The lead-up to a cup final can be so dizzying for a manager there are those in that profession who express relief when the whistle sounds on the decider. You won’t hear Jim McInally uttering such sentiments this afternoon. He will have a very different message for his Peterhead side as they prepare to take on Rangers in the Petrofac Training Cup final at a packed Hampden, an occasion the like of which the League One club has never known.
“I haven’t wished the week away,” said the Dundee United great. “Someone said to me that I’ll be glad when Sunday comes.
“But I’m experienced now and I know how special a day this is. I told the players last Saturday – as angry as I was with them after the defeat at Forfar – to enjoy their week.
“Because they’ve had more attention than they’ve ever had and next week no-one will want to know them. That’s the truth. So we’ll enjoy it.
“From my own experiences, being in Scottish Cup finals was the best. I used to love every bit of it until the final whistle went. This is our Scottish Cup final, for a club like ours. It’s at Hampden in front of a full house. This will be as good as it gets for a lot of our players – and even the fans. We have to make sure that we take part in the game. We need to savour the moment.”
Yet McInally is well aware that the showpiece can only be to savoured if it doesn’t go hideously sour.
“As a player, I preferred big games, I thought they were easier to play in. I’ll say that to the players, I don’t want them to let it bypass them. I have two mindsets. My first is: please don’t get thrashed. Then I start to dream about the other side of it. If we have a good day and Rangers don’t, we could pull off a real shock. I’ll get the players into that positive mood.
“It’s the sixth time we’ve played Rangers in three years so we’re used to it now. We’ve been to Ibrox and played in front of 50,000 on Armed Forces Day. It was packed and the atmosphere was electric. So we won’t be overawed by the occasion.”
There will never be another occasion as bonkers as the one in which Peterhead were the supporting act when, in August 2012, a Rangers team played a league game outside of the top tier for the first time in Scottish football history… and were fortunate to escape with a point from their fourth-tier debut against a part-time team with a budget one-24th of theirs.
“Nothing prepared us for that first day at Peterhead. It was unbelievable,” McInally said. “It was like a circus. I’ll never forget the journey from Aberdeen to Peterhead. Aberdeen fans had put banners on the roundabouts saying: ‘Welcome to Hell’. When I drove into Peterhead it was like going into Belfast with banners and flags everywhere. It was bizarre.
“It’s ironic that we were there at the start and now we’re here at the end. But this is tame in comparison to that day. That was some day. Rangers turned up with a team of internationals and we should have beat them before they equalised late on. Now, they’re a harder team to play against. But we’re a better team now as well.”