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Duo represent different weapons but both are ready for the fight

THE slaying of Aberdeen may have to be executed with both the rapier and the baseball bat.

Billy McKay and Ross Draper both converted penalties against Hearts
Billy McKay and Ross Draper both converted penalties against Hearts

Inverness Caledonian Thistle know they will need all their armoury to prevail against the favourites to lift the League Cup at Celtic Park on Sunday after not scoring in three consecutive matches.

Billy McKay, the 25-year-old Northern Irish striker, possesses the sharpness of a blade. Ross Draper, the 25-year-old English defender, epitomises the blunter and more physical attributes that run through John Hughes' team.

It is McKay, though, who carries the hopes on his slim shoulders. He is the tormentor of defences, the scorer of goals. He is central to any hopes of Inverness prevailing in their first national final.

There is a suspicion that McKay has suddenly become becalmed as the season becomes more turbulent for Inverness. His record for the club - 42 goals in 86 games - gives the broad thrust of his attributes and if he dulls then Inverness are a diminished side. He has scored 20 goals this season, but only three this year.

McKay has a determination to play his part in Sunday's match after two contrasting League Cup semi-final experiences. Last term, he was strangely out of sorts when his team lost to Hearts on penalties. This season, he showed industry and bravery to occupy the Hearts defence as his side survived extra time with nine men and then won a shoot-out.

He is now facing the biggest challenge of his career. He said of the final: "If we win it, we'll probably go down as the best team that's played for Inverness. That's something we have strive for. We want to make history.

"Playing for Northern Ireland, making my debut, was obviously a big moment in my career. This might top it, especially if we win."

This statement carries some weight given McKay was part of a Northampton Town team that went to Anfield in September 2010 and defeated Liverpool on penalties in the English League Cup.

"That was a big night for me," he says. "I managed to get a goal. If I can get a goal on Sunday that would top that as well."

McKay is confident about the final, pointing out that Inverness beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie this season. "A lot of people see them as favourites, but we like that," he said. "We like going into games as underdogs and we have nothing to lose. Everyone expects them to win. We'll go there, we'll put in a performance."

There was a moment in the semi-final against Hearts that was both crucial and revelatory. As Inverness laboured at 2-1 down with nine men after Gary Warren and Josh Meekings had been sent off, Graeme Shinnie, the talented full-back, drew his team mates together in a huddle.

"That showed the character of the lads. We never give up," McKay said. "Graeme just said 'keep going. We're down to nine men and extra time will be a struggle but keep going, keep working hard for each other and never give up'. We did that and we got through."

A late equaliser in normal time was followed by a committed, organised display in the extra period and victory in the penalty shoot-out.

This sort of perseverance is personified in Draper whose cv includes playing in the Northern Premier League with Hednesford Town. "It had a nice little set-up but there were some awful grounds like one where they had barbed wire on the roof of their stand," he said. "There were not so nice places but I was grateful to be playing at Hednesford Town in the same way I owe every club I have been at because they gave me my chance."

Draper started at Shrewsbury Town, moved to Stafford Rangers, Hednesford and Macclesfield before pitching up at Inverness two years ago. "If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be playing in a cup final then I wouldn't have believed you," he said.

Draper, whose parents travel from the south every week to watch their son play, had other careers. He worked on mortgages and administration for a bank and then moved into the collections department. "Some of the boys joke I was a bailiff but I wasn't. I made calls about collections but if you speak to Gary Warren you'd think I went round with a baseball bat," he said. "I am now involved in the club fines and they tell the boys if they don't pay up then I will be round with the bat again."

Draper and McKay delivered grievous blows to Hearts in the semi-final shoot-out. The Northern Irishman scored from Inverness's first kick and the Englishman slotted home the penalty that put Caley Thistle in the final. They are the sword and the baseball bat. They seek to mug Aberdeen and slip away with the silver.

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