Jim McIntyre admits there is a “big difference” in the way Ross County and Hibernian have chosen to approach this weekend’s League Cup final, with the Edinburgh side swapping Leith for the sunshine of southern Spain.
Few could call the Black Isle anything other than scenic but it is far removed form the Costa del Sol, where Alan Stubbs’ squad has decamped ahead of Sunday’s Hampden clash.
With two members of his own squad having recently become fathers, McIntyre has decided to put families first by electing to remain in Dingwall this week.
“We are going to eat heather and go hunting and things!” smiled McIntyre, when the stark difference was put to him yesterday, with photographs already emerging of Hibs players training in the Mediterranean sun.
While there was sunshine in the Highlands yesterday, there were also sudden squalls of heavy rain, as tends to be the case in an area where the weather is prone to change so frequently.
Despite chairman Roy MacGregor’s eagerness to back McIntyre in whatever he needs to make Ross County as competitive as possible, the manager has opted to stick to their day-to-day routine. The coincidence whereby two players – goalkeeper Gary Woods and skipper Andrew Davies – have both welcomed new additions to their family is also a factor behind McIntyre’s decision.
Woods’ wife Pia gave birth to a daughter at the weekend, while Davies’ wife Lucy gave birth to a son two days ago. McIntyre believes keeping the players together at home is preferable on this occasion, particularly given such significant events in the domestic lives of two key players.
“There is a big difference between the approaches of the two clubs but there is no right or wrong,” said McIntyre.
“If you choose to go away and go to a warmer climate with better training pitches I understand that, I get that. We are quite content with our preparations. It’s their [Hibs’] prerogative. Also, we also have two boys who were due to become fathers again, so we were mindful of that fact as well. We are quite happy to prepare as normal and keep the routine the same.
“We didn’t even know if their babies were going to be born this week or not, but we are lucky they have been.
“I don’t think there is any right or wrong way of doing it. We went away before we won it with Kilmarnock [in 1997] but that was the Scottish Cup, and there was time to kill before the final.
“You just have to look at your own circumstances. The bottom line is that it’s all about on the day, who handles the occasion best. It is so important you play the game and not the occasion, that’s the biggest thing. Once the players get to the stadium, generally the nerves disappear.”
Even if County win the trophy on Sunday, it will be a case of straight back home. Like Hibs, who take on Inverness in a Scottish Cup replay next Wednesday, McIntyre’s side have an important fixture to play against St Johnstone three days after the final.
It is one reason why McIntyre is in favour of the change to the competition’s format, with the final being brought forward to November next season. “This final feels as though it has been a long time in coming around,” he said.
“There are so many important league points to play to try and achieve the goal in the league, yet the cup final stays in the back of your mind in that time.”
There is nothing so far planned should County win their first major trophy since their ascent to the senior leagues. Dingwall residents have not yet been informed of road closures to facilitate open-topped bus access – not publicly at least.
With such a critical league game against St Johnstone following so soon afterwards, it is likely any celebrations will need to be put back. But it would of course be satisfying to be able to parade the trophy at County’s next home game – against near neighbours Inverness Caledonian Thistle a week on Saturday.
“We will need to win it first and foremost and then decide what we might do in the coming weeks,” said McIntyre. “But we don’t have anything planned. The bottom line is that this is an unbelievable chance to win a cup and put the club on the map.”