THERE were no cameras present, just common decency. Few were there at Dudgeon Park to catch the moment but one small gesture said everything you need to know about Stuart Kettlewell, the former Queen’s Park, Clyde and Ross County midfielder.
Long after the dust had settled on Brora’s triumphant shoot-out victory, a player who grafted tirelessly for everything he achieved in the game, from amateur status to a Scottish Cup final and SPL football, was consoling a young Edinburgh City counterpart crumpled in dejection below the main stand.
Kettlewell, still only 30, might understandably have been too caught up in his own concerns to pay the tearful kid a second glance. Putting body on the line precariously, he had just performed for 120 minutes on a fragile hip that has him walking with a visible limp and sends agonising pain shooting through his very being.
He is a footballer who desperately needs long weeks of summer rest and recuperation to be certain, even, of continuing his part-time career.
This is no hyperbole. Kettlewell, currently in renewed rehab on the injury that ended his time at County, has been told by specialists he is one small step away from requiring a hip replacement operation.
For a young husband and father, now working as Ross County’s Under-20s coach, that is a galling prospect yet, there he was on Saturday, playing his part valiantly for a team who, some would have it, were disinterested enough to “throw” the play-offs.
With the Highland League champions’ tight squad ravaged by unavoidable absences, Kettlewell raised his hand during the week and told manager David Kirkwood he would willingly play his part.
Brora’s desire and integrity can no longer be questioned, but it was as much the impressive togetherness and will of Edinburgh City that shone as Brora’s amid the honest endeavour.
Asked about the young opponent he comforted, Kettlewell – who netted the decisive spot-kick – said: “I like to think I’ve gathered a wee bit of experience in the game and it is not nice to see a boy hurting like that.
“Their boys did fantastically well over the two legs and, do you know what? They will dust themselves down and go again next season.
“It was a great achievement for them winning their own league and you see how much it means to them. It is never nice to see a lad upset like that but it says a lot about him as a person and how far he can go with a desire and attitude like that.
“I like to think, when I was younger, older and more experienced players would have given me the same wee pat on the back and a word of advice.”
Brora, missing the towering defensive presence of former Caley Thistle captain Grant Munro, were weakened through their spine.
Zander Sutherland, an attacker who has netted more than 20 goals this season, was also absent while fellow former Caley Thistle team-mate Dale Gillespie was sorely missed in the heart of midfield.
After a 1-1 draw in the capital, City stole an early advantage in a dominant first half with Ross Allum striking home an angled, 12-yard finish off the inside post after just four minutes.
City would pay for several missed chances, the hosts levelling the tie after 63 minutes when the otherwise excellent Joe Mbu clumsily head-flicked a defensive pass over his own goalkeeper for Scott Graham to tap home.
City’s Chris McKee received a second booking almost on full-time, but there was little more than tension to absorb in a Brora-dominated extra 30 minutes before the dreaded penalties beckoned and Kettlewell set the seal on a 4-2 shoot-out victory.
Asked if Brora could silence the critics scathing of their board’s anti-play-off stance in the final against Montrose, Kettlewell said: “I think we’ve probably done that today and last week, if truth be told.
“It was suggested we would maybe throw the game but you can see there today how much it means to the boys. Listen, there are top professionals in there – top guys – and their attitude shone today.”
City manager Gary Jardine spoke eloquently of his team’s hurt in the aftermath.
He said: “It is gut-wrenching, it really is. We have aspirations to play at a higher level one day. It really is our dream.
“Nobody gives my boys a chance. With the background they come from, they have to earn everything they get in life.”