Mastering the greens is a long shot for Derek McInnes’ side next Saturday. No-one needs tell the Aberdeen manager that. He sees straight down the middle when assessing what is required for his team to triumph in the Scottish Cup final against a seemingly-untouchable Celtic side.
“It’s like a scratch golfer playing against an 18-handicapper,” McInnes said of the decider against a team that is chasing a treble without losing domestically. “The 18-handicapper can win, but the scratch golfer has to play poorly. We have to work hard to make it that kind of day. We’ll go there believing it can be our day but the odds are stacked against us and it would be a huge shock if we won, and a real significant victory.”
The fact the two teams will be side by side at Hampden in six days, just as they were in the League Cup final and are in the top two places in the Premiership, is in itself significant. Not since 1992-93 have two clubs set themselves apart from all others in such fashion. In what could hardly be considered a great omen, 24 years ago Aberdeen were the perennial seconds as Rangers claimed a treble.
McInnes, while rightly being proud of his team while at the same time not wanting to see them always finishing second, baulks at the idea of being perceived as beside Celtic in the league. “I don’t know if we are beside them…” he said, conscious of the 30-point gap between the clubs.
The 45-year-old is also conscious of the monetary gap between the pair, putting the cost of the Celtic squad at £40m compared the £200,000 spent on transfer fees at Pittodrie. Yet, for all that, a sense of destiny emboldens him as Aberdeen seek a first Scottish Cup win in 27 years, the club winning it five times between 1982 and 1990 – MicInnes’ formative years.
“Going back to our era, Aberdeen were synonymous with winning the Scottish Cup, you can clearly remember the celebrations. It would be brilliant to do exactly that, to mirror those successful Scottish Cup teams. I said to the players at the start of the season that I felt this was going to be a special season for us.
“While we lost one cup final which we were disappointed with, and we will finish second in this league, special means winning a trophy. Hopefully I was right with that prediction.
“Sometimes you just get a gut feeling with a group of boys. You go through certain hurdles as you go along but Tony [Docherty] and I have always felt this could be a special season with this group.”
The cup final will also bring the end of a playing era. McInnes finds change “quite natural” and has had real squad “stability” for three years.
In the impending departure of integral performers Niall McGinn, Ryan Jack and Peter Pawlett, he sees an aspect of evolution and freshening up he sees as “no bad thing”.
“‘I already said to two or three of them we know for sure are leaving before the semi-final: first of all, make sure you are in that team for the final [and then] make sure your last game for Aberdeen is us sitting in the dressing room together, bottle of beer and a winner’s medal in your hand.
“I think it’s important that you arrive at a club with a certain perception. It’s really important how you leave a club. And I think if players can leave with a winner’s medal it would be really fitting.”