WITH a 23-point cushion over their nearest league rivals Dunfermline, and that same club standing between them and the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup, Rangers fans could be forgiven for letting their minds wander off into the next round, next season and the season after that.
As human beings, some of the players might allow themselves the luxury of forethought, too. Who might they get in the last eight if they beat Dunfermline? Is there a trip to Celtic Park for the final in store? Will they have two matches at Tynecastle to break the pattern of playing in modest provincial grounds next season?
These are distractions with the potential to tease as well as please, as Jon Daly underlined yesterday when he emphasised that if Rangers do not continue to “live in the moment”, the fans might very quickly be relieved of the possibilities that keep them attending games in such numbers. This is a peril that Daly swears he has never had to impress on younger players whose focus might be beginning to drift.
“If you start looking too far ahead, that’s when you can slip up and if you start thinking about who you can get in the next round, you might slip up on Friday and get put out,” said the Dubliner as he contemplated the visit of Jim Jefferies’ Pars to Ibrox. “So it’s imperative that we concentrate fully on the game and make sure we execute our game plan, we win the tie and get through.
“Surprisingly enough, all the young boys at the club are excellent professionals and they’re all wanting to learn and develop, and in my eyes there’s no better club to do that at. The facilities are fantastic, the coaches are excellent and I think there’s probably been a massive improvement in them from last year, having experienced first-team football last year. Hopefully now they can kick on again next year and just keep getting better and better.”
As it is five years since Rangers last got their hands on the country’s top knockout prize, Daly is a rare species as a Scottish Cup winner at Ibrox. Lee McCulloch is the only other member of the playing staff who has experienced this situation.
Daly lifted the trophy on the day in 2010 when tangerine ribbons were applied to it, and he was asked yesterday if it would mean more to him to achieve the feat as part of a largely inexperienced League One squad than Premier-class Dundee United. He did, however, brush it off with ease.
“It meant a hell of a lot to me winning the cup before and we had a young squad then,” he said by way of reminder. “Winning trophies is massive and you live in the here and now. What I have done in the past is in the past, so I look forward to winning more medals.
“There are clubs that have done it before from the lower leagues, they’ve got to the finals and probably fallen at the final hurdle, and it would be great if we could get through to a final. But there’s a lot of football to be played before then, and we need to concentrate on the game on Friday before we can start looking too far ahead.”
The 31-year-old was speaking at the launch of a new partnership between the Rangers Charity Foundation and the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH).
“A year ago, I was getting ready to face Rangers in the fifth round, now I’m obviously playing for them. It’s been a big change but one that I’ve really enjoyed. Every player in Scotland wants to do well in this Cup because it’s a fantastic competition to be involved in.”