Daunting might be considered a euphemism for utterly blooming knee-knocking when assessing Brechin City’s Scottish Cup assignment at Celtic Park on Saturday.
If you want disparities, this fourth-round tie serves them up by the bucketload. In the visiting corner stand Championship part-timers, who also happen to be the only club in Scottish or English senior football without a league win to their name this season. In the home corner, the country’s six-in-a-row top-flight champions, who just happen to have gone more than two years without losing on their own patch against domestic opposition.
Brechin haven’t visited Parkhead since 1985. Then they were achieving mid-table respectability in the second tier but still found themselves on the receiving end of a 7-0 thumping in a League Cup tie by a Celtic side that weren’t title holders.
If all this is supposed to make Brechin manager Darren Dods feel decidedly fretful about making the trip to the east end of Glasgow, the 42-year-old missed the memo. The Angus club’s first gate-receipt bonanza of a cup tie against one of Glasgow’s two top draws in almost two decades has no downsides for a defiantly philosophical Dods.
“This is a big occasion for the whole club, and for us one that we should look forward to, first and foremost,” said the man who has revived Brechin’s fortunes across two and a half years in charge. “Alright, it would be nice to go there having won a host of games in the Championship and be sitting mid-table, but we don’t need to be too hung up on what’s happened in our league campaign.
“What we are instead focusing on is the opportunity our nucleus of young players have to go and test themselves against the best in the country; in an arena that has welcomed some of the biggest names in the world in the Champions League in recent times. That is an opportunity to be embraced.
“Only three of our players – Graeme Smith, Willie Dyer and Andy Jackson – have ever played at Parkhead before so for the rest this tie is something to be savoured. It’s great for the club too because the money will keep the club going for a bit after a few years when they have taken a hit financially.”
Brechin have taken some hits on the pitch this season, but not as many as might be imagined in accumulating a mere four points across 22 games. In the most delicate fashion, Dods intimates that the Championship might have been a bridge arrived at too soon, never mind being too far, after a decade outside the top two divisions. In his first season, 2015-16, the club only narrowly avoided dropping down to League Two. Last season, Dods points out, no-one expected them to get the better of either Raith Rovers or Alloa Athletic in the play-offs, but both teams were vanquished courtesy of penalty shoot-outs.
The former Hibernian, Dundee United, St Johnstone and Inverness Caledonian Thistle centre-back lauds his players’ tenacity, as reflected in the fact that 11 of their league defeats have only been by a single goal.
It isn’t as if toils in the second tier are a new phenomenon for Brechin. In the past 30 years, they have never survived two seasons there in four attempts.
Dods will place all these concerns to one side as he gears up for a day at Celtic Park that he considers will represent his biggest game in management. As a player, the venue was a familiar one to the uncompromising defender. He even scored there once, for St Johnstone in January 2002. “I remember I scored with a header in the opening minutes and we thought we might be on to something at a time when we were struggling for form…only for Henrik Larsson and Alan Thompson to score two inside two minutes to put Celtic 2-1 up after ten minutes. That is what they could do to you then and that is what Brendan Rodgers’ team have done to plenty of sides in the past two seasons,” said Dods, who scored an added-time winner against Celtic for Dundee United at Tannadice in November 2009.
Those days might seem far removed from Dods’ sporting life now, but he feels he has a busy, enjoyable mix. He combines two nights a week training his Brechin squad – the second a Thursday evening in the Oriam – with coaching at the SFA’s performance school at Broughton High and a placement teaching sport and fitness at Edinburgh College. “It can get busy but all the timings seem to work out,” Dods said. As he would contend of Brechin’s time in the Scottish football spotlight next weekend.