CUP football hasn’t been kind to Willo Flood. His only previous League Cup final appearance, for Dundee United against Rangers in 2008, ended in the agony of a penalty shootout defeat.
There was more spot-kick horror for Flood in the following year’s tournament when his miss from 12 yards clinched a marathon 11-10 win for Celtic in a semi-final penalty decider.
As he prepares to try to lift the trophy as an Aberdeen player this weekend, the Irish midfielder revealed he even has sour memories of the only cup winner’s medal that he has ever collected.
It was as a schoolboy with the renowned Dublin youth club Cherry Orchard and the day of the final turned into a bitter-sweet and painful one which Flood feared might end his fledgling professional career before it had properly begun.
“I was 14 and it was the All-Ireland cup final with Cherry Orchard,” recalled the 28-year-old. “We won the game but I only lasted 15 minutes because I dislocated my kneecap. It was a real sore one.
“I’d just signed for Manchester City and the injury kept me out for 12 weeks. I was worried about it but City were brilliant, to be fair. Their head of recruitment was at the game and told me I’d be looked after. I was lucky I’d signed for such a good club – if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be playing football now.
“At the time I got the injury, I looked down and my knee was one way and the kneecap the other. When they straightened it out, it popped back in. The St John’s Ambulance crew at the game took a look and asked me to do a little 10-yard run on it. They said I’d be back playing in a week. Hopefully, they got sacked after that game! Twenty minutes later, the knee was huge so I ended up going to the hospital.
“But that was my last winner’s medal. God knows where it is – probably in my Ma’s house with cobwebs on it. If I get another one on Sunday, I’m sure it will be kept nice and shiny every day.
“There are better players than me who haven’t won anything. To win something in your career would obviously mean a lot and there are a lot of family and friends coming over from Dublin to see if I can do it.”
Flood has been instrumental in Aberdeen’s resurgence under Derek McInnes this season, which has seen them installed as firm favourites to overcome Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Celtic Park on Sunday to win the club’s first major trophy since 1995.
That has vindicated Flood’s decision to leave Dundee United last summer under freedom of contract and sign on at Pittodrie. He says it was a choice based on one simple factor.
“I signed for Derek McInnes first and foremost and then I signed for Aberdeen Football Club,” added Flood. “When I met him, I just felt I could work with him and he would get the best out of me. Fingers crossed, it has worked so far. I met him in my house. I spoke to him on the phone and then, when he came to see me, I said to my missus ‘he will do something with Aberdeen’. That made my mind up.
“Your instinct tells you if a manager is the right one for you. I’ve had that previously with Craig Levein at United first time around and then Gordon Strachan at Celtic and Middlesbrough.
“I took a bit of stick along the way for leaving United but that is part and parcel of football. I am sure if things didn’t go well for me, people at Dundee United wouldn’t have cared less.
“I felt as if I’d had a good season last season and helped Dundee United. They were great for me and I will always be thankful for what they did for me, not just once but twice.
“When you meet Derek, he just gives you confidence straight away when you speak to him. He has brought that to the whole club, not just the playing staff. Even the other people around the club have a big smile on their face. He has a good way about him and it is basically because of him that we are where we are.
“He is great and never looks too far ahead, he just thinks about the next game. When we beat St Johnstone in the League Cup semi-final, he just wanted us to put that to bed and focus on the league. When we then beat Celtic at Celtic Park in the Scottish Cup, he said to just put a lid on it and focus on the next one. Thankfully that has seemed to work for us so far. Hopefully that continues on Sunday.
“There have been a few games where we haven’t played that well but we have ground out a result. Aberdeen Football Club has always had big expectations around it because of what happened a long time ago. Some of us are new to the club so that pressure never came to us.
“Some of us have played at semi-finals and finals at other clubs. People are obviously jumping on the bandwagon and saying we are going to do this and that but we know we have a tough game coming up at the weekend. Inverness have given us tough games every time we have played them. We need to make sure we are on our game and if we do that then we will give ourselves a chance.”
Flood’s own form has caught the attention of Republc of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, whose assistant Roy Keane watched him impress in Aberdeen’s Scottish Cup win at Celtic Park last month. Capped at youth and under-21 level when a Manchester City player, Flood is relaxed about the prospect of a senior call-up.
“I think that story was growing arms and legs every second day,” he smiled. “People said Roy Keane was at the game and thought I did well against Celtic but that was it.
“I have had no contact and it is not something I have been bothered with. I have never been in the senior international football scene. If it happens, great. But if it doesn’t, it makes no difference.”