The finest season in the history of Ross County Football Club. I would have settled for a campaign of transition with no relegation fears and perhaps a nice little cup run. Nothing fancy.
Instead, I witnessed a small side from Dingwall lift their first major trophy inside the national stadium in front of fans who have followed from the Highland League days.
Here are the players who made it all possible. And a small minority who you’d think tried not to.
Scott Fox – 9
Comfortably the best goalkeeper County have had in the top-flight. A match-winner on his own, Fox has made crucial saves at crucial times this season, most notably denying Leigh Griffiths from the spot in the League Cup semi-final. Partick Thistle fans laughed when he made the move to Dingwall to win trophies and gain Gordon Strachan’s attention. I can’t hear anything now though.
Gary Woods – 7
A more than competent replacement for Fox during his injured spells, Woods stepped up when called upon. His last minute save to deny Liam Fontaine’s overhead-kick in the League Cup final was a highlight. The loanee completed his remit.
Scott Boyd – 5
It looks as though Ginger Pele’s time in Dingwall is coming to an end. His usually reliable stand-in performances have declined heavily this season, with more and more mistakes creeping into his game. County need to strengthen the defence for next term and Boyd’s position in the squad will be under scrutiny. As good as gone.
Andrew Davies – 8
A leader at the back and a monster in the air, the club captain has been an astute piece of business. The ex-Bradford man may not be the quickest, or even have an ounce of pace within his legs, but his intelligence and reading of the play more than makes up for that shortcoming. Apt that he was the one to make the final clearance in the League Cup final.
Ricky Foster – 8
Remarked by most as a poor signing, Foster has proved his critics wrong with consistently solid performances throughout the year. Operating on both sides of the defence and midfield, he’s demonstrated his versatility and capabilities as not only a top-flight player, but an asset to his manager.
Marcus Fraser – 6
He may not have been as adventurous or successful with his forward runs this season, but it’s been another solid year to build on for the 22-year-old. However, I’m still not entirely convinced he’s a long-term option at right-back. With fan favourite Erik Cikos returning, perhaps McIntyre isn’t either.
Chris McLaughlin – 6
The youngster made a handful of appearances before the season’s end. Depending on summer signings, McLaughlin could find himself as the second-choice left-back next season. His performances in the development league show he’s comfortable against a quick winger, while his forays forward showcase his excellent deliveries into the box. The sort of service that could see the County frontmen continue to record impressive goal tallies.
Paul Quinn – 6
I’m not at all convinced by Quinn at centre-back, nor am I convinced that he is any better than Roberston. Starting the season at Aberdeen after leaving County in the summer, Quinn then made his way back to the club in January after failing to establish himself at Pittodrie. It’s easy to see why. While he organised County’s backline last season, he’s been culpable to some poor performances since returning.
Jamie Reckord – 4
Remember at school when one of your mates would move abroad for a couple of years and return with a fake accent, a questionable tan and a frustratingly positive outlook on life? Well, Reckord gave this a fair go during the off-season. He returned with a bad haircut, a few extra pounds and an aversion to defending. Released in April.
Chris Robertson – 7
Quite possibly the most underrated player in the squad this year. Confident and commanding, whilst surprisingly neat on the ball, Robertson was excellent in his early outings. He’s the best option beside Davies at centre-back as it stands.
Rafaelle De Vita – 5
One of the key members in County’s volte-face last season, the Italian never really got going this campaign. He looked bereft of confidence and struggled to find any sort of form. His departure was inevitable.
Tony Dingwall – 3
He isn’t going to make it is he? Everyone in the media would love him to. I’d love him to as well. I just can’t see it happening despite the rare flashes of quality he’s shown. Hopefully I won’t be saying the same about his younger brother when he makes the step up.
Jonathan Franks – 6
A lot like Martin Woods in terms of serving up moments of frustration. Too often promising counter attacks are ruined by a poor delivery into the box. And too often he fails to best his man down the line. Needs to improve his overall game in the final third if he wants to stay at the club. There’s definitely a player there.
Michael Gardyne – 9
No player deserved this year’s cup success more than this man. Could not have been happier to see him score and later assist the winner. Now the club’s all-time record goalscorer, Gardyne epitomises everything his manager demands in a player. When he’s on his game, it gives the whole team a lift with his infectious commitment and work-rate. The first name on the team-sheet for me.
Jackson Irvine – 9
His performance in the League Cup final could’ve earned the supporter’s player of the year honour on its own. He neutralised John McGinn and his energy carried the midfield forward, with his anticipation resulting in the opener – stealing possession before sliding a perfectly weighted through ball for Gardyne. He’s improved his game immensely since joining County. No longer is he the lost boy that Kilmarnock failed to get the best out of. From a fan’s point of view, it’s exciting knowing that he’s going to continue his rapid progression for another season at least.
