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Nervous energy can fuel Robson to Parkhead glory

WHEN Barry Robson runs out of the tunnel for the League Cup final he's going to face a panorama of Aberdeen supporters filling Parkhead's vast North Stand.

Sunday's final may leave Barry Robson 'out of pocket again' but he's ready to give his all for Aberdeen. Picture: SNS
Sunday's final may leave Barry Robson 'out of pocket again' but he's ready to give his all for Aberdeen. Picture: SNS

When Niall McGinn emerges on to the pitch he can look to his left and see the Jock Stein Stand stuffed with more red-and-white. When Willo Flood hits the pitch he'll be able to look over his shoulder and see the Main Stand, occupied by even more Dons.

Aberdeen have never taken 40,000 fans to an away game in their history. The numbers are actually within touching distance of the all-time record for any home game at Pittodrie, 45,061 for a Scottish Cup tie against Hearts 60 years ago today.

There is an understandable apprehension among those hordes of supporters, and hope among the Caledonian Thistle ones, that the Aberdeen players will be spooked by the reality of being confronted by those unprecedented numbers behind them. If John Hughes has done his homework, the Inverness manager will know that Aberdeen took a long time to settle when they emerged for the semi-final at Tynecastle and saw three sides of the ground packed with their own fans.

They prevailed against St Johnstone that day, eventually routing them