The second cup final of the season for Motherwell, they say that this one feels different.
While the League Cup was concluded in the middle of the season, done and dusted and straight back into Premiership business, there has been an extra frisson of excitement as they head into today’s Scottish Cup final.
The bunting has been up, townsfolk have been out offering well-wishes, and with most domestic business concluded, there will be no sideshows competing for attention. The greater prestige of the older trophy is also reflected in the rewards, with a place in next term’s Europa League qualifiers up for grabs, as well as in the squad’s garb. For the League Cup, tracksuits were deemed suitable. But this time, according to captain Carl McHugh, they were determined to dress for the occasion.
“The boys wanted to get the suits because the tracksuits have put in the miles in the last year – my top is wearing out at my elbows!” he said. “So we’re getting suits for this.
“It’s a bit of a change. We weren’t too bothered about the issue of suits before the League Cup final, we just wanted to get on with the game, but this is the Scottish Cup final. It’s a huge game.
“We spoke among ourselves in the dressing room and came to the decision we’d get suits for this one. Honestly, the tracksuits were a big part of the decision – we couldn’t go out there in those tracksuits, they’re worn away to nothing.
“No, they’re not white and we won’t be going out there wearing sunglasses, butI didn’t have a hand in picking the suit. They wouldn’t let me near the decision given my dress sense.”
Sartorially elegant, their style on the pitch is more industrious. McHugh says they make no apologies for that, although he insists they are more multi-dimensioned than some suggest.
“I think it’s been made out that we are big, bad Motherwell and we just kick people off the pitch. I don’t think that’s the case,” he added. “We try to get up against people and make it physical, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think our disciplinary record is a lot worse than any of the other teams in the league. I don’t think we’re a dirty team.
“We try to make it a high-energy game, but we have players in the squad who can play as well and we don’t get the credit we deserve. We play to our strengths and there’s no shame in that. Not everyone can make 200 passes before scoring a goal. We play in the other team’s half, we get in there and play our football.
“But I don’t think any of the boys really care [what others think]. The manager has got us so organised that we’ve kept a lot of clean sheets and the style of football suits our players. We’ve won a lot of games and that’s what you want to do. We have won a lot of games playing the way we do.”
With two draws, they have come close to that against Celtic this term and believe they can succeed this afternoon. If they do, they will deny the defending champions a second successive treble.
McHugh is aware of the legendary status that will be bestowed on them by the Well fans but, hailing from Donegal, he knows many of his countrymen may not be as enamoured by such an outcome.
Having already visualised himself lifting the trophy, he is unperturbed. “You have your dreams and it’s good to visualise yourself doing it,” he said. “I fully believe we have a really good chance of winning and we’re all dreaming of it.”
The dream did not come true in the League Cup final but he says that negative experience is countermanded by the notable victories in semi-finals.
“We’ve had positive experiences at Hampden this season, against Rangers and Aberdeen in both semi-finals,” McHugh added.
“We’ve got that to look back on and we’re going to face Celtic with the total belief we can win the game.”
In the most recent semi, suspended McHugh had the role of cheerleader rather than on-field general and he is glad he can play a more active part today. “I was so nervous, the whole week leading to the Aberdeen game,” he said. “When you’re involved and playing, you’re never as nervous. It was nerve-wracking watching but we did so well.”
If Motherwell can repeat the result today they would leave Hampden wearing smiles as well as their new suits.