Gary Mackay-Steven had a complicated relationship with the League Cup last year. Exactly 12 months ago this weekend, he helped Dundee United to semi-final victory over Aberdeen at Hampden.
It proved to be his last game for United as, two days later, his pre-contract agreement with Celtic was brought forward to a deadline day £250,000 move to the Scottish champions.
It meant Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong, recruited by Celtic from United at the same time, found themselves playing the roles of awkward bystanders when their new employers beat their former club 2-0 in the March final.
“It was strange last year but I’m definitely hoping that all things being well I’ll have a final to look forward to this time,” said Mackay-Steven ahead of the cup holders’ semi-final against Ross County tomorrow.
“It was very awkward last season. There was the joy of winning the semi-final with a great performance by United against Aberdeen. But moving to Celtic was what I wanted to do, so that was great as well over those two or three days.
“However, I didn’t really envisage United and Celtic playing each other in the final and me having to sit out the day because I was cup-tied.
“Looking back, I think I’d probably rather not have got to Hampden for the final, because at the end I didn’t really know how to react. I was happy Celtic ended up winning, because at that point of the season it was the first leg of a treble which we were trying to win as a squad.
“It was nice being in the changing room afterwards with my new team-mates and celebrating. But then I really felt for the United boys, because they’d done so well to get to the final and I’d been a part of that.
“I didn’t go into the United changing room to see them after the game because I didn’t feel it would have been right. I spoke to a few of the boys a few days later, but at the time I felt it was best for me to stay clear.”
Mackay-Steven is facing another of his former clubs tomorrow, albeit he never made a first-team appearance for Ross County.
The Dingwall club sold him to Liverpool for a six-figure development fee in 2007 while he was still a member of their under-19 side. Mackay-Steven still has fond memories of his time at the closest senior club to his Thurso home.
“Even though Dingwall is 100 miles away from Thurso, Ross County were the club you went to if you did well as a kid in my area,” he recalled.
“I played for Caithness United boys club and they had a link with Ross County and I went there from under-14 level onwards.
“We trained twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, although only the Thursday session was in Dingwall which was a 200-mile round trip for my parents to get me there. It was the same for the games we played every Sunday. It was a lot of commitment from my parents at the time and it’s down to them and what they did back then that I’m a Celtic player today.
“Ross County always had a good football philosophy, they never look to kick it long, and it’s not all that surprising to me that they have grown and grown as the years have gone by to now become a firmly established Premiership club.
“It’s a club whose results I always look out for. I remember being delighted for them when they beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-finals in 2010, but hopefully there will be no repeat on Sunday.”
Mackay-Steven has emerged from a spell on the fringes of the Celtic first team to reinforce his claim for a regular starting place in Ronny Deila’s side, scoring twice in last Saturday’s 3-1 league win over St Johnstone.
“It’s not just me, the whole team is playing well again,” he said. “I’ve had to be patient and take my chance when it came. This is definitely a good time to start a run of form, coming into the business end of the season, and hopefully we can continue it against Ross County.”
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