Records are waiting to be broken and history is waiting to be made, or re-written. The back pages of Monday’s Scottish newspapers will belong to either one of Aberdeen and Inverness Caley Thistle – for one reason or another.
Entrenched with stories to tell of its own, Celtic Park has staged some special occasions down the years and is the venue for the biggest meeting ever of these two well-established football clubs.
But who will step up to be the hero and who will end up the villain of the piece in the 68th Scottish League Cup Final?
Most of the low-key build-up has been dominated by ticket allocations, illustrating just how eager the passionate patrons from the North East and the Highlands are to witness, or endure (depending on how proceedings unfold) the oh-so-rare showpiece.
Derek McInnes and John Hughes may well have been in charge of their respective sides for less than a year but they both have the opportunity to write a new chapter – in their own careers and the club’s history books.
Considered stalwarts of the Scottish game, the duo’s CVs have been crying out for silverware to rubber-stamp their success.
With Celtic and Rangers out of the picture, the chance to clinch a major trophy – with another in the Scottish Cup a genuine possibility before the season’s out – may engineer the start of a Dons dynasty.
Earning Inverness a first significant honour in their year of their 30th anniversary will give Hughes a legendary status and bring inspiration to the Highlanders to equal their outstanding league finish of last term – achieving something even the mighty Terry Butcher could not deliver before him.
The signing of new deals for McInnes and trusty sidekick Tony Docherty can only boost Aberdeen in the build-up. The former St Johnstone boss has hit the ground running and cracked the formula, combining attractive attacking football with a defensive resilience which has bamboozled the rest of the division. Even Celtic. Twice!
Senior fans may still be bearing the scars of the fateful day at Hampden 14 years ago. 27 May 2000, to be precise. The Dons had no answer to Rangers’ demolition job. That 4-0 defeat would have quickly escaped the memory banks.
1996 was the last time Aberdeen could experience the champagne celebrations after beating Dundee in the League Cup in the days of Billy Dodds and Duncan Shearer. Now, the mantle is passed over to Niall McGinn and Adam Rooney no less to become the match-winner on cup final day. No pressure boys!
ABERDEEN FC MAJOR HONOURS:
Founded: 14 April 1903
Scottish League champions: Four times (1955, 1980, 1984, 1985)
Scottish Cup winners: Seven times (1947, 1970, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1990)
Scottish League Cup winners: Five times (1956, 1977, 1986, 1990, 1996)
European Cup Winners Cup: 1983
European Super Cup: 1983
Inverness, meanwhile, have risen rapidly in a short space of time which has elevated the expectation levels and brought a transformation in personnel with numerous key performers moving on for pastures new.
The club’s remarkable climb to the top six of the top-flight can be summed up in the same way as their rollercoaster League Cup journey this term – they’ve certainly done it the hard way.
Billy McKay’s splendid strike at Dundee in round three was straightforward enough but the quarter-final against the Championship side’s Tayside rivals proved eventful in the extreme.
13 yellows, a red card, extra-time, penalty appeals, a last-minute winner from Ross Draper. The drama and excitement reached fever pitch against Dundee United, and it didn’t stop there.
Caley Thistle’s strength in adversity and ability to battle back against all the odds has never been illustrated better than the semi-final showdown with Hearts. Two men light and behind with seconds left, they bravely fought back at Easter Road to overcome the relegation-threatened Jambos in a tense spot-kick shootout.
Form has dipped in recent weeks and an increase in cases of indiscipline has stretched their limited resources to the maximum but their team spirit, as displayed in abundance throughout their journey to the promise land, remains their biggest asset.
Sunday’s showpiece offers the stage to illustrate how far they have come and how much they have improved. But with the same applying to a hungry Aberdeen, chasing an unprecedented cup double, the final has all the ingredients for an intriguing battle.
However ascertained, the best team over the course of a competition invariably deserves to win but that is not always the case.
INVERNESS FC MAJOR HONOURS:
Founded: March 1994
Scottish First Division winners: Twice (2004, 2010)
Scottish Third Division winners: 1997
Scottish Challenge Cup winners: 2004
Premiership opposition are often criticised for “disrespecting” the cups through their attitude towards them but Aberdeen and Inverness can hardly be blamed for that.
Fielding strong line-ups and adopting a serious approach throughout, both sides have acted in the manner you would expect from clubs yearning for long-awaited success at the highest level.
Major finals do not come around too often, as both sets of fans gathering in Glasgow on Sunday are all too aware of.
Making your presence felt is easier said than done but for the players and coaches representing the clubs, this could be the once in a lifetime experience. A career-defining moment. They will be desperate to seize the initiative, enjoy the day and snatch at the opportunity with both hands. Well, the trophy of course.
Years of heartache can be forgotten in an instant. Glory can take a long time to arrive and when it does, it will taste even sweeter. For the Dons and the Highlanders, this watershed moment has been years in the making.