Jim Duffy haunted by Dundee derby disappointment

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JIM Duffy’s Dundee derby career is extensive, but there is one game in particular that he files in the “if only” category.

Dundee’s Scottish Cup semi-final encounter with United in 1987 was the first of five consecutive seasons when the teams were drawn to face each other. The supporters of both sides were asked to travel to a neutral venue, and Tynecastle hosted an epic contest.

United emerged triumphant by the odd goal in five, but only after their keeper Billy Thomson had saved two late free-kicks from John Brown, the current Dundee manager.

“It was a phenomenal game that day at Tynecastle,” recalled Duffy yesterday. “Dundee United had a phenomenal side back then. But I only remember the game for losing it. People say not many semi-finals are classic games but that was a classic game. But from our point of view we’d have rather it was a rubbish game and we’d got to the final. I remember even now looking back, Billy Thomson making two unbelievable saves. It hurt that much at the time to be so close to the final.”

At half-time Dundee led 2-1 and were on course to reach their first Scottish Cup final since the early Sixties. However, United came back into the tie and earned a winner through Paul Hegarty’s header. Dundee’s frustration grew when they learned that St Mirren had beaten Hearts in the other semi-final, as they had missed out on what they felt was a winnable final. In the event, the Paisley side defeated United to lift the trophy. Jim McLean’s dejected team were then unable to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their Uefa Cup final clash with IFK Gothenburg.

Duffy almost purrs when he recalls the standard of player who operated on the other side of the street in those days. “One of my favourites was Dave Narey,” he recalled. “There were only two words to describe him – pure class. We’d a good team, too, though, with John Brown, and guys like Stuart Rafferty, Tosh McKinlay and Tommy Coyne. There were some terrific players on both sides. That’s the one game that still sticks in the throat all these years later.

“We had so much of the game and we had a terrific side. It’s definitely one that you look back on and think ‘if only’.”

It’s possible to wonder what Dundee might have gone on to achieve had Duffy not been forced to retire after sustaining a knee injury several months later, and shortly after the Dens Park side had gained some form of revenge with a last eight League Cup victory over their neighbours. Indeed, Dundee won on the last occasion the sides met in the cup, overcoming United in a League Cup clash in 1996. However, recent meetings between the teams have been dominated by United, although Duffy suspects Brown’s arrival might bring a new fervour to the home dressing room on Sunday, when the teams meet for the first time in the Scottish Cup since 1991.

“That’s a big part of the reason Bomber’s been brought in,” he said. “With his type of character, he can instil that winning mentality you need.”