The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)
A Highland hero: Don Cowie’s career in focus.
Overcoming injury woe is latest chapter in career of a singular northern soul
A3-0 defeat against Celtic ordinarily would not be anything to shout about.
But for those at Ross County, there was an upside to that January 26 result.
Don Cowie, a man steeped in the history of the Dingwall club, made his return after nine months out with a knee injury, just three weeks shy of his 37 th birthday.
There was little fanfare at the time but in the weeks to come, when Cowie spoke to the media, a little light was shed on the recovery process.
Thoughts of quitting had entered his mind but a great gratitude was held for County’s management team of Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson for believing he could come back.
He had finally played in the Premiership for his hometown club, 18 years after making his debut in the old First Division under Neale Cooper. The man who succeeded Cooper in the County manager’s chair, Scottish Cup winner Alex Smith, saw a player with great potential.
Smith said: “Jimmy Bone and I encouraged Don to make runs from midfield beyond the front players to get into the box more often and score more goals.
“He did really well when I was there and made great progress.
“He had the ability to get about the field and not tire. He was playing in a safe area of the field and hadn’t expanded that side of his game yet, so we worked on it.
“The only thing we lacked in that team was a striker that could have played with Graham Bayne. If we had that, we’d have gained promotion.”
Smith’s Staggies were a mid-table second-tier side but Cowie’s reputation continued to improve.
He was raised in Strathpeffer, less than six miles from County’s ground. His father, Don senior, was a club captain during their days in the Highland League. Young Don was raised on trips to Victoria Park.
Smith added: “We had to work and develop him but he responded great. I’m really proud of him as he’s gone on to have a good career.
“I definitely saw that potential. He was the outstanding kid in Dingwall. He played a safe game in sitting midfield but he had so much energy and speed for a midfield player.”
Cowie made the nowfrequent switch across the Kessock Bridge in 2007, adding to the list of players who have represented both Caley Thistle and County. His form for Inverness, despite their struggle against Premiership relegation, earned him his big move to Watford in 2009.
He played 94 times for the Hornets before moving to Cardiff City, where he got his taste of Premiership football.
Smith says: “He’s the Ryan Giggs of Scottish football, in terms of his longevity. He could go on forever. It will be injuries that stop him, it won’t be his fitness.”
Kevin McNaughton was Cowie’s team-mate during a successful period at Cardiff. He too had left the north of Scotland behind, leaving Aberdeen in 2006.
Their time together
“Ability to get about the field and not tire. He had the energy and the speed”
brought them a League Cup final against Liverpool in which Cowie scored from the spot in an agonising shootout defeat.
A year later, the feeling was flipped from agony to ecstasy as Cardiff lifted the Championship title under Malky Mackay.
McNaughton said: “He’s a clever player and I found it really easy to play with him. He does most of his running off the ball and I always got involved with going forward when I played with him.
“Don was always there for the defensive duties when called upon. He did things he didn’t need to do at times but that was the type of player he was.”
When their respective times in the Welsh capital were up, they reunited at Wigan Athletic before making moves back north – Cowie to Hearts and McNaughton to Inverness.
The toil of injury recovery, as a senior player, is something McNaughton knows all too well. He suffered a serious hamstring injury and a broken leg in quick succession while at Bolton, already into his 30s.
He then ruptured his Achilles less than a month into the 2016-17 season at the age of 33, keeping him out for seven months. Going easy on his rehab was not going to be an option.
McNaughton said: “It will be a similar situation for Don in terms of his rehab but he will have done everything and not missed a single thing.
“As you get older you are going to pick up wee bits and bobs and I’m sure it won’t really hamper him.
“If he doesn’t get any more injuries he could easily play until he’s 40.
“I’ve got a feeling he will have to get told to settle down and change his role as he will literally run until he blows up.”
Cowie cut short his time at Tynecastle for a nostalgic homecoming. Set on returning County to the top flight at the first time of asking, he chose to re-sign for his first club at the age of 35 for a campaign in the Scottish Championship.
He saw County over the line before suffering the knee injury which kept him away from the field until January this year. His displays, even after all the adversity, have lost none of their youthful energy.
Smith added: “He’s a great role model to any local kid to look up to.
“There have been several players that are a credit to the area but Don was destined to go on to play at a high level.
“I’m glad he’s back in the fold and it’s great for the young lads to see how you work and behave as a professional footballer.”