemingly sending them to the play-off final.
You then had similar scenes in the opposing dugout when Jack McKay levelled deeper into stoppage-time. Cove players were on their haunches, as if someone had just pulled a plug and let the adrenaline out.
One player simply said, in the aftermath, that losing a goal so late was “p*sh”. Who could argue with him?
Callum Gallagher’s second, 109 minutes into this tug-of-war, was to finally settle it. Cove’s year was not to be this one.
Trying to evaluate a season through that prism of disappointment is never going to be easy. It is hard to convince people who are used to winning that finishing third and missing out on promotion can still contain some positives.
But Cove have made their mark on the SPFL, make no mistake about that. One league title under their belt and challenging for promotion to the second tier, after less than two years in the league, is a significant achievement.
The ambition of the club and those driving it will not let this be a defining night. It hurts now, obviously, but in time, they will grow from it.
Who knows, 12 months down the line, Cove may be looking at this night as a stepping stone on to something greater. Ascending through the leagues remains a desire and the foundations are there to do it.
They are also an example of what the pyramid system can do and why it has to be preserved. Clubs with ambition, targets and yes, financial resources, can make an impact in the Scottish leagues and ought to be championed.
Edinburgh City are fighting to go up to join Cove, while Kelty Hearts swept aside Brora Rangers in their quest to join the SPFL. They may well do so at the expense of Brechin City, a team who have staggered to the bottom over a number of years.
Cove will have some fresh opponents next season, but also a year’s experience, as a group, at this level under their belts. They will have Harry Milne and Jamie Masson back, the influential duo who missed the run-in due to ankle injuries suffered within a fortnight of each other.
They also have a manager in Paul Hartley who has promotion-winning credentials and has taken this team on further since taking charge in 2019.
While the immediate reaction will have been one of hurt and frustration, there is plenty at the Balmoral Stadium to be optimistic about.