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Facing Rangers in a cup final is a dream come true for Joe Cardle

JOE Cardle pursued a career in football rather than boxing like his younger brother Scott, but that doesn't mean he is prepared to give up the Ramsdens Cup without a fight.

Ever since he was a young lad growing up in Blackpool, Cardle has dreamed of the chance to take on Rangers in a national cup final, even if he prefers to remain circumspect about which strip he was wearing during those night-time imaginings.

But punching above your weight against more renowned opponents at Easter Road is a reality as well as a dream: as the nominal home team Raith Rovers will have the run of the larger, more airy, home dressing room for today's final showpiece, but Cardle emerged from the away dressing room earlier in the season to put in a fine performance as Hibernian were knocked out of the William Hill Scottish Cup.

The 27-year-old has spent the last seven years in Scotland, moving north following an early stint at Port Vale, and if his career in general so far could be characterised as a near miss, the winger has certainly had a few red letter days along the way. He has, for instance, already tasted victory in this competition once - earning the man of the match honours back in 2008 as Kenny Black's Airdrie side took the title on spot-kicks after their 120-minute ordeal against Ross County ended 2-2, even if only 4000 fans were on hand at McDiarmid Park to see it.

Easter Road, however, will be approaching capacity this afternoon and Cardle for one is relaxed enough about playing on the big stage that he would have quite happily travelled to Celtic Park or even Ibrox for the occasion. While he came up empty-handed from his only two previous meetings with Rangers, both on cup duty with Dunfermline, he scored on both occasions, a 2-1 SPL defeat in December 2011 and a 7-2 League Cup loss in September 2010.

Repeat that feat in a winning effort this afternoon and Cardle really would be proud as punch, not least because all his extended family - including undefeated light welterweight prospect Scott - are making the journey up from Lancashire, while his 10-week old daughter will be at Easter Road to take in one of her father's matches for the first time. Cardle wouldn't rule out plucking her out of the crowd for an impromptu lap of honour.

"When Rangers had Stenhousemuir in the semis I wanted them to win," Cardle said. "I've dreamt since I was a little boy about playing against Rangers in a cup final so I'm making the dream happen. This is a special day for me, my family, and everyone involved. We've recently had a baby, Josie-Anne, and my missus is going to take her to her first proper game, so we're very excited. Hopefully she'll be a good luck charm on the day. My dad and my brother are also coming, while my mum's watching it on the telly. Scott has fought up here a couple of times but he doesn't get to come up very often with his training, so it's good that it's a Sunday game.

"He's 14-0 as a pro so hopefully he can keep that up. He probably won't understand the underdog mindset we'll have going into Sunday because he's always been favourite to win his fights. We speak to each other every day, though, and we always encourage each other. I used to do a bit of boxing myself and I still train with him every summer just to keep myself in shape. What's the harder shift? Boxing, all day long. It's ridiculous what these boys do. He trains four times a day. We're complaining when we're out there for an hour. It's a different world."

It is 20 years since Raith Rovers overturned the odds against one half of the Old Firm, Jimmy Nicholl's side featuring Gordon Dalziel, Colin Cameron and Stevie Crawford seeing Celtic off on penalties at Ibrox, and Cardle and the rest of the Raith Rovers players are well aware that a place in posterity could also await them. "It wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest if the game had been at Ibrox," he said.

"It would have added to the occasion. I know there would have been a lot of Rangers fans there but it's a beautiful big stadium and, even though I've lost the two games I've played there, I've scored two in two, so I've got good luck there as well. We've been to Easter Road and caused an upset and hopefully we can do the same again."

Cardle's career has had his downs as well as ups. He was forced to move clubs last year, after being made redundant by Dunfermline at the onset of administration, but retains ambitions of playing at a higher level. A stunning 25-yard goal, albeit in a losing cause against St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup quarter-finals, shows what he has to offer.

"I'm open to anything," Cardle said. "I'm in the same boat as everyone in the team, out of contract in May, and that's the way it is in this league. It's the first one-year contract I've signed in my career and it's been strange. It's not nice going away for the summer not knowing if you've got a job at the end of it. But hopefully I can get something secured this summer.

"I want to be playing at the highest level I can so I need to show what I can do. That's a big part of the chance we have.

"It will be a full stadium, so you have to impress when the spotlight's on you."

Raith Rovers, it seems, are ready to rum-ble.

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