|After stunning Celtic in the semi-final, can Caley Thistle finish the job?|
The slogan is spot on, though. Twenty-one years old this year, Inverness Caledonian Thistle are in their first Scottish Cup final. It's not all that unlikely that, twenty-one years from now, they might not have appeared in another. If they do, it's quite possible they'll be the underdogs, against someone like Celtic, or Aberdeen, or a resurgent Rangers. On Saturday, though, they are pitted against Falkirk, from a division below. They are very much the favourites. They may not - in fact, probably won't - ever get a better opportunity than this to win the cup.
Falkirk will feel the same, of course. But this is the most talented and most successful squad in ICT's history. They've just finished third in the league and guaranteed a first crack at European football. And they've done it with a bit of style, too. John Hughes was maligned by many when he arrived in the Highlands in the winter of 2013; even more so after a tough first few months. His insistence on a passing game seemed naive, as Scottish Premiership players surely weren't capable of that sort of skill and touch. His squad trusted in him, that much was obvious, but the fans were very wary.
So the demand for humble pie in Inverness has been through the roof over the last twelve months. Caley Thistle kept up with Celtic and Aberdeen for a decent chunk of the campaign, though it was always inevitable that they would fall away. They were well worthy of that top three finish. And few (mostly Celtic fans who still lie awake at night muttering obscenities under their breath at Josh Meekings) begrudge them their opportunity at glory.
Hughes will feel that, if his side play the way they can (and have), then they will win. The semi-final showcased some of that ability on the ball, helped by the large playing area and the good quality surface which allowed the likes of Ryan Christie to thrive. The 19 year old, son of club legend and former manager Charlie, has been the poster boy for the club's season after scooping the Football Writer's Young Player of the Year award. In truth, he's blown a wee bit hot and cold, but there's no question that he's been hindered by the surfaces he's had to play on at times (including the one in Inverness). But on his day he has a touch and vision far beyond any player that has ever come through the club's youth system.
Christie will either play between midfield and attack or on the right flank, depending on whether Yogi opts for the 4-2-3-1 which has usually been his formation of choice, or the 4-4-2 which succeeded in the semi. The personnel are unlikely to be different, but it's the positioning of Christie and forward Marley Watkins, who will either use his blistering pace on the right touchline or up front alongside Edward Ofere, that would be altered.
Nigerian Ofere has got to be one of the most ungainly footballers I've ever seen. He walks like a baby giraffe trying to work out how to use its legs effectively. But appearances are deceptive. He's tall and good in the air, yet has a perfectly decent touch. He looks slow, but seems to be able to escape defenders. His technique makes him perfect for the linkup play that Hughes wants from his centre-forward, but his strength and height allow him to be used as a target man too. Caley Thistle are very lucky to have him, especially after losing Billy Mckay in January, and will be even luckier if they hold onto him for next season.
For the most part the rest of the team picks itself, I reckon. With Dean Brill injured, Ryan Esson will start in goal. For the second year in a row, central defensive stalwart Gary Warren misses a final because of suspension (he wasn't available for the League Cup final last year either) so for the second year in a row Danny Devine gets to play in the big game after warming the bench for most of the season. It's not a huge blow. Devine is more like fellow centre back Josh Meekings in that he's quick and good on the ball, and not quite as powerful or dominant in the air as Warren, but he's perfectly competent.
David Raven and Graeme Shinnie will prowl forward from the full-back areas; expect Shinnie to spend more time attacking than defending as he looks to go out on the highest of highs before joining Aberdeen in the summer. Because of this, I suspect Yogi will pick the hardworking Danny Williams to play on the left side of midfield, rather than the more offensive-minded Nick Ross or Aaron Doran. Williams is a tireless runner who also shows good discipline. He may not be as big a threat in the final third as others, but expect him to be subbed in the final quarter of the game, so that Ross or Doran can have a go at a tiring defence. Big Ross Draper will provide the physical presence in midfield (if Falkirk are to have a chance, their nippy flair players will have to escape his clutches) and Greg Tansey will be the metronome, dictating the tempo and directing the play, as well as having a few attempts to score a screamer from distance.
If Falkirk are to cause an upset, they will have to stay tight and frustrate Inverness - I can't see them successfully pressing high up the pitch. When they get the ball, they'll have to keep it. Their best opportunities will come if Caley Thistle are caught in possession thirty yards from their own goal - which happens depressingly often - and from set pieces; ICT have a decent amount of height, but their insistence on keeping two or three men up front when defending corners, along with Esson's difficulty commanding his box, leaves them vulnerable.
But, on paper at least, there is a significant difference in quality. As I said above, Inverness probably won't get a better chance to win the Scottish Cup than this.
Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly