DEREK McINNES was invited to touch the Scottish League Cup trophy time and time again at media and promotional events throughout this season.
Every time, he refused. Superstition took hold of Aberdeen's rational, sensible manager and he decided he would wait until he had earned it. The moment came yesterday, when Aberdeen washed away nearly 19 years of hurt to beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle on penalties at Celtic Park.
More than 40,000 supporters melted along with him. A drab, goalless final became a trial of endurance but Aberdeen's penalties were flawless, Adam Rooney scoring the decisive one, after Billy McKay's was saved by Jamie Langfield and Greg Tansey spooned his effort over the bar. Once McInnes had won it, he did not want to let the trophy go. "We gave up the opportunity to touch the cup at any stage this season, at press days and so on," said the beaming Aberdeen manager. "We didn't want to touch it until it was ours, and it wasn't ours until that last penalty went in. I used to look at managers with all their superstitions and quirks and I'd think they were mad. But I've joined the club.
"We have tasted that success now and it's important that we get that success again. We still have a chance of the Scottish Cup and hopefully we can get ourselves back and have another day like today. It was a special day, the supporters made it special, the players have made it special all season and we're delighted to take the cup back to Aberdeen."
Peter Pawlett was not fit to play and Jonny Hayes lasted only five minutes after falling awkwardly. An unbearably tense game might have gone Inverness' way had a penalty been given for Andrew Considine holding Richie Foran. Aberdeen also had a claim for a Josh Meekings challenge on Rooney.
"I always anticipated a tight match," said McInnes. "But whether we won the game by four or five goals, and sparking football, or whether we won the game with penalties, it was all about winning it. You saw with the celebrations just what it meant to so many people. We weren't great, but how many finals have you seen when they weren't great. I never felt we were going to lose the game, but I wasn't sure we were doing enough to win it. Before the penalties I told them penalties aren't a lottery.
"I reminded them of the game against Alloa in the first round when we took every penalty terrifically. We never missed one. We've practised penalties all week. I told them to be confident, pick your spot, get the job done and take that cup back with us.
"It was so important for so many reasons. Cups have been huge anti-climaxes and disappointments for the club. A couple of generations hadn't seen Aberdeen win a trophy. Forty-odd thousand in here today saw Aberdeen win a cup and that can only be good for us going forward.
"We keep answering up. Even before today's game the opposition was saying will they crumble under pressure, will they do this, will they do that? Never did I think our players would be affected by that, other than being inspired by it. I remember sitting with Russell Anderson and I said next season instead of two balls in front of the team hopefully we can have two cups. He kinda laughed. I said if we can win one cup we can win two. This is my best day in football.
"I felt it was Russell Anderson's time. People will look at him differently for the rest of his life, he was the Aberdeen captain
who lifted the trophy."
John Hughes, the Inverness manager, understandably identified the penalty decision
as a key moment. "It's not sour grapes," he said. "I give all the credit to Aberdeen, they were always on the front foot. We were looking to counter, but if it's a penalty it's a penalty and we never got it. It would have changed the game, I think we would have gone on to win it. The Rooney one? That was a dive."