DEREK McINNES savoured what he considers the finest moment of his football career as Aberdeen lifted the League Cup, then insisted there are even better times ahead for the Pittodrie club under his guidance.
Two days after signing a new contract with the Dons which runs until 2017, McInnes watched his team lift the club’s first trophy for 19 years as they defeated Inverness Caledonian Thistle 4-2 on penalties after a goalless final at Celtic Park.
There is the prospect of further silverware this season, with Aberdeen in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, and the manager is committed to ensuring yesterday’s success was just the start of a sustained spell of visiting the winners’ enclosure.
“I certainly hope this is the start of a successful period for the club,” said McInnes. “We’ve managed to get the nucleus of a good squad. If we get a few injuries, we are stretched. But we have the nucleus, around 12 key players signed up for the next three or four years.
“If we can recruit well and add to it, if we continue to work hard, we can do well. We will continue to strive for success, because days like today are why we are in it.
“It has to be my best day in football, for a lot of reasons. We have so many good staff at the club, a good board and a brilliant chairman. The supporters have had to endure a lot for a long time with little reward, but they have stuck with it through thick and thin. So many people have deserved the right to enjoy today. It is brilliant for me and the players to actually deliver it for them.
“It’s important we try to get that success again. Cups are a real opportunity for success when we’re operating in a league we cannot win. That doesn’t sit well with me, I don’t like saying it, but it’s a fact. We can be successful in the cups, though, and we said that to the players at the start of the season.
“The supporters made it special today, the players have made it special all season and we are delighted to take the cup back to Aberdeen.”
The match was a desperately poor spectacle, with Aberdeen some way short of their optimum form, but that was of no concern to McInnes.
“We weren’t great but how many finals have you seen like that?” he said. “The finals I played in weren’t great and there was tension about the players. People didn’t want to make mistakes.
“I thought we were the better side but we needed to be more aggressive in the final third, more positive and let the shackles off a wee bit more. The second half and extra time were pretty even but I never felt we were going to lose the game. By the same token, I’m not sure we were doing enough to win the game.
“This has been a long time coming for so many people at the club and we had to make them wait a bit longer with the extra time and penalties.”
Aberdeen were flawless in the shoot-out, as they had been when defeating Alloa 6-5 on penalties at the start of the tournament. It is testament to McInnes’s levels of preparation that he is scornful of the lame cliché which decrees shoot-outs to be a simple matter of luck.
“I said to the players before the penalty kicks that it wasn’t a lottery,” added McInnes. “I don’t believe that. I reminded them of the game against Alloa when we took some great penalties and didn’t miss one. We’ve practised them all week and I reminded them of that. I just told them to go and be confident, pick their spot and get the job done and bring that cup back with us.”
McInnes, however, admits he does not apply rationality to every aspect of his job. Throughout the League Cup run, he refused to allow himself to be photographed touching the trophy at any of the promotional media events.
“I haven’t always been superstitious, I think it comes with being a manager,” he smiled. “I used to look at managers and all their little quirks and think they were mad. Now I’ve joined the club. I haven’t touched the Scottish Cup this season either. I only wanted us to touch the League Cup when it was ours and it wasn’t ours until that last penalty went in.
“I remember sitting beside my captain Russell Anderson for the team photograph at the start of the season and I said to him ‘Next season, rather than two balls at our feet, hopefully it’s two cups’.
“Russell laughed but I said, ‘If we can win one cup we can win two’ and that remains. History has shown it’s not been easy for our club to do that in recent years and they’ve watched other clubs have success. But why not Aberdeen?
“I’ve got such a high regard for Russell as a person and a player. The standard of his performances for me this year has been fantastic. He comes into that bracket of players who have endured for Aberdeen.
“He took it on himself a lot. He saw Willie Miller and Stewart McKimmie lift trophies when he was growing up as a kid. Now people will look at him differently for the rest of his life, as a cup-winning Aberdeen captain. He deserves that tag.”
Jamie Langfield was another veteran hero for Aberdeen, the goalkeeper saving the first kick of the shoot-out by Billy McKay to set his team on their way to victory. The 34-year-old, who had a blood clot removed from his brain after suffering a seizure almost three years ago, was in tears at the end of match.
“I was down on my knees when we won it as the emotion just came through,” said Langfield. “I’ve had a massive two and a half years since my illness and this is what I dreamed of getting back to. I wanted a level of consistency as a player, but to go on to win a cup is just something else.
“That was for my wife [Louise] and my two kids [Ruby and Maisie] who have put up with me the last couple of years. They’ve really helped me through. So I just got all emotional as I knew how they would be feeling.
“I’ve gone from nearly dying two and a half years ago to winning a cup at Parkhead with a club I love and I want to be part of. That’s an incredible thing. I’m 34 now and these things don’t normally come round. It’s great to do it. I’m so thrilled and don’t think I’ll get over it – I’ll probably still have a smile on my face permanently.
“The most important people for me were my wife and two kids. I knew how chuffed they would be. I had the cards the girls gave me yesterday in my locker and I just thought about them constantly. It was just all for them.”