Fifer Paul McManus is set to line-up against Cowdenbeath tomorrow in the first leg of the SPFL Ladbrokes League Two Play-Off Final. The ex-East Fife striker has a plethora of experience in the lower leagues of Scottish football and his Cove Rangers side will face Gary Bollan’s Blue Brazil in what could be a massive 180 minutes for either side.
The 35-year old joined Cove Rangers almost 3 months after he left East Fife.
“I was playing for East Fife, but, I wanted to try and get a full-time job, too. I ended up getting a role with the Royal Mail and that made it difficult for me to do my shift on a Saturday morning and make it to the football on time too. I had to try and be fit for the game, but, I just felt my body was continually shutting down every time I turned up for a match as I had just completed a 4 or 5 hour shift, walking up and down stairs and stuff like that.
There was an opportunity for me to leave East Fife following a match against Livingston where I had been sent off twice: both times for using my mouth! I think even Gary Naysmith [then manager of East Fife] said that it was a bit of frustration coming out of me; I decided I was just going to chuck the football and concentrate on my full-time job, but, after around 10 weeks, I began to miss the football side of things – I have been involved in the game for the last 18 years, it was in my blood and you just can’t get enough of it. I got the call from John [Sheran – Cove Rangers manager] about the opportunity to come up and play in the Highland League. It gave me the chance to experience something different while also going to a club with a lot of ambition. The manager has a lot of ambition too and hopefully that continues next season with League Two football.”
McManus has enjoyed the transition into the Highland League, stating that many teams and players could easily perform at a higher level.
“There are 18 clubs in the division and I would say there is 10 or 12 teams who could possibly step-up and play at League Two level, quite easily. They are quite physical teams with boys who look after themselves very well – there are teams who are better than ours, but, I think that when you look at the players, they are more than good enough and the issue is that some of them may not want to travel to join a team in the lower leagues as the guys can be based from places such as Aberdeen to Brora to Wick…in terms of transitioning, I don’t think there is much difference apart from them possibly being slightly more physical.”
Cove won the league by 11 points, with a three-figure goal difference, showing their dominance throughout the course of the campaign.
“The main reason we have probably won the league, to be honest, is the experience of last season. Buckie Thistle took us all the way to the final game of the season: we lost the league on goal difference. That hurt a lot of the boys and I feel we have used that as ammunition this term to kick on and make sure we were the champions this time around.
I think it can work both ways as Cowdenbeath will be coming into this tie saying “we are the higher league team”, but I don’t think the clubs in our league get enough credit for the way they play or the standard which is actually on show, as a lot of people think it is generally quite poor. I am not just saying this because I play in the Highland League; I am 35 and I can assure you, our division is of a good standard. We are confident we can go and upset a few teams, just like we have already this season – we have came up against Forfar, Montrose, Airdireonians, Stenhousemuir… we have done really well against them. Guys I have spoken to that I have played with at lower league level have came up to me at the end of these matches and have said “you have a great team”, so, we know we are a threat. We have good players all over the park and a lot of our boys are technically better than what you will find at some clubs in the lower leagues, but, we have a really good squad and I can only see us progressing if we do get up to League Two.”
The experienced striker knows how hard a task defeating the Central Park outfit will be though.
“We know it’ll be difficult; Cowdenbeath are fighting for their lives – the history of their club could be in doubt if they go down to the Lowland League, so, we are going to try our best and upset them. We will just need to work hard, stick together and do what we have been doing lately. Hopefully we can go on and get the first goal as if we do, I am sure we will go on and score a few more.
I know Spartans are a different side from Cowdenbeath, but, we got the job done up at Inverurie, which isn’t even our home park [as Cove are getting a new stadium built] and we have managed to go nearly the whole season unbeaten there, up until the final two matches of the season where the manager felt he had to rest players because he felt there were more important games coming up, so we played a few youngsters. That is probably the reason we lost those matches as the momentum had been on our side, so, we are confident but no over-confident: there’ll be nerves, from ourselves and Cowdenbeath, and it’ll come down to who takes their chances; I feel we have a squad who are capable enough of doing that.”
McManus is going into these two matches in good form and is hopeful of another successful achievement within his footballing career.
“Cowdenbeath know they are coming into a tough game against us – especially as my little cousin Sean plays for them! It’ll be a shame to see him go down but I am there to do a job and hopefully I can help the team do that over the next two games and get this club up into the SPFL. I have went something like ten or twelve games now where I have scored a goal, so, I am confident. I have banged in a few goals this year, obviously coming from the bench initially at the start of the season. I have now managed to get myself in the team – and I knew I was always going to get that chance. That is why you can never get complacent or chuck it because, there are always going to be times during the season where the football isn’t going to pretty and you then need to play boys who are going to get stuck in. The manager put me in I think around 10 or 12 matches ago now and since then, I have never looked back; I needed to make sure my own performances were up to scratch because these games are all about experience. I think I have gained enough of that throughout my career, so, hopefully that’ll stand us in good stead on Saturday and then into the next leg next weekend too.
It is a bit of history, to be honest [if Cove win the tie]. We would’ve knocked them out the professional structure while we will also gain our own piece of history. We can show that the Highland League can compete at this level, against lower league sides at least; we are only concentrating on ourselves and the job in hand, though. Hopefully we can get it over the line and I hope we can do so sooner rather than later.”