Gary Mackay-Steven has experienced both sides of Celtic’s success under Brendan Rodgers and the Aberdeen winger believes it’s about time his current club ended his former one’s monopoly of Scottish Football’s major prizes.
Mackay-Steven contributed to three Premiership title wins after Ronnie Deila took him from Dundee United to Parkhead, but only one of those was achieved under their current manager, who limited the player to just ten appearances.
The last 18 months have brought a return to regular football at the club who have been Celtic’s closest and most frustrated challengers, finishing runners-up to them in four of the six competitions won since Rodgers arrival.
Not surprisingly, the prospect of that becoming five out of seven is too painful for anyone at Pittodrie to contemplate ahead of Sunday’s meeting in the Betfred Cup final and Mackay-Steven for one is sure there’s no need for negativity.
After all, Aberdeen may currently be stuck in an uncharacteristically low sixth place in the Premiership table but their form in this season’s knockout competition has been exemplary so far.
Three wins against top-flight opposition without conceding a goal have taken them there, including against-the-odds victories at Easter Road in the quarter final and the defeat of Rangers at Hampden Park in the previous round. Mackay-Steven knows that sort of resilience will be needed again if Derek McInnes’ side are finally going to convince themselves and everyone else that Celtic really aren’t as invincible as they’ve appeared recently.
He said: “Celtic have been so successful the past few years. We are under no illusions it will be hard but it would be important in a lot of ways to have another team winning a trophy.
“They have shown in recent years that they have been the best team so it will be a good test for us. That’s all the motivation we really need. It’s about the future and looking ahead and Sunday is going to be a big occasion for me and for the club.
“We need to make sure we are ready for it and take our chances when they come but when I look around the dressing room I see match winners and that gives us confidence.
“The semi-final against Rangers, young Lewis Ferguson stepped up with a big moment to get the winner. It’s the first season he’s played in really big games and he’s shown he’s capable of stepping up to the plate and there are other players with that in them too.
“We’ve had a tough run but we’ve come out on top. We’ll be the underdogs again on Sunday. We just need to focus on ourselves and play to the plan that we’ve been working on.”
Of course, Aberdeen have the luxury of a clear week to prepare for the final while Celtic are in Norway for tonight’s crucial Europa League Group B game against Rosenborg, but Mackay-Steven knows from personal experience that won’t phase his former team.
The fact that their top players are used to such demands partially explains his lack of game time there two seasons ago and, whatever happens on Sunday, just being on the pitch will be better than what happened the last time the teams met in the League Cup final.
That was two years ago when Mackay-Steven ended up with a winners medal but little satisfaction to go with it after being left on the bench for the entire 90 minutes as Celtic comfortably disposed of the Dons 3-0.
“It’s never nice as being on the bench is the worst part of being a footballer, outwith being injured,” he added. “When you’re just sitting on the bench it’s not the same feeling when you win. You still celebrate but you definitely don’t celebrate as much, or feel as good about the wins when you’re not involved, certainly personally.
“Every achievement and medal is nice and is big when you stop playing and look back but you certainly want to be involved in these games, especially the semi-finals and finals at Hampden. Sunday is one that I can’t wait for.
“I know they’ll be up for it. They’re a good side and they’ve been in finals a lot in the last few years. We know what they’re all about. We just need to focus on ourselves and make sure we’ve played to the best of our abilities to a man and hopefully that’s enough to get us the win.”