Aberdeen's Derek McInnes says he was made in Morton

Derek McInnes experienced European football with Rangers, captained West Bromwich Albion in the Premiership and was capped twice for Scotland during two decades as a professional footballer but it's the eight and a half years spent at Morton that has had the most profound impact on his career.

Built on the Clyde: Derek McInnes, right, playing for Morton against St Johnstone in 1988, aged 17. Picture: SNS
Built on the Clyde: Derek McInnes, right, playing for Morton against St Johnstone in 1988, aged 17. Picture: SNS
Built on the Clyde: Derek McInnes, right, playing for Morton against St Johnstone in 1988, aged 17. Picture: SNS

Not only that but someone with ambitions to become the most successful Aberdeen manager since Sir Alex Ferguson actually credits working as a teenager under Gothenburg Great John McMaster at Cappielow for establishing the foundations.

McInnes admits he’s never worked harder than those early days spent under the strict guidance of the silky midfielder who was a key member of the Dons team that defeated Real Madrid in the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup final.

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That was a crucial part of his education at a club he still has close emotional ties with but sentiment will be put to one side when the clubs meet at Hampden Park on Saturday in the Betfred Cup semi-final.

Victory would give McInnes the opportunity to win a second major trophy in the space of fewer than four years since replacing Craig Brown as manager at Pittodrie, a more fitting reward than the one he once received as a youngster from his mentor.

“John McMaster was the assistant manager back when I joined Morton and he was the guy that really moulded me” McInnes revealed. “He and Alan McGraw played me in the first team at 16 as they had a lot of confidence in me and I have a lot to thank them for.

“Every day was eventful, tough and demanding but it certainly didn’t do me any harm as it was always enjoyable.

“John had been brought up with Sir Alex Ferguson’s demands so he made sure as young players we had a lot of work to do.

“We even had to help him move house on the promise of a reward which turned out to be a look at his European Cup Winners’ Cup medal!

“We were told the first team players were kings and we had to make sure everything was right for them and you couldn’t home till everything was checked.

“I was in charge of the dressing room and shower area and he would sometimes say ‘get it done right’ when you had already spent two hours cleaning it.

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“It was a full shift and I have never worked as hard in my life as I got the train from Paisley at seven in the morning and would get one home at seven at night but I just loved every part of it as I just loved being a footballer.

“I was eight and a half years there and while I had serious injury during that time, and it wasn’t always all singing and all dancing, I only have good memories.

“I always want Morton to win games and it’s good to see the good work that’s going on there now.”

Of course that sentiment doesn’t extend to next weekend as an Aberdeen defeat would be as bad as any experienced by the club in recent years, despite regular setbacks against just such lower league opponents.

Raith Rovers, Dunfermline, East Fife and Queen of the South have all defeated the Dons in the last decade but there have been no such embarrassments during McInnes’ time in charge of the club.

That’s exactly how the Aberdeen manager is determined to keep it by making sure his players stay focused and justify their status as overwhelming odds-on favourites with the sponsors as he added: “Any time you get to a semi-final it is a real opportunity whether you go in as favourites or underdogs.

“That doesn’t give you any guarantees though as there have been bigger surprises than Morton beating Aberdeen in a semi-final.

“We have got to make sure that we are fully concentrated right from the start as the motivation to get to the final is massive.

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“Sometimes semi-finals can be a wee bit scrappy and fraught with anxiety so we need to go in to that game with confidence to show we are good enough to progress through to another final.”