Credit: Mitch Megginson / Twitter
Written by Colin Byiers
Mitchel Megginson led Cove Rangers to promotion from the Highland League and to the League 2 title last season, but the Cove captain might not have been there had things at Aberdeen gone slightly differently.
When I spoke to him, we started by speaking about his early days at Pittodrie.
Your first season at Aberdeen in 2009/10, you played a handful of games including in Europe, what was that like to be playing in Europe at such a young age?
I’d been training with the first team for a wee while with manager Mark McGhee and we got a bit of a doing in the first leg, so the tie was away from us coming into the second leg. Mark turned to me and said “Mitch, you’re going on”, and I started to get the jelly legs! Making your debut in Europe at 17 is something you can only dream about especially as it was for my boyhood club and the club my family supports, so it was a proud moment.
You had loan spells at Arbroath and Brechin City following that, were they good experiences for you?
I look back now and think if you are a young player and you aren’t getting the games, go out on loan. You can only learn the game by playing against other professionals and to be up against men is the perfect way to learn. I went to Arbroath for the last few months and they were fighting a relegation battle in League 1 and I managed to score a few goals there and climbed up to the play-off spot but unfortunately, we were relegated on the last day. That’s something to experience especially when you are on loan because the guys that are there, relegation could mean a wage decrease or your contract not being renewed, but when you are on loan you know you are going back to a club that you know you are secure at. Kenny McLean was on loan from St Mirren at the time and you see how his career as gone since then. Jim Weir was the manager at Arbroath, and he was the manager at Brechin City when I went on loan there but the mentality was different in the club. Rory McAllister was there at the time, so it was Rory and me up front and we were pushing for promotion rather than the wrong end of the table. Unfortunately again, it didn’t end well and we lost in the play-off to get promoted to the Championship, so it was two different experiences at the opposite ends of the table but it was good for my development to see both ends and I look back on and think both decisions were the right call.
The following season, 2010/11 under Craig Brown, you didn’t go out on loan, was that a conscious decision by the club?
At this point I was more established in the first team and playing more regularly. I started more regularly too so I felt more part of the squad. It was my most consistent time at Aberdeen in terms of number of games and playing football. All you want to do at that age is play as many games as you can and that season, I felt I was doing that.
Was it a shock then you went out on loan the next season?
I think a few new boys came into the team, Ryan Fraser broke into the team and wasn’t quite as much in the picture as I was then and I wasn’t getting the game time I wanted. I just wanted to play football and I had said to Craig that if I wasn’t going to play, I wanted to go somewhere I was going to play. I was in the last year of my contract and people weren’t going to notice me sitting on the bench so I was conscious of that.
When Derek McInnes took over, was the decision to leave already made?
When I came back from being on loan at Alloa, Derek hadn’t seen me in games which was disappointing because if a new manager comes in and he doesn’t see you in games then you are already up against it. In training I thought I did well, but I think he wanted to bring in his own players to freshen things up as well as his own staff. To be fair to him, he did speak to me and asked if I thought I was getting offered a new contract or if I deserved one and naively, I said “no, because I hadn’t played enough games”. Of course, now I know I maybe should have said “yes I deserve one”. He was honest and said I wasn’t getting a new contract but would be happy to help me find a new club.
I think I should have got more games at Aberdeen. There was a time under Craig Brown I played 12 or 13 games in a row, then we played the cup semi-final against Hibs and I was dropped out of the squad. 2 weeks earlier, we played Hibs at Easter Road and I played my best game for Aberdeen, I tore the right back apart that day. It didn’t make any sense why I was dropped. That was the point where I think that might have changed things. I would have liked to have still been at Aberdeen, but these things happen. I would have liked to have had longer with McInnes and his training to see how I would have developed.
I was difficult leaving that last day. There was a tear shed. You grow up with guys like Ryan Jack, Ryan Fraser, Jordon Brown, Nicky Low etc and there were loads of these guys now playing in the Aberdeen first team. It was hard to leave.
You spent the next two seasons at Dumbarton. How were they for you?
It was one of the most enjoyable times as a footballer, especially the first season. I made the decision to move to Glasgow, to get some independence and grow up a little and learn new things. Jack Ross was the assistant manager at the time and Ian Murray was manager, two young guys trying to make a name for themselves in the managerial game. Jack is one of the best coaches I’veworked under in my career, he’s a top-class coach in terms of his coaching abilities and his man management. We were a part-time team in the Championship, and we missed out on the promotion play-off’s by losing to Queen of the South will two games to go, so it was a successful season for us. I played every game for Dumbarton in those 2 years and I felt like I was part of a squad. In the second season, Rangers came up and Hearts and Hibs were relegated so it was an extremely competitive league and we just wanted to stay in the league again because we knew one if not two would be staying in the league for next season. Playing at places like Ibrox, Tynecastle and Easter Road in front of capacity crowds is where every player wants to play.
Was the following year a difficult time for you?
I wanted to have another crack at being full-time and I was given the chance at Raith, but the manager who wanted me there got sacked. Ray McKinnon arrived and agreed to complete the deal. I did get injured during pre-season so that did cut back on the amount of game time I was getting. I got on well with Ray, but I just wasn’t his player. I never really fulfilled my potential and it never worked out. Jack Ross was now at Alloa and he contacted me to bring me in for the last 6 months of the season. We got some big results, but we were already in the position where we would likely go down. The club ended up getting relegated to League 1. In my head I think I planned to come back to Aberdeen, and I made the decision in January that was what I was going to do. So maybe my head wasn’t in the right spot and it certainly wasn’t my best year.
