Josh Meekings knew the time was right to step away from full-time football and Brora Rangers provided him the avenue to do it.
Some may have raised eyebrows on seeing Meekings, a Scottish Cup-winner with Caley Thistle in 2015, signing with the Highland League champions but to him it makes perfect sense.
The 28-year-old left Scottish football last summer after three years at Dundee, heading back down South with Wealdstone in the National League.
However, relocating to the Highlands with his partner Grace, who hails from Inverness, this summer was a concrete decision to put roots down. The couple have a young daughter, Ruby, and the city is a perfect place for her to grow up.
Discussions were had with clubs from the Championship, League One and League Two, including the Caley Jags, but the move to Brora suited him.
— Brora Rangers (@brorarangers) June 13, 2021
Meekings has qualified as a sports massage therapist in the last year and will assess his options off the park now his football arrangements are finalised.
“It just feels like the right time to make the transition,” Meekings said.
“There were League One and League Two teams showing interest but it was all about my family now.
“I try to be realistic. I’m 28 but I’ve had an injury-struck last few years. It would be difficult to get back and make an impact in the Scottish Premiership.
“I’ve got a young family and I want to prepare and make sure I’m in a good position when I stop completely.
“People have this perception that football is glamorous. It means dragging your family round and following where football goes.
“You can have some fantastic times but there comes a time where you have to sit down and think ‘do I want to keep doing this?’
“We get good money but not life-changing money. I’m proud to have achieved what I have and wish I could have done more.
“I’m extremely grateful for the professional career I have had but there’s more to life than football.”
A twist of scheduling fate could see Meekings take on his old side Inverness in a pre-season friendly before the chance to take on another former club in Dundee within a month.
Brora head to Dens Park for their second fixture in the Premier Sports Cup on July 13, taking on the newly-promoted Premiership outfit for the second season running.
Meekings joined Neil McCann’s Dark Blues in 2017 after recovering from a serious knee injury that ended his time in the Highlands previously.
The central defender would go on to captain the side but injuries again limited his appearances.
He managed 22 games in his first season but a bad hip injury struck in the second campaign and he played just four times, with surgery needed to sort the problem.
The Englishman was one of few at Dens to stick around following relegation to the Championship and he played 21 times under James McPake.
The coronavirus pandemic, though, curtailed the season before Meekings rejected a contract extension to stay at Dundee last June.
He played 53 times for the Dark Blues over three years.
Meekings then moved back home to Suffolk to join Wealdstone in the National League in January, prior to an ankle injury ending his season early.
Brora train in Inverness where the majority of their players are based, before travelling north to the small Sutherland village for games.
Meekings can see the perception that it might be a move which indicates his career is winding down.
But he still has ambitions, which have been mirrored by meeting the Brora directors and manager Steven Mackay.
The Cattachs missed out on promotion to the SPFL after a play-off defeat to Kelty Hearts, which has strengthened their resolve to finally make the step up.
“That’s where I firmly stand – we have to aim for the title,” he added.
“Brora are going to try to implement what Kelty Hearts have done and I will be right there all the way trying to do that.”
Chance to say farewell to fans
A pre-season friendly against Caley Thistle later this month at Dudgeon Park will give Meekings the chance to say farewell to some of the club’s supporters.
It remains a great regret for the 28-year-old how his time with the Championship side ended.
A serious knee problem kept him sidelined for their relegation battle in 2017 and he could only watch on as they slid out of the top flight.
He was let go on that summer, resurrecting his career somewhat with the move to Dundee.
“I always said it left a sour taste,” said Meekings, “as I didn’t get the chance to say thanks to the club for what it gave me.
“Hopefully there will be enough supporters there to show my appreciation. It’s a game of football and it’ll be nice to get minutes under my belt, but also to play in front of Inverness fans again.”