Just a matter of yards separated the Nicolson Institute’s Senior girls football team and their junior team counter-parts at the Highland Football Academy at kick-off time but by the time the bus pulled out of the car park there was a chasm in differing emotions.
Two North of Scotland Cup finals were being played on neighbouring pitches in the Dingwall sunshine with both the juniors and the seniors from the Niccy targeting silverware in the North of Scotland Cup.
But there is a fine line between agony and ecstasy in football as one team tasted glory and the other the bitter taste of defeat. Just 90-seconds denied the juniors the chance to take their match to a deciding penalty shoot-out after a battling 0-0 draw with old foes Mintlaw Academy.
After a string of excellent saves by keeper Anna Macrae she was finally beaten in the dying moments of extra-time by a lucky cross shot which flew across goal and narrowly inside the far post.
Watching from the sidelines were their older schoolmates from the senior side who had made easy work of their own showpiece final - thrashing Fraserburgh 19-0.
The pain of defeat in a match so close to the end was especially hard to take for the younger schoolgirls and provided a stark contrast to the all-conquering seniors who added the Senior North of Scotland Cup to the school sideboard for the 10th time in 15 years and it joins the Schools Scottish Shield won by the same group of 14 girls barely six weeks ago.
Such was the dominance of the senior’s that the match was cut short by the referee while the Nicolson girls reshuffled their pack constantly, shifting strikers to the rearguard and pushing defenders up front until every single outfield player had netted.
It was a crushing and humiliating defeat for Fraserburgh but they came up against an incredibly strong group of players from Stornoway who, with both senior trophies in their possession, will be the team to beat in all competitions next year.
And the ominous news for other schools is only one of the double winning crop will not be around to defend the titles next year with all 13 of the others staying on in school and a new batch ready to step up from the strong juniors side who came so close to winning silverware of their own.
Each of the junior girls can be proud of their performance which was backs to the wall for long spells but one in which they refused to concede an inch. From Macrae in goals, to the back line of Tanya Mackay, Katie Morrison, Annie Maclennan and Chirsty Graham, to the energy and drive of the midfield Annie Miller, Catriona Bain, Eilidh Murray and Kathleen Smith and the front duo Sian Mackay and Shana Macphail. Each performed superbly well, as did the subs when they entered the fray: Abby Macdonald, Alice Maclennan and Annabel Mackay
The simultaneous kick-offs made for a memorable day for the travelling supporters and parents who picked a spot from which to see a little of both matches.
On the seniors pitch it was all-too-easy from the off with Jodie Sinclair, playing her final match for the school team after graduating, rifling into the net from 18-yards.
Sinclair continued her one-woman wrecking ball job on the creaking Fraserburgh defence with the second goal just 60-seconds later – again another powerfully struck shot whistling past the keeper.
Leanne Macdonald steered home number three as the travelling island girls slapped the handcuffs on yet another trophy before they had even got out of first gear. Beth Macleod produced a stunning top corner finish for 4-0 before the same player found the postage stamp for the second time in a row for the fifth.
Sinclair completed a dream first-half hat-trick moments before Beth Macleod followed suit to give the Nicolson an insurmountable 8-0 half-time advantage.
On the other pitch it had been nip and tuck from the get-go. Annie Miller’s power and venom packed left peg was helping her side out in the centre of the park while up front Sian Mackay’s constant running and endless energy was causing panic for Mintlaw.
However, they had keeper Macrae to thank for keeping the score blank after a series of stops, one straight from kick-off in the second-half especially.
Meanwhile the score in the seniors match quickly hit double figures.
Full-back Mairi Maclennan showcased stunning technique to float the ball over the stranded goalkeeper and just under the crossbar from 20-yards and Sinclair blasted home her fourth of the day for 10-0.
Kirsty Macdonald netted the 11th and Nicole Maclean got in on the act with the 12th. Every single time the Nicolson picked up the ball the Fraserburgh defence seemed to take off in opposite directions giving a pack of Niccy girls huge expanses of space to charge into.
Often there was a break and four Nicolson girls would break through unchallenged giving them a four on one advantage over the exposed keeper.
Maclean scored her second and her side’s 14th, skipper Eleanor Smith steered home number 15 on a break from defensive duties and her fellow centre-back Christine Mackinnon made it 16-0.
While the seniors were slicing their way through Fraserbugh with ease the juniors came within an inch of breaking the deadlock in their own match.
Again the outball was Sian Mackay who showed great desire to retrieve the ball on the left touchline before cutting in on goal and curling it to the back post.
The Fraserbugh keeper left it, as did her defenders, and each looked on in horror as it bent back towards goal and cannoned off the inside of the post.
It was desperately unlucky for Sian and her team mates.
Back to the goal-fest next door and Amy Shirkie scored for 17-0, Amanda Nicolson saw a ferocious strike spilled into the net by the keeper for 18 and Isabelle Bain wrapped up the scoring with the 19th goal. A remarkable haul and performance in a national cup final.
Now with the seniors match finished all eyes turned to the junior game which remained on a knife edge.
A goalless match headed into extra-time and the first ten minutes of this coincided with the Nicolson’s best spell of the match.
They pinned Mintlaw back in their own box but for all their possession and in good areas they didn’t work the keeper enough and they held out till the interval.
The next 10-minutes was a carbon copy of the first but with roles reversed. This time it was the Nicolson who couldn’t get out with Mintlaw pouring forward.
But Macrae looked to be in unbeatable form inbetween the sticks as she denied Mintlaw in three separate one on one breaks.
It was too much for some parents who were reduced to watching the game through cracks in their fingers but the Nicolson bravely dug in together.
But heartbreak was on the horizon and with less than 90-seconds to play of extra-time Lady Lucky finally deserted the Niccy as a cross shot from a hopeful wide right position for Mintlaw flew all the way inside the far post to snatch the silverware.