The last time around Aberdeen were wrestling with ghosts of the past as well as the favourites tag as they headed into a League Cup final. This time they are the underdogs and the past is actually inspiring Ryan Jack, as he dances with the dream of joining an illustrious list of men who have captained Aberdeen to success.
It had been a 19-year wait for cup glory and there was a degree of desperation in the air as they tackled Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2014. They ultimately found a way to overcome it, even if matters were dragged out to a penalty shoot out, but this time, as they prepare to face Celtic, there is a more relaxed feel to the build up.
“A lot was made about the last final and there was a lot of pressure on our shoulders because we hadn’t won a trophy for a while,” said the midfielder. “There was talk about whether we would fall at the final hurdle again. Thankfully, we fronted up and now we have those great memories and there was the bus parade down Union Street that followed and that was special. It is something that will live with me for the rest of my life.”
The trophy win signalled a significant shift. It was the first major moment of the Derek McInnes era and, while there is some frustration that further silverware has eluded them thus far, almost three years on the club are in a far more comfortable place. They have been challenging in the league, asserting themselves as the second best in the country over the past two seasons and earning the right to European competition.
And while there was still some tension in Aberdeen in the build up to this afternoon’s showdown, according to the players none of it permeated the walls of the Pittodrie dressing room, which is brimful of players who have confidence in themselves and their team-mates..
“You’re expected to get the club to a cup final, and then when you do get there, you want it more as a player,” added Jack, who believes the Hampden showdown is just reward for a team that has shown consistency and traversed tricky ties against Ayr United, St Johnstone and Morton, after entering the competition late due to European commitments. “The fans are no different, they’ll be turning up on the day expecting us to win, thinking we can win. In the team we have total belief in each other and we’ll be turning up at Hampden expecting to get a result.
“We sat down at the start of the season with the manager and the staff and he asked us what we wanted to do this season. We all said we wanted to make sure we got to at least one cup final. We want to maintain what we’ve done in the league, put up a good challenge, but we especially wanted to do better than the season before in the cups.
“We’ve got into a final and the next step now is to win the trophy.”
This time Jack will be the one hoisting the cup aloft if Aberdeen are victorious. “When the manager asked me to take over the captaincy the first thing I thought about was how good it would be to be there with my team-mates leading us up the stairs to lift a trophy. I’m sure every captain visualises himself doing the same. You want to make your mark and be remembered. I want to lead the team on Sunday, get a good result and be remembered as a captain that has won something.”
Every day the players eat in the canteen that doubles up as the captain’s lounge on matchdays. It means the walls are decked with photos of his predecessors, and a notable list of names, many of whom have lifted trophies, led the way on excursions into Europe, and defied the likes of Celtic before.
“I’m following in the footsteps of some impressive captains,” said the 24-year-old. “You look at the captain’s board in the stadium and there are so many great names. Then you look down at the bottom of the list and see my name. I think ‘Jesus. I’m on a wall with so many legends and captains who have won something’. It just makes me want to go and lift a trophy like them. “
He also picks the brains of Russell Anderson, the man who did lift the cup three years ago, and who is now a business executive at the club. “He has been great and still shows a great interest. He is always asking me how I’m getting on and if everything is OK.”
Listening to Jack, everything is better than OK, though. This captain has big dreams but he has guys around him who, he believes, can help make them a reality.