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INSIDE TRACK: Up for the cup in a Highland renaissance

There is still hope in the Highlands that Inverness Caledonian Thistle will recover from the 5-0 weekend thrashing at the hands of Dundee United in time for Sunday's League Cup Final against Aberdeen.

Even those possessed of the good sense and discernment to support Ross County wouldn't particularly enjoy near rival Caley Thistle being humiliated in their first national final.

Well, perhaps one or two would. But there is an unspoken consensus on both sides of the Kessock Bridge that it is important that the Highland teams not only retain their seats at Scottish Football's top table but also develop as significant clubs.

Caley have pretty well done that and, of course, Ross County famously reached the Scottish Cup Final in 2010, beating Hibs and Celtic along the way. That underlined the romance of the cup.

But the two reached the top six last season, despite having only joined the third division of the Scottish Football League in 1994. At one point they were actually fighting to finish second or third to win a place in the Europa League.

Now that was the stuff of dreams. But that either team had any genuine prospect of European football was truly remarkable.

Twenty years ago, Ross County were playing in the Highland League, as were Inverness Caledonian and Inverness Thistle before they entered into a bitter merger to become Caledonian Thistle.

The rise of both teams, at least to some extent, came to symbolise the narrative of the Highlands being transformed from the economic basket case the area was not so very long ago.

Inverness in particular has a sense of itself growing in economic importance in Scotland. It is unlikely ever to eclipse the "northern light" that is Aberdeen but it should be seen as a place with an exciting future and it should be taken more seriously by the "dark stars" of the Central Belt.

A report that went before the Inverness area committee of the Highland Council last week reinforced this notion.

It compared the figures from the 2001 census with those of 2011.

The figures are, admittedly, three years out of date but they highlighted important trends in a 10-year period that had one of the worst recessions in history, as a backdrop for the last three years.

Over the decade, the population of Inverness city grew by 17.8%, compared with an increase for Scotland of 5%.

The report continued: "A comparison with Scotland shows that we have more people in each year of the 25 to 38-year age range, and in most years of the 39 to 47-year range.

This shows that the city area has a comparatively young workforce that should prove attractive to companies looking to relocate."

The report was warmly embraced by Inverness councillors as evidence that economic momentum was being maintained.

That wouldn't be halted by Caley Jags failing badly on Sunday, or even Ross County being relegated.

But neither is in the script.

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