“It’s the biggest game in Cove’s history.”
This is what boss John Sheran thinks faces his charges when they step out against Championship Falkirk at Harlaw Park in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup tomorrow.
One of two Highland League sides to have made it to the last-16 of this year’s competition – Brora Rangers face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park – Cove are only two wins from Hampden and the semis.
An over-simplification perhaps given Paul Hartley’s Bairns play three tiers above in the Scottish football pyramid.
However, Sheran is more optimistic than he was before his side took on Motherwell in the competition in 2016 (a 5-0 away defeat).
He said: “When we played Motherwell, we were on their ground.
“Everything was set up for them to have a go at us. The pitch was soaked and wet. It was a nice, big pitch.
“Harlaw Park is a bit tighter. Falkirk are used to playing on astro. There will be some funny bounces and bobbles.
“But Paul Hartley is an experienced manager. He’s watched Cove a few times now, so he knows what to expect.
“We know each other – when I was at Peterhead he was at Alloa, so we’ve come up against one another before.
“He’s done a good job at Falkirk in terms of turning them round from a team who were really struggling at the bottom of the league. But their results show they’re still a bit up and down, so that gives us a bit of belief.”
Cove are aspiring to be a Scottish league club and a win against Falkirk could be the first of a number of momentous moments to come this year, alongside a Highland League title win – which looks near certain – and a chance at realising their SPFL dream, as well as their new Balmoral Stadium opening at Aberdeen’s Calder Park.
Despite not being in the Scottish league yet, Sheran’s men have had plenty of opportunities to test themselves against this calibre of opposition in recent campaigns.
There have been wins against Airdrieonians in the third round of the Scottish Cup and Stenhousemuir and Hamilton Under-20s in the Irn-Bru Cup. They also lost against Northern Irish side Crusaders in the latter competition.
Sheran’s belief is his players now feel they belong on the pitch alongside this level of team. He said: “The players get the experience of playing against Scottish league teams. They get used to playing them.
“We view Crusaders we played in the Challenge Cup this year as being a Championship level of team. So the players do get used to it.
“We usually dominate the ball when we play Highland League teams, but you don’t get it all your own way against the better teams – particularly full-time teams. They are a little bit quicker and sharper.
“But I think there is a confidence now (at Cove) that we can play and compete with these teams. If you look at the Motherwell game, we can learn a lot from that.
“The boys were unfortunate to give away quick goals at the start but, over the piece (they competed with the Premiership side). This season we’ve beaten Stenhousemuir, Hamilton Under-20s,beaten Airdrieonians, we’ve got that confidence now we can compete.
“But Falkirk is a step up again from the likes of Stenhousemuir and Airdrieonians.”
Despite sitting at eight in the Championship, the Bairns have been in a rich vein of form – Sheran reckons they’d be up near leaders St Mirren if the league started eight games ago.
He doesn’t plan to change too much the system his team plays week in, week out , though.
He said: “The only message we’ll be trying to get through to the players is we need to be disciplined when we don’t have the ball, but remember to play when we do have the ball.
“Sometimes in these games you get a bit too confused and only think about defending.
“We know we can pass it and move the ball around, because we have good football players. So we’ve just got to get them to remember to play when the time is right.
“If Falkirk want to have the ball in their half they can have it, but beyond that we’ll be trying to deny them as much space as possible.
“We have players who will cause them problems. Undoubtedly, Mitchell (Megginson) and his pace, Ryan Stott and his pace. But it’s not just about those players.
“If you look at the goals, Mitchell’s got quite a few, but there are goals spread throughout the team. Whether it’s a (Jamie) Masson, (Connor) Scully, even Harry Milne, Ryan Strachan’s scored a few.
“The other positive we’ve got is we’re used to winning. When the boys go behind, they’re not used to that and they fight like hell.
“They showed that on Saturday (a 3-2 win in the league over Formartine).
“They’re not used to losing games and they don’t like losing games.”
Cove should have their first choice 11 available, although defender Sam Burnett will miss out through injury and fellow stopper Dean Lawrie is a doubt.
Win or lose, Sheran thinks Saturday will be “massive” for the club.
He added: “There are 2,000 tickets available and the belief is we can sell that. There will be neutrals who come along – the Aberdeen supporters and the Inverurie supporters, because they’ve no game that day.
“We have great support off of the people at Inverurie, because we’ve had to play a lot of our home games there.
“It’s a big occasion for the Highland League – to have two teams in the last-16 is just an amazing thing.
“To think we have an opportunity to get to the quarter-final is amazing enough and it’s not an impossible task. If you’d ask me the same thing about playing Motherwell, I’d have said ‘it’s really highly unlikely’. I think it’s unlikely we’ll beat Falkirk, but there is that chance there and we believe we can win.
“Everyone around the club will enjoy the day and, if we’re in the game in the last 10 or 15 minutes, I’d fancy our boys to get a result.”