John Robertson can rattle off an Inverness Caley Thistle team fit to win any domestic cup. Sadly for him, and a club humbled by Premiership relegation last season, it is a team that, to a man, has packed their bags and departed.
The names trip off the Inverness manager’s tongue as he emphasises the scale of change experienced by the Highland outfit before and since the 2015 Scottish Cup triumph.
Jonny Hayes, Graeme and Andrew Shinnie, Adam Rooney, Greg Tansey, Ross Draper and Richie Foran are among the long list recounted by the former Hearts striker.
They say you should make hay while the sun shines, but the club’s emergency reserves were pretty much non-existent by the time relegation to the Championship last May brought a mid-table budget.
Robertson, restored to the managerial role that brought promotion in 2003-04 – notably, after a galvanising Challenge Cup final success – feels like a man starting the journey all over again.
“This is an important game for us in terms of the rebuilding work we are doing, on and off the pitch,” Robertson said. “The club has had two tough seasons. Relegation was a huge hit for a club like us.”
While Championship competitors have sought emergency loan signings from the Old Firm or big English clubs, Robertson recently found himself calling local secondary schools to make up the numbers.
First-team squad members such as Daniel Mackay and Jack Brown need their head teacher’s permission to skip classes for midweek matches.
“Daniel Mackay, who is only 16, will play some part. He is still at school in Inverness and is an Inverness fan,” Robertson stressed.
“He is a season ticket holder, one of our own – Caley Thistle is his team. So for him to be involved in a cup final like this is fantastic and, hopefully, that will inspire other young lads from the area to have us as their team.
“We have had to build a new team here,” Robertson added. “Look back on the one they used to have here, it was fantastic. We had guys like Dean Brill, Owain Fon Williams, David Raven, Josh Meekings, Greg Tansey, Ross Draper, the two Shinnie brothers, Jonny Hayes, Adam Rooney and Richie Foran.
“All those boys have come and gone now and there are only a few of the old guard left, so it has been tough for them. It’s impossible to build a dressing room in one season, so we have had ups and downs.
“We are not quite there yet – and that’s why Saturday is so hugely important. It can give everyone a nice boost. This club is 23 years old, has won a Scottish Cup, played in Europe, finished third in the league, won three championships and also a Challenge Cup. None of that happened overnight. We are back to a complete rebuilding stage.”