IT WAS a 21st birthday few in Inverness will ever forget. But the party could be one that many will struggle to remember.
Just over two decades since the club’s inception and their subsequent admission to the football league, Inverness Caledonian Thistle marked the landmark by winning Scottish Cup.
“I try to keep myself composed,” said manager John Hughes as the enormity of the achievement started to sink in, “and I haven’t had a drink for about ten years, but I will be having one tonight, and tomorrow and the next day!”
A character that does nothing by half measures, he will be lucky to make it to Largs, as scheduled at the start of the week, for an SFA coaching course. An obsessive character, that serves as a personality defect at times but it has also been an asset as he has defied the detractors and engineered a season the club will never forget. The lifting of the first piece of major silverware wrapped up a campaign that had already reaped a third-place finish and qualification for Europe, not to mention a raft of individual honours for the manager and certain players, but the endeavours at the national stadium yesterday are what will safeguard their place in the history books.
Hughes knew that as he plucked daughters Jessica and Victoria from the buoyant hoards and cajoled them into climbing the Hampden steps with him to share his moment of glory and have a chance to hoist aloft the prestigious trophy.
“I have been in a Scottish Cup final before and we got beat. I said to all the guys take it in. Milk it as much as you can. Take every photograph because it is going to live with you for years. I got the kids on, they were up lifting the cup because I said to them when I am an old man and your kids are playing football they will maybe aspire to that. You can tell them you were part of that.
Take every photograph because it is going to live with you for years
“It will live with us forever, all the photographs, the celebrations that we have. But what does it mean? Honestly, I do not know because I haven’t sat back and thought about it. You never let yourself think ahead. You do that and then you are playing the occasion instead of the game. Now it is just starting to sink in. Over the course of the season we have been a right good team and to finish off as Scottish Cup final winners against a good Falkirk team, I am absolutely delighted.”
They had to work for it, though, with Falkirk undermining their underdogs tag and producing a performance that merited more than the runners-up medals and dressing-room tears they were left with as souvenirs.
“I’d like to congratulate them first and foremost for a magnificent season and winning the cup, but I’m disappointed for my players. I’ve got players in there in tears at the [James Vincent] goal we lost. David [McCracken] slipped, and Jamie [MacDonald] is disappointed with his effort, but these guys have been superb for us this season. I’m gutted for them and gutted for the supporters,” said Falkirk manager Peter Houston, who came so close to adding a second Scottish Cup triumph to his CV. “The first half they were comfortable and we showed them too much respect. But the second half we changed it and believed in ourselves a bit more and dominated. We put them under pressure, their players were going down with cramp and after we got the equaliser, I thought there was only one team going on to win it.”
After Peter Grant had equalised with ten minutes to go, Hughes admitted that he was among those who feared the Championship side would go on to provide an upset.
“I thought the game was going from us, yes,”he said. “But you’ve got to have your game head on. Each man had to do everything they could to help the team.
“I don’t want to sound like Sir Alex Ferguson did all those years ago in his Aberdeen days but in the second half we never showed up. That put Falkirk on the front foot and they were the better team in the whole of the second half. The spirit that we showed to dig it out was absolutely exceptional. I don’t know how James Vincent got up there. He was playing right back but the guys have all played a part this year and thankfully they have come up trumps.”