DON COWIE would never claim his journey from the terraces of Victoria Park to the hallowed turf of Wembley was down to raw talent.
However, no-one was more dedicated to his craft.
Cowie ran harder, jumped higher and tackled tougher in his pursuit of a career in football and, as his teammates over the years will attest, has been the consummate professional since day one.
Cowie officially retired this week to take up a role as Ross County first-team coach and can proudly reflect on a career which saw him win 10 Scotland caps, line up against Liverpool in the 2012 League Cup final and star in the English Premier League.
Not bad for a player who, by his own admission, wasn’t even the best player in County’s youth side.
Cowie said: “I probably overachieved but that was due to hard work.
“I never pretended I was a world-beater with amazing natural talent but I dedicated myself to the game, looked after myself and used the qualities I did have.
“That allowed me to achieve more than other people in my age group – probably more talented players than me – managed to.
“I said to myself from day one: ‘whether it’s training or a game, I’ll treat it the same every day’.
“When you’re not the most talented player in the team, you’ve got to do that.
“You need a little luck along the way but I’d like to think I helped myself earn that.
“To just become a professional footballer will be a career-high for me. It was unheard of for a boy from my area, so to then go down to England was massive.
“Having that platform to play for Cardiff in a national cup final at Wembley against Liverpool, win 10 Scotland caps and play in the Premier League down there was a dream come true.”
Cowie also cherished wearing the captain’s armband for a portion of his two-and-a-half-year spell at Hearts and, more poignantly, when he returned to his first club, Ross County in the summer of 2018.
A full 19 years after making his debut for County in an old First Division win over Raith Rovers, it feels appropriate that his coaching adventure would begin in Dingwall.
He continued: “Ross County are a club that means a lot to me, not just as a footballer but as a person.
“It’s where I used to watch football as a wee boy with my dad and brothers and it’s where I achieved my dream of being a professional football player. So to start my coaching career is special and I’ll be doing my utmost to ensure we’re successful.”
That is not to say the decision to hang up his boots in favour of life in the dugout alongside boss Stuart Kettlewell and assistant manager Richard Brittain was an easy one.
After making 615 appearances north and south of the border, he agonised over the call.
But given the opportunity to coach in a Premiership environment, his recent injury issues and the ongoing uncertainty ravaging football amid the Covid-19 crisis, Cowie is convinced this is the right move.
Cowie continued: “It was a tough decision, I’m not going to pretend otherwise.
“The thought of not playing football, which I’ve done full-time for the best part of 20 years, was difficult to think about.
“But when I weighed everything up I just felt this was the right step.
“When you look at the way football is, the way the world is, and at my age, it was time.
“I’ve probably maxed my body out in terms of putting it through the wringer and now I can give it a rest!
“It’s a magnificent opportunity to continue my coaching career in a first-team environment and I feel very privileged to go straight from playing into this role. It was too good to turn down in that regard.”
Cowie’s transition from one of the boys to one of the bosses was cemented on Thursday when County resumed training following their enforced three-month hiatus.
Cowie smiled: “You could see that the boys were just delighted to be back on the training pitch and seeing their mates again.
“Whether it was people getting slagged off for their tans, their lockdown hair, the beards they have grown – it was just a brilliant atmosphere.
“We know it has been a difficult situation for them – for the whole world – but to be back on the grass is great.”