Alex Keddie has waited a long time for his one big chance to shine

NOTHING better illustrates the different planets on which Ross County and Celtic operate than defender Alex Keddie's story and that of Robbie Keane, the man he is likely to mark today.

Forget Keddie's paltry pay packet. Keane's wages would consume the Dingwall club's entire annual playing budget in less than eight weeks. Yet even Keddie's current life station seems lordly compared to what it so easily might have been.

While Keane was amassing tens of millions in transfer fees, Keddie, a former FA Youth Cup winner with Leeds United, had dropped out disillusioned from full-time football to seek further education. Making ends meet entailed a breakfast waiter's job at the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld, remarkably enough the very hotel where the First Division club was encamped last night.

"After I left senior football at St Johnstone, I worked serving breakfasts at the Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld," 29-year-old Keddie recalled. "Then I learned we were going to stay there ahead of the Celtic game. When I was serving breakfasts in that dining room I never thought I'd be back staying there ahead of a Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden!

"After I finished at St Johnstone I played Junior football for Cumbernauld and Shotts Bon Accord for four years while I studied for my Honours degree in Chartered Surveying at the Glasgow Caledonian University.

"This is what dreams are made of. If I hadn't made it back to senior football then I'd still be at the hotel or maybe working in something to do with my degree. I started at the lowest level there and was involved for five years before I got my degree. It's hard to get my head around the fact I've gone from dishing up breakfasts and being a student to playing at Hampden."

Keddie, arguably County's most improved and consistent performer since the summer, is self-deprecatory in assessing his part in the biggest moment in Ross County's 81-year history. Yet his enthusiasm for the rarity and value of the occasion is infectious. "At Ross County, we are all still working-class men. We're not driving Bentleys and living in million pound houses," Keddie reflected.

"We're playing to pay bills like most other people in the world, but it's not the money that drives you: it's the love of the game and the guys here have that desire.

"Whether or not I sleep on Friday I don't know, but I'm looking forward to taking on a guy who has moved for over 100 million in his career. We earn a pittance, but when we go on the pitch we'll believe we have a chance."

Keddie rubbed shoulders with the likes of Paul Robinson, Harry Kewell and Jonathan Woodgate in the all-conquering Leeds youth side of 1996-7.

Having returned to Scotland with St Johnstone, a promised new contract failed to materialise after a nasty leg break, precipitating the switch to student life. He then battled back from the junior ranks to play for Stranraer before Ross County took him north four years ago.

"I never thought I'd face the likes of Celtic when I was at Junior level and playing week in, week out on cow fields," he said, adding that County's self-belief had soared after beating Hibs in the quarter-finals of the Active Nation Cup.

"I always think cup football can throw a spanner in the works and there's no reason why we can't do it against Celtic."