Currently of Aberdeen and formerly of Celtic, Niall McGinn is well aware of the hostile atmosphere to expect at Hampden Park this afternoon but the Betfred Cup semi-final against Rangers is exactly the sort of occasion he missed most during a short spell in South Korean football.
The Northern Ireland international made the lucrative switch to play for Gwangji shortly after Aberdeen lost last year’s Scottish Cup final against Celtic but the move quickly turned sour.
McGinn was released by the struggling K-League club, returning to the Dons after just four months in Asia, and a major factor in that failure to settle was the absence of the sort of passion he experienced playing in an Old Firm match and the highly charged Dons meetings with Rangers.
The atmosphere in those Old Firm derbies is often toxic, while games between Rangers and Aberdeen have been nearly as poisonous at times but it’s a situation McGinn relishes, even though his Celtic connection means being the target of abuse from the Ibrox club’s supporters.
He said: “Going to South Korea was interesting for me as it was a new culture and new experience and it was something I did enjoy.
“It was a good experience in big stadiums with good crowds but you definitely miss what we’ll have on Sunday.
“You miss how much Scottish people love their game and the hatred amongst the fans. It’s atmospheres like games against Rangers, Celtic, cup games at Hampden, that you miss when you’re away in a place like that.
“The Rangers fans give me stick but that always spurs me on as I take it with a pinch of salt. I’m lucky enough that I’m getting more opportunities back here now so I need to grasp them with both hands.”
Not that McGinn is underestimating just how hard that will be as he has been impressed with the impact Steven Gerrard has made since taking over as Rangers manager in the summer. Especially the way the Liverpool legend steered them into the group stages of the Europa League at the first time of asking and the fact they are still in with a realistic chance of progressing further after Thursday’s draw against Spartak Moscow.
McGinn, after all, has been part of an Aberdeen team that have failed to get beyond the third round of Europa League qualifying for four seasons in a row.
He added: “If you’re looking from the outside, they have done very well having been consistent at home and got good results in Europe this season. Us as a club, we know how difficult it can be to get through four rounds of qualifying just to get into the Europa League groups. Credit to them as they have done really well to achieve that and start well in a tough group.
“I know their form on the road hasn’t been great but it’s a neutral venue on Sunday and it’s a game where we need to show up to have any chance of making the final.
“We have been to plenty of semi-finals over a number of years now and looking back there hasn’t been too many brilliant games or great results.
“We have managed to get through a few of them and us being a big club we want to do that again this time.”
It was Craig Brown who first brought McGinn to Pittodrie but his and the club’s fortunes really prospered once Derek McInnes took over in March 2013, since when they have never finished out of the top three.
That form has brought regular European football and a League Cup final win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, with the only disappointment for both McGinn and the manager being that it remains the only silverware collected in the last 23 years.
This afternoon marks Aberdeen’s seventh semi-final under McInnes with an even split of success and failure in the previous six, and for all the positives he is clear what remains the driving ambition.
“Trophies – and I have never shied away from that,” said the Dons manager. “Of course if we could guarantee silverware we would take that over a league position all day long.
“Outwith Celtic in recent seasons no other team has played in as many semi-finals and finals as us. We have been there and at least given ourselves a chance but we have only won one and we would love to try and make that more of course.
“That gives you real reward, real satisfaction, when there is something tangible there if you can manage to win it.
“We know the benefits of a strong cup run, how it can make the whole club come alive, bring the city alive really.
“It can generate enthusiasm among the supporters and then there’s the financial benefits.
“Hopefully we can deliver a performance on Sunday that gets us to another cup final.”