Ian McShane – 7
McShane’s first season with the club was a solid introduction. He had a difficult start adjusting to the energy required to operate in McIntyre’s system, but he slowly found his feet and his passing range with some standout performances at the turn of the year. I’m hoping to see him establish himself as a key member of the County midfield.
Stuart Murdoch – 6
County will need to strengthen in the middle of the park for the season ahead and bringing in an aggressive defensive-minded player should be a priority. Currently County have a light version of that player in the form of Murdoch. His stamina and work rate can’t be questioned, but he’s quite limited beyond that – a stunning 30-yard strike against Celtic aside.
Martin Woods – 6
Whether it’s his persistence in attempting passes that aren’t there, the sub-standard quality of his set-pieces or failure to trackback when the opposition break on the counter, he really doesn’t help himself in the attempt to silence doubters. I can understand why McIntyre likes him, I think, but he really does just flatter to deceive far too often. That being said, he fairly seems to enjoy playing at Hampden, with two inspired performances in front of the cameras.
Liam Boyce – 9
You can perhaps forgive the Northern Ireland international for the decline in form he showed in 2016. After all, he did score 17 goals in all competitions before the January window. He was ruthless in front of goal. The goals were coming from all angles and in various forms – his technique is incredible.
And that’s why it’s hard to work out what caused his loss of confidence post-Christmas. Injuries maybe? A culmination of missed chances? Either way, he owes a lot to McIntyre for having faith in him after the split, as his persistence in trying to aid the striker’s bid to make the plane for the EUROs ended with two goals in the final two games of the season.
Craig Curran – 7
A nasty concussion has plagued his first full season with the club. You can’t help but feel aggrieved for Curran after making such a positive start. Sidelined since late January, his future at the club is in doubt. Hopefully he can recover from this setback and feature during pre-season. If he does feature, and makes it through unscathed, I won’t be the only member of the County support looking forward to seeing him carry on from where he left off.
Brian Graham – 7
His style of play may not be pleasant on the eye or at times profitable, but you can’t deny he knows where the goal is. An uninspiring start soon transpired into another double figures goal tally for Graham, with his introduction in the cup final arguably swinging the game in County’s favour. His link up play and understanding with Schalk has great potential.
David Goodwillie – 2
He scored one goal against Hearts. That’s it. Let’s all forget he was here and just move on.
Alex Schalk – 9
Oh, Alex. What a little gem you are. Although my Dutch isn’t what it used to be, I believe his nickname of ‘Der Bomber’ in his homeland, loosely translates over here as ‘The Embodiment of Greatness’. I could be wrong. Responsible for sending thousands of County fans into sheer delirium with his last-minute downing of Hibs, the young Dutchman is no longer the unknown quantity he appeared to be.
We know now that he’s gifted with both feet, possesses intelligent movement and is deceptively strong and persistent for a man of his size. Capping his stay with an overhead kick against Aberdeen would’ve been a fitting send off. Thankfully, unless he’s pinched for a fee in January, we’ll have a whole season with this little genius, and I for one can’t wait.
Darren Holden – 1
An advocate of skinny jeans, this left-back made two cameo appearances during his stay, netting once with a lovely volley in the 7-0 rout of Falkirk. Recently released by Gateshead in the fifth tier of English football. Gateshead.
Chris Konopka & James Severn – N/A
A total of five goalkeepers were included in matchday squads throughout the season. This pair and youngster Mark Foden failed to feature.
Greg Morrison – 2
Made a couple of appearances from the bench this season. I’d be stunned if he even makes that total next year. In time he will no doubt join the plethora of County’s youth products collecting a wage with Elgin City.
Rocco Quinn – 3
A great servant to the club. Although he was usually reliable when called upon, injuries and lack of game time contributed to his departure, and subsequent move to St. Mirren.
Jim McIntyre – 9
Along with Roy MacGregor, the former Queen of the South boss has completely rejuvenated the club following the departure of Derek Adams and his father. After steering County away from an almost inevitable relegation last year, he’s developed on the foundations he built by guiding the club to its first ever major trophy along with a place in the top six, a position held throughout the season.
Tactically, he’ll know himself there’s work to be done with his County side. Despite the successes of this year, you can’t ignore the alarming form shown in 2016. All too often points were dropped from winning positions, and failings in front of the home crowd is a cause for concern.
He will need to find a way to instil consistency within the side and the ability to grind out victories over top six outfits. This will go a long way towards consolidating County as a top half team, and challenging for a European place, the next set of realistic goals for the club.
Written by Ieuan Williams