Ross Graham was one of the success stories of Cove Rangers’ season, establishing himself as a regular on his loan from Dundee United.
The young centre-back impressed during the run-in, with Cove challenging at the top end of League One for promotion.
Their journey was ultimately to come to an end in the play-offs, losing 4-3 on aggregate after a pulsating semi-final with Airdrieonians, but both club and player have made great strides.
“It’s the first season in League One for Cove and you’re competing with full-time teams,” said Graham. “There’s a lot of established clubs and it was a new experience for everyone.
“I thought everyone acquitted themselves really well and we did deal with League One. We know how good a team we were and were always going to be pushing for the play-offs.
“It was a new experience for me going out and playing in League One, trying to establish myself at Cove. Coming up against different teams and styles, different strikers and how to adapt in different situations has helped me.
“It’s a whole different environment from academy football. You’re playing for positions in the league, points, win bonuses; it was really good to learn the game that way and how men’s football actually is.”
The way the season ended for Cove was difficult to take for those involved. Rory McAllister’s goal had put them ahead in stoppage-time and they looked to be heading for the play-off final.
However, Jack McKay levelled for the Diamonds and Callum Gallagher’s second in extra-time denied the Aberdeen side a chance of a third successive promotion.
“It was full of up and downs, from us scoring early in the first half to them equalising straight away,” said Graham. “You do say in football when you score you’re at your most vulnerable, so it was disappointing to lose a goal that way.
“In the second half, it gets to the 90th minute and we score and think we’re going through. One long ball from them and it’s in the back of the net. We were heartbroken at that point.
“I don’t really know what happened to us in extra-time. We couldn’t see it out.
“It probably was difficult to raise ourselves (after the equaliser). To lose that with pretty much the last kick of the game, we were all at a low point. We couldn’t get ourselves back into it.
“We tried hard to get the ball forward early but the final cutting edge wasn’t there really. It was taken away from us in a minute; it’s the highs and lows of football. We weren’t ready to finish the season and still felt we had a good chance of getting through the play-offs.”
Graham is grateful for the trust put in him by Cove manager Paul Hartley, who brought him back to the club for the second half of the season after the shutdown.
💬 “I want to thank all of the lads who were with us on loan for the contributions they made in what was a good season for us."
The manager paid tribute to the group of loan players who were with us in our first season playing in League One
— Cove Rangers FC (@CoveRangersFC) May 17, 2021
The 20-year-old made 24 appearances for Cove this season and feels now ready to push on for a place in United’s first-team.
The Tangerines established themselves back in the Premiership this season, with Graham’s coaches able to come watch his games in League One.
“That was always the plan,” he added. “Come to Cove, get some experience, then the following season start to push the United first-team.
“That’s me done two loan spells now and I feel I’ve done well. I’m ready to take the next step into Dundee United’s first team.
“The team have done well to stay in the league and take it forward from this season. They’ve got a good squad so hopefully I can get in there and get a regular place for next season.
“I’ve got some experience and games under my belt now so I’ll definitely take that back to United.
“My United coaches were at most of the games and if they couldn’t get there, they watched them back. I was told they’d seen a lot of improvement from the start of the season to the recent games and push me forward from here.”