ALLY MCCOIST is still living the dream. He just wishes he could tell his best friend all about it.

His work schedule began last week at the Cheltenham Festival. He watched Liverpool one night, Manchester City the next and Manchester United the one after that.

He was at Fir Park on Saturday, Bramall Lane on Sunday and will be back on the talkSPORT airwaves in the coming days before he focuses on Scotland on Saturday and Tuesday. The day-to-day involvement of club life is still missed but he is watching more football than ever and 'loves it'.

It was on the drive back home from Sheffield, where he caught up with nine-in-a-row team-mate Stuart McCall, that he thought about Walter Smith. That is the rule rather than the exception, though, and his former manager, mentor and mate is always in his mind.

The Herald:

McCoist was at Hampden on Monday morning to promote Viaplay's coverage of the European Championship qualifiers against Cyprus and Spain. As ever with McCoist, the serious points are intertwined with moments of joviality.

As he held court for almost half an hour at one table, Sir Kenny Dalglish did likewise just yards away at another. To coin an old joke, there were 49 goals for Scotland amongst everyone in the room.

Talk of VAR and Old Firm allocations is to come from McCoist but he starts with an upbeat appraisal - the 'poor performance' against Ukraine aside - of Scotland under Steve Clarke and why the Tartan Army can be confident heading into a campaign that also sees Norway and Georgia line up in Group A.

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His time alongside Smith and Tommy Burns is recalled with such fondness and both figures are so deeply missed within the Scottish game. When it comes to Smith in particular, it is still hard to believe that he is no longer with us.

“There’s not actually a day goes by when I don’t think about him," McCoist said of a man who epitomised Rangers and that sadly passed away in October 2021. “I think about him all the time. He was obviously such a big part of my life.

"But when I’m at games now I think about him. I used to phone him when I was going up the road after games just to talk about what happened.

“I was at the Sheffield United game on Sunday night and that’s when I would give him a call, when I was driving back up the M6.

The Herald: Rangers manager Walter Smith (left) and assistant Ally McCoist salute the fans at Rugby Park.

“It’s still such a sad loss, the same with Tam Burns when I think about us together with the national team.

“The way I need to look at it is that I have great memories. I was the luckiest man alive to get to work with Walter for so long.

"He was with Andy Roxburgh at the start when I was playing for the Scottish youth team.

“He developed and developed and he became my boss. And then my mate really, you know.”

There is nobody who shaped McCoist the player and the person as much as Smith. The pair were together in the good times and the bad, from the start of McCoist's career until the end of Smith's life.

Recent times have seen the 60-year-old enhance his reputation behind the microphone and the title of 'Pundit of the Year' was bestowed on McCoist at the Sports Journalists' Association awards earlier this month. The question is, just what would Walter have made of it all?

“I’m going to tell you the truth, right," McCoist said as another anecdote begins with that famous and infectious laugh. “I won it on the Monday night and on the Tuesday morning I’ve got a message on my phone - from Ethel.

“She said ‘not only can I not believe it, you know who else wouldn’t have been able to believe it?!' That’s exactly what she said in the message which was brilliant, absolutely great.

“He would have definitely have been scratching his head at that one. But with Walter passing away it’s still as if it’s not really happened. He was just a great man and a great listen.”

The times that McCoist spent with Smith and Burns in charge of Scotland are some of his fondest memories. The mind is cast back and the recollections provide insight and inspiration for the staff and squad of today.

The sense of pride and improvement that was forged back then inspired a nation and lifted a team. France were beaten as reputations were restored and enhanced, even though qualification was ultimately missed out on.

McCoist focuses on the role of Burns – ‘a great football man, a great football brain’ - in that process. Just as importantly, he was a figure that players wanted to work with and win for.

"It’s massive," McCoist said as he discussed the importance of the feelgood factor. "If you are playing Spain, for example, you’ve got to find different ways to try and compete and beat them.

"You look at that and, technically, they are one of the best teams in the world. If it’s just football they will beat you, so you have to find ways to strengthen your own squad.

"If you have a strong squad of players who enjoy being with each other then, it doesn’t guarantee you success, but it helps.

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"If you have not got a camaraderie in the squad then you have no chance. I think it’s vital and we’ve got it in this squad, you can see it.

"The boys enjoy turning up and going to their training and playing out there again. That hasn’t always been the case.

"But you need it. That’s what Walter did when Tommy and myself were his lieutenants if you like."

On events of today, McCoist parks any talk about the meeting with Spain as the full focus is fixed on ensuring Scotland get off to a winning start against Cyprus. Momentum, of course, is key in any qualification campaign.

This is a team where the strength lies in the collective rather than the individuals. As McCoist points out, with references to the past ‘superstars’ of Dalglish and Graeme Souness, that has been the case no matter the generation.

He reckons that ‘seven or eight’ players now pick themselves in Clarke’s side and there is a belief on the park as well as on the terraces that Scotland can be best of the rest behind Spain.

"The main strength of this squad is the togetherness,” McCoist said. “That's the big thing that Stevie has done which has been really important. It's fair to say there were a lot of players who previously hadn't been enjoying turning up to train and play for Scotland.

"Dare I say it, I think a lot of the supporters maybe didn't fall out of love with Scotland but they lost a wee bit with the national team but I think that's coming back. It's happy days and that's why I am optimistic about this campaign."

The biggest threats to Scotland’s chances come in the shape of complacency against Georgia and Norwegian side inspired by a certain Erling Haaland. When Scotland head to Oslo in June and in the return in Glasgow in November, Haaland will be the most talented player on the park.

The Herald: Walter Smith enjoyed success as Scotland manager alongside his great friends Tommy Burns and Ally McCoist.

Scotland just don’t have that talisman figure or iconic centre-forward right now. McCoist rhymes off a list that starts with Dalglish and includes the likes of Stevie Archibald, Andy Gray and Maurice Johnston as the competition he had when he was breaking into the national side.

A heavy defeat in Belgium is recalled. As McCoist and Paul Sturrock prepared to take centre, Luggy quipped ‘ach well Coisty, here endeth an illustrious international career’. McCoist finishes the tale by saying ‘he was right but thankfully it was his and not mine!’ before assessing the current stature of Scotland’s strikers.

"But that's the kind of quality I am talking about," McCoist said. "I genuinely believe Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams have improved us as they give us something different.

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"There was a period before these guys came in that we were really struggling. We had nothing and I didn't know where we were going to get a goal from.

"The Gospel truth is that I can be really complimentary about those two boys as they really have improved us. You can argue about levels from the past but they two have lifted the level from where it was previously."

*Ally McCoist was promoting Viaplay’s live and exclusive coverage of Scotland v Cyprus and Scotland v Spain. Viaplay is available to stream from or via your TV provider on Sky, Virgin TV and Amazon Prime as an add-on subscription