WITH the first domestic prize of the season in Scotland on offer, Aberdeen and Inverness will be fighting hard to end years of silverware starvation in this weekend’s League Cup showdown.
The Dons have almost forgotten what a shot at glory feels like while the experience of a national final will be completely new to the men from the Highlands, whose list of unprecedented achievements continue to grow having finished fourth in the top-flight last term.
Even a rare chance to grace the Hampden stage has conspired against them with Celtic Park – the scene of many painful defeats for both sides – instead hosting the showpiece as the Commonwealth Games preparations continue.
But in front of an expectant 40,000 strong crowd, Parkhead will be paradise for one and hell for the other on Sunday, even if most of the fans turning up will be red and white clad.
Derek McInnes’s men will be hoping to make up for lost time and rediscover the trophy-clinching formula that has been 14 years in the waiting.
After a number of disappointments which include embarrassing exits to lower-league foes, the time has come for Aberdeen to illustrate their credentials to the watching world on a big occasion.
Undoubtedly the odds of the trophy making its way into the Pittodrie cabinet come Monday morning are incredibly high.
But as McInnes has instilled during their relaxing week on the St Andrews training base, you earn the right to win. No matter what the circumstances.
Riding high in second in the Scottish Premiership, the Dons have finally reached their potential as the nearest challengers to a dominant Celtic.
In Peter Pawlett and Niall McGinn, they possess two of the division’s starlets who have the ability to rip up an Inverness backline which was utterly woeful against Dundee United in the Scottish Cup last weekend.
The pacy pair – boasting creativity and invention aplenty – have caused opponents problems, as David Raven and Graeme Shinnie will testify after a tumultous first half in January’s 4-3 thriller in the Highlands.
The Caley Thistle full-backs will have their work cut out to keep the Dons forwards, who have the ability to rip defences apart and confuse them through clever interchanging, as quiet as possible.
Adam Rooney has supplemented their attack since joining from Oldham in January and will be out to prove a point against his former employers.
The engine room will be letting off steam with the level-headed Barry Robson, assisted by the equally experienced Willo Flood, keeping the peace.
The 35-year-old, who has seen it and done it when it comes to the business end of the campaign, has protected one of the meanest defences in the country superbly all season and has arguably been the key difference in their huge improvement.
Preventing Caley Thistle skipper Richie Foran and Aaron Doran from raiding forward in support of top scorer Billy McKay, who himself has been out-of-form of late, will be his main task. That midfield battle could be pivotal in deciding the outcome.
John Hughes was understandably reeling after their quarter-final hammering at the weekend. Whether the appeals against the red cards shown to Marley Watkins and Greg Tansey will prove successful remains to be seen. Josh Meekings had his semi-final dismissal overturned but with the influential Gary Warren already banned, their numbers have already been severely hit.
The tame goalless draw against Hibs on Wednesday night offered merely a positive response from the successive 5-0 drubbings but hardly offered any inspiration or added to the selection headache.
On cup final day, the predictable script is often torn to shreds. Whoever turns up and wants it more on the day will be victorious. Everyone knows that.
Should events go according to plan, Aberdeen would win handsomely, and the free week may have its advantages in the latter stages. The pressure is immense and brings nerves. If they turn up full of confidence, their quality will shine through.
But a hard-working Inverness make a habit of spoiling the party and are capable of producing a surprise. The form book, which would give the Dons the overriding edge, counts for nothing.
Spirit, passion and quality count for everything – which both sides have in abundance.
The rare chance of securing a cup double, in McInnes’s first full term as teacher, will spur on the Dons, who have comfortably assured their place in the Scottish Cup semi-finals.
The opportunity to make history and develop a legendary status among the club’s folklore will be gushing through the veins of the Caley Thistle players.
May battle commence.