GRAEME Shinnie doesn’t believe his reveries of late will have differed much from those of anyone else who will take to the field for today’s League Cup decider.
“I guess every player probably thinks about scoring a 30-yard screamer to win a final,” said one of the key figures in the Inverness Caledonian Thistle side. “Those thoughts go through your mind, lifting the trophy, doing well, that is what you want so here’s hoping that can happen.”
Shinnie isn’t like any other player in the Highland set-up, though. He was born and raised in the city of opponents Aberdeen. And should Nick Ross not be selected, the 22-year-old will be the only member of the Inverness starting XI to have come through the ranks at a club seeking to win the first trophy of its 20-year existence. “A lot of people in crowds think I played for Rangers, and Aberdeen, but I have only played at Inverness, and the games I’ve got here [more than 100] show it has been the right move for me,” Shinnie said. “I have had so many happy memories at the club. I have been here five years now so this tops it off. This is what I wanted when I came here, playing in cup finals. I hope there will be many more. But I need to make the most of this and I am sure all the town and the players will as well.”
Punters get Graeme Shinnie mixed up with his brother Andrew, who was on the books of Rangers in his youth and Inverness until he moved to Birmingham City last summer. In the past, Graeme has seemed to have lived in the shadow of his Scotland-capped sibling. This afternoon, with Andrew having booked a flight north to watch his brother at Celtic Park, those roles will be reversed. “He probably would be a bit jealous,” the Inverness Shinnie said of his older brother. “These are occasions that footballers love.”
Shinnie has been championed for a Scotland call-up at left-back by his manager John Hughes but the position is not one he has occupied much of late. And the player hasn’t an earthly what role his manager will detail for him in the final. “As long as I am on the pitch and playing in the cup final it wouldn’t matter where it was,” he said. “At left back, going forward, defensively, in midfield, or right back, I don’t mind.”
It may be that Hughes recalls the commanding display Shinnie put in as a midfield holder when Inverness won 1-0 at Pittodrie in January. That game showed that any notion of a canter for the Pittodrie men in this final might be misplaced. However, it is understandable that, following the recent 5-0 defeats at the hands of Celtic and Dundee United, you would find few takers for a first major Scottish football trophy becoming Highland property for a year. The scoreless draw with Hibernian in midweek represented improvement, but 40,000 Aberdeen supporters inside Celtic Park this afternoon will present Inverness with a knee-knocking environment in which to play out their first cup final.
Yet Shinnie thinks Aberdeen’s four-to-one supporter ratio could work in his team’s favour. “I think it is great. You want the stadium to be full, you want to be playing against loads of fans to make the occasion even better. Hopefully we [will] bring at least 10,000 and that will be good for us as well. We always are the underdogs and we don’t mind that tag, it is when we play better. Away from home is probably where we play our best football and the final will probably feel a wee bit like that.
“The team shape was unbelievable that last Aberdeen game. I think that will be crucial again. We were on top and getting the goal gave us the chance to go on to defend and hold out for the win. We need to defend like we did that day. We will look to getting back to [being] that hard-to-play-against team.”
It could be a tough day all the way to a penalty shoot-out. Shinnie wouldn’t shirk if that comes around, despite having his effort saved as Inverness prevailed against Hearts in the semi-final. “It felt like I had let my team down, but it would have been worse for me, wearing the captain’s armband that day, if I hadn’t taken a penalty and we had gone out,” he said. “I did volunteer to go first, I felt like it was my responsibility to do it. If I hadn’t, I would have felt like I was letting the boys down if we had gone out. Football is all about pressure. It is how you handle it.” As today’s final will no doubt demonstrate.