The north-east semi-final Cup clash has an 80s feel to it and Sean Dillon can’t wait, finds Moira Gordon
FOR those who lived through Scottish football in the 80s, there is something familiar, almost nostalgic, about this year’s League Cup semi-final line-up.
With Celtic and Rangers drawn against each other in one match, the New Firm complete the retro look.
Just as there was decades ago, there is real substance to the battle, with both Dundee United and Aberdeen being recent cup winners and certainly more recent major finalists than either of the Glasgow pair. In Jackie McNamara and Derek McInnes, they have two astute young managers who are unfazed by reputation and their league form underlines why.
After spells at the wrong end of the league table, both clubs are a force in the Scottish game again, re-igniting a rivalry that has been dormant but never extinguished.
“It has been good and I suppose other people will look at it like that but, for me, it’s all about us,” said Dundee United captain Sean Dillon ahead of Saturday’s Hampden head-to-head. Following the disappointment of near misses in last season’s cup competitions, losing to the eventual finalists Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the quarter-final of the League Cup and then to St Johnstone in the final of the Scottish, he is dreaming of another shot at silverware.
That reward will only come courtesy of a New Firm victory and for some that has amplified the noise but for Dillon, there has never been anything quiet or subdued about that fixture.
“Personally, I’ve always felt it’s a big game whenever we play Aberdeen, home or away. You know about it, people let you know how big a game it is.
“The Dundee derby is obviously huge, but that hasn’t been around on a regular basis. But we’ve played Aberdeen every year since I’ve been here, so it’s always been a big game. From listening to fans and people around the place, they’ll always tell you how big it is, so I don’t really see it as any different just because things are going a bit better now.”
Whether in the final stages of a knockout competition battling to be the best or languishing in the lower reaches of the league trying not be the worst, the incentives are the same when up against Aberdeen. Like success and failure, they are two sides of the same coin as far as Dillon is concerned.
That gives him plenty of inspiration to draw on for this Hampden match. There’s the happy memories of lifting a cup in 2010 and the hurt of losing out in last season’s showcase.
“I don’t particularly like getting too up or too down about things. If you lose a game, you’re obviously disappointed. The same way, you say little when you win and get on with it but the disappointment of the St Johnstone game was tough. I’d say it was one of the lower points. It was hard going. On the other hand you remember the time we won it and, when you talk about it, you try to explain to people how good it is, but it’s hard to explain it.
“The final last year and the semi-final [the year] before were opportunities to go and get ourselves a medal and some silverware for the club. The club has only won five trophies, so it would be nice to add to that. We’re desperate, but we’d be desperate anyway, regardless of the Cup final last season.”
Last season the bragging rights went to Aberdeen, with a League Cup win trumping United’s Scottish Cup final loss but despite the rivalry, Dillon did not grudge Aberdeen their glory. He was happy to see former team-mate Willo Flood prosper but as he approaches the end of his contract at Tannadice, with no new deal on the table at the moment, he is drawing on the occasion as another source of inspiration.
“I went through for a look. It was a good day, a good atmosphere. It was interesting seeing a cup final at Parkhead.
“It was good for Willo, I was delighted for him. I know him well, he’s a good friend of mine.
“It’s obviously nice when you’re involved in cup finals but, when you’re sitting there watching somebody else, watching them celebrate, it gives you a reminder of when you’ve done it. It gives you that hunger, that little bit extra. You shouldn’t need any more of a push, but it reminds you of what it was like. I thought that was a good thing, but unfortunately, when the [Scottish] Cup final came around in May, it didn’t go the way we wanted it to.
“But I think going to see any cup final, regardless of who is playing in it, and seeing how it can affect both sets of players, you look at the team that loses and you don’t want to be that team, then you see the joy in those that have won, it makes you realise more what you’re getting into and what’s there for you.”
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