Cup competitions have presented Inverness Caley Thistle with many a memorable moment in their short history and yesterday another was added to their folklore as a last-gasp goal from Carl Tremarco delivered them victory in the Irn-Bru Cup final at McDiarmid Park. As a game it conspicuously lacked the fizz associated with the competition sponsors, but for Tremarco who was sent-off during the Highland side’s 2015 Scottish Cup final win over Falkirk, it provided a moment of sublime redemption.
While there was understandable delight for the Liverpool-born full back and his Caley team-mates it was hard not to feel some sympathy for the vanquished part-timers from Dumbarton.
They were the better side for the opening 45 minutes and though their legs were beginning to go, they must have thought that they had navigated their way to extra-time, particularly after Scott Gallacher blocked Iain Vigurs’ 82nd minute penalty. It was not to be however, and at least one more notch will have to be added to their agonising 135-year wait to win another national cup competition.
For Caley there was a further remarkable twist to the storyline in that Tremarco’s winner was set up by 16-year-old Daniel Mackay who, 24 hours earlier, had scored for Scotland Schoolboys in a 2-0 win against their English counterparts in York.
He only took the field yesterday as a substitute after manager John Robertson personally drove him back up the road to Edinburgh immediately after the final whistle on Friday night.
Little wonder then that Robertson had a satisfied glow about him afterwards, but he was quick to acknowledge that it been a closely contested affair. “The first half was tight, I think both teams were nervous but Dumbarton had the best of it,” he conceded. “The longer the game went – we started to create chances. Then we get the penalty and miss it and you worry it’s going to be their day.”
“But young Daniel, what a dream weekend it is for him. It’s a great ball into the box and then Carlo does what Carlo does and arrives at the back post at the right time and we get the winner.”
Cup finals matter regardless of the competition and this game opened in customary tentative fashion with neither goalkeeper being seriously tested in a lacklustre opening 45 minutes. Dumbarton, however, could at least lay claim to playing the more composed and constructive football bringing some sporadic pressure to bear on the Caley Thistle goal.
After centre-half Stuart Carswell had gone close early on, Iain Russell also had an effort blocked shortly afterwards. The Sons striker then almost became provider with his teasing cross nearly reaching Danny Handling, only for it to be whipped off the latter’s toes by Tremarco. In response the Highlanders were pretty insipid – plenty of possession but any attempts hit goalwards were comfortably scooped up by Gallacher.
Caley mustered an upward gear change after the break but it did not translate into a frenzy of goalmouth incidents. Vigurs showed an appetite for having a go – which unfortunately deserted him when it mattered – and sent a couple of efforts whistling past Gallacher but also the frame of the goal. Pushed on to the backfoot, Dumbarton dug in and only occasionally ventured upfield.
As the 90th minute loomed it seemed only something out of the ordinary would break the deadlock and it appeared to have arrived as Sons full-back Chris McLaughlin inexplicably decided to fist away an Aaron Doran cross.
Up stepped Vigurs but instead of putting his foot through the resultant spot kick as he had done shooting on goal earlier he made a right hash of it and Gallacher made a comfortable save.
Extra-time was looming large when at the death Inverness snatched it. Mackay’s cross was allowed to pass right across the six-yard box by a tiring Dumbarton rearguard and up popped Tremarco with the simplest of tasks to side-foot the ball into the net. With just seconds of time-added on remaining there was no way back.