THERE has been a lot of talk about the Rangers journey but Barrie McKay doesn’t want to get too carried away until they actually reach their destination.
A kid when he scored against Peterhead on the first day of the club’s attempt to climb back up the leagues following liquidation and a rapid abseil down to the divisions, having been there at the start he is relishing the opportunity to see the job through and help the club back into the top flight.
If they maintain their early-season form and see their way to the Championship title, only Lee Wallace and Dean Shiels will be able to claim they have played as enduring a role in the Ibrox club’s footballing rehabilitation.
“Since I’ve broken through I’ve wanted to be part of the squad that got Rangers back to the top where they belong. To be able to say I was part of that squad and I started off in that squad would be a real achievement. We have never really spoken about being the only members left. We would have to get up to the Premiership before we start talking about it. We’ve not done it yet.”
But the fact that he is here to play his part is testament to his self-belief. Facing the prospect of minimal first-team involvement last term, McKay opted to head out on loan in search of regular football, always viewing it as a stepping stone in his development.
“I still had the length of time on my deals to be able to come back and prove myself. If I was going out and getting games then that was going to benefit me more than staying and maybe coming off the bench a couple of times. In the end it helped me a lot. I think I have matured a lot.
“I don’t know if I’ve become a different person but going away has helped me. When you go away and come back you see how good we have really got it here.
“You see that teams don’t have this facility and it makes you want to do better when you come back.
“I always appreciated what I had at Rangers because I came here from Kilmarnock as a young boy. But it’s good to go out and see what other places are like. To go to another team that’s not regarded as big, you see a different side to the fans. Things like they don’t expect to win every week. So there’s also bigger pressure at Rangers but I like that. I put pressure on myself to succeed.”
It was games like this afternoon’s that McKay missed last season but he says sacrificing a few trips to Ibrox was worth it to gain the kind of experience that has now made playing there a regular occurrence.
A member of new manager Mark Warburton’s preferred starting line-up, the Rangers attacker is grateful to Raith Rovers for his loan stint with the Kirkcaldy club, saying he returned to Govan a more mature player and person as a result, but that gratitude does not extend to him wishing them well when they turn up looking for three Championship points today.
“I loved it there and I got the game time that I needed. It was good for me to get out there and play with a different system, with a different manager and I met a lot of new people.”
Friendships were formed which have lasted despite McKay’s return to the league leaders. “I travelled with Grant Anderson and Mark Stewart and I’m still really close with them and sometimes we go out and get a bit of food and catch up. I still speak to them near enough every day and it’s good to have friends from different clubs.” He was at Ibrox every time Raith came calling last term despite being ineligible to play against his parent club, even watching on as Rovers dumped Rangers out of the Scottish Cup inside a stadium which was only a quarter full and echoing with disenchantment.
“I still came to the games and supported both teams! I came to show my support for the boys and then I came in and saw the Rangers boys as well. I wasn’t going to miss those types of games.
“That one was obviously a close game and it was a great free-kick from Ryan Conroy and I will never forget it but that’s because he always talks about it! That was a good day for Raith but disappointing for Rangers.”
The atmosphere that night was lamentable but McKay says the sense of optimism felt in the dressing room is now reflected in the stands. He said: “Since day one, the fans have been brilliant here and they have turned up in numbers and you can hear them. Sometimes you can’t hear the other players talk, it’s so loud, and this year it is a lot different to what it has been recently. The fans have been turning up. It was half empty last year when Raith came to Ibrox in the cup but I’m sure they will be there in numbers this weekend.”