IAN MURRAY's stock is on the up and up.
If his good work in taking part-time Dumbarton to the cusp of the promotion play-offs in the SPFL Championship has gone largely unnoticed, then his side's journey to the William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-finals certainly has not. It is 35 years since the team from the Rock made it this far in the competition, their progress a further indication of the improvements Murray has brought about in his 15 months as manager. There will not be many tipping them to go on to reach the semi-finals but you could not rule it out for sure.
Murray always spoke candidly and thoughtfully during his days as a player with Hibernian, Rangers and Norwich City and it is no different now. Managers tend to be fairly non-committal following a cup draw - "all you can ask for is a home tie" etc - but Murray was honest enough to admit that Aberdeen at Pittodrie was his third choice as he watched the draw unfold on Sunday afternoon.
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"We would have loved to have got Albion Rovers, no question about it, as that would have made us strong favourites to go through to the semi-final" he told Herald Sport. "After that we would have liked Rangers away for the money. But Aberdeen away was the next best one we could have hoped for.
"No disrespect to Raith Rovers but we play them four times a season already and it would have been like a toss of a coin to see who went through. There wouldn't have been much money in that one for us and Inverness [Caledonian Thistle] would have been similar. Aberdeen is probably the best-supported club outside of the Old Firm and they'll have the League Cup final the weekend after their game with us so, hopefully, they'll turn out in good numbers to give their team a send-off.
"Our aim was to be in the competition after Christmas to give us something to look forward to and we've beaten Berwick Rangers and now Alloa to set up the Aberdeen tie. It will be a great occasion for us when it comes around."
For clubs like Dumbarton, the monetary ramifications of pulling out such a tie are just as important as the football ones. Murray has done his sums and the numbers are not insignificant, the additional income likely to make a big difference to the club's future plans.
"If you base it on Aberdeen drawing, say, a 10,000 crowd for the game, once you take off costs, you'd hope we'd pick up the income from 4000 of those," he added. "Even if they reduce their prices that could mean an extra £50,000 or so for our club which would be fantastic. If you add it to the prize money that we've already had from this cup run it gets close to 100 grand, and that's before you take in the possibility of the game being on the telly.
"That makes a huge difference to a club like ours. It gives us a bit more money for next season: not crazy money but it might let you bring in one or two more players that we otherwise couldn't have done. It will also let the chairman breathe a little bit easier as well as there are a few things needing done around the ground."
Murray, though, is doing fairly well without that cushion of extra money. Dumbarton are one of just three part-time clubs in this season's Championship, the expectation therefore that they would be more likely to feature in the play-offs at the bottom of the division rather than the ones at the top. Instead, with 13 games of the regular season remaining, they sit just three points shy of fourth-place Queen of the South.
"At the start of the season we were up and down, although we always picked up wins when we needed them," added Murray. "The disappointing thing was that it took us until January to put back-to-back wins together. And then suddenly we find ourselves in a play-off position, eight points off the top of the league, and you're thinking: what if we had done better earlier in the campaign?
"We've got ourselves into a great position. We're in the quarter-finals of a cup and we're fifth in the league. We've got to be happy with that."
Paul Hartley's appointment as the new Dundee manager, following his decision to stand down at Alloa Athletic, has allowed Murray to assume the crown of the lower leagues' leading managerial prospect. There will surely be full-time clubs monitoring his progress but he is not in a hurry to jump ship just yet.
"At the moment, I'm happy where I am," he said. "I've been here less than a year and a half so you're still learning all the time. It's been a great place to learn while managing at a very decent level.
"I'm like anyone else and I want to go as high as I can, or at least get that opportunity. Whether that's in one, two or three years isn't for me to decide. At the moment, I'm enjoying where I am and it's been a pleasure working with these players.