Do you think there was some eyebrows raised when you dropped 4 divisions to join Cove Rangers?
I’m sure there was! I met John Sheran, who I knew through my dad having played for Cove, and he sold me on Cove’s plan, their ambition to get into the League. The new stadium was getting built and when I heard all that, it gave me a progressive plan of what I wanted to do and achieve and I wanted to help this club do that. For me, it wasn’t a case of dropping down leagues, it was about helping Cove achieve their ambitions and goals. We are now in League 1 so it’s easy to say that it worked out well, but the plan was to get Cove out of the Highland League as soon as possible and I was still young enough to do that. It helped that my dad played for the club because I felt more passionately for the club. I became more driven and more determined to do well for Cove than I had at our clubs. There was a part of me that knew I dropped down from the Championship and I felt I had to show people I was a Championship player and still capable of playing there.
In your first season at Cove, they failed to defend the Highland League title as they lost out to Buckie Thistle on goal difference.
I remember going into the last game we needed to score 10 goals and we got off to a flyer, 4 up by half-time. Then we heard their (Buckie) score (9-0) and we knew that was it. From our side we drew too many games and some of those games we should never have drawn. We drew 1-1 with Strathspey up there and those are the kind of games if you want to win leagues you can’t afford to drop points. But in a funny way, it spurred us on to do well the next season and we felt we had to win the league next season. It was the start of Cove building an established squad to help them build for going up into the Scottish League, so it might have been to early for us to have a crack at the play-off but it would have been nice to have another Highland League medal.
Having gone on to win the Highland League in your second season, Cove went on to face Cowdenbeath in the play-off and it ended up being a fiery affair.
There was no stopping us that season, we were giving teams hidings home and away. We gave Spartans a hiding in the first play-off games but what hindered us was there was a back log of fixtures. We played 4 games in one week at the end of the season and it showed in the first leg against Cowdenbeath because we battered them but we couldn’t get a goal. Had we won the game, it becomes a different affair. We go 2-1 up at half-time and we knew what we needed to do but we lost a sloppy goal early in the second half. The 3rdgoal, I don’t know how the ref or the linesman didn’t see the trip is beyond me. It did feel like we were cheated out of it and at the end of the game, tempers were high and that got the better of us. I was difficult because we worked so hard to get to that point for it to end the way it did was hard to take.
Did that lose affect your motivation?
We knew we had to go and win the Highland League and everyone was so determined and focused even on the way back from the Cowdenbeath game. I’ve never seen squad so focused. What helped was Balmoral Park was ready. It was going to be our fortress. That pre-season we all said that this was the year we were going up. That year we were ready to go up. I think the squad we had the previous year might have struggled in League 2 and I felt we were a couple of bodies short in being ready.
That team that year was strong all over the park. Blair Yule came back after his experience in League 1 along with Jordon Brown so were strong in all areas. We were pretty much unbeatable. No-one was beating us to the league that season – No Chance!
Going onto the play-off against Berwick, we were confident. Berwick on the other hand weren’t. They had a losing mentality whereas we had a winning one. From the first whistle we absolutely battered them. I remember seeing a couple of interviews with Berwick players speaking about if they go down, and if you are confident about winning you don’t talk about going down. That was an extra confidence boost. We never let our standards drop over the two legs and we ended up very comfortable winners. Getting promoted was better than winning the Highland League because it was what we all set out to achieve.
Now that you got promoted, what were the aims in the first season in the League?
Our aim was to go and win the league. We looked at the teams in the league and we saw it as an opportunity to win the league. The style of play and the squad we had,we were confident we would beat more teams than not that season. Paul Hartley joined us too, so for the club to get him was massive. It was a big statement. His training was sharp, we enjoyed it and from a professional point of view, he already had been there and done it so the professionalism of the club got raised too.
Cove did extremely well last season, so how disappointed were you with the way in ended?
There would have been nothing better than to have that feeling of that final game to clinch the title in front of the fans and I feel the way we performed last season we deserved to do that. Delighted to get it because there was a point where it could have been null and void but that would have been a kick in the stones for all the hard work that had gone in. I think it was inevitable that we were going to win it, so it was just a matter of time before we would get it. We would have preferred to have won it on the pitch, in the right way for sure.
Now in League 1, is the ambition still to win it?
There is a big difference between League 1 and League 2. There are a couple of full-time teams and some good established teams in there too. The standards high and we’ve found that out. Our first few games we didn’t experience it but we quickly got brought back down to Earth. So, from the start of the season are aim was to consolidate but aim for a play-off spot. It’s not in our DNA to sit back and be a mid-table side, so we aim as high as we can. Adding a player like Leighton McIntosh gives us more experience and he’s a different player to what we had and enhances the team.
We’ve gone from the highs of being unbeaten in the first 4 games to being punished in games. It’s not a league you can coast through, and we found that out pretty quickly. We were too much in the mindset of we needed to pick up 3 points but actually a point here and there might not be bad.
You’ve now been at Cove for nearly 5 years, do you see yourself anywhere else?
I’ve got 6 months left on my contract so at the moment I’m unsure what’s going to happen. I’m happy where I am. It would take something special for me to move on. If I’m being honest, I don’t see the point in moving just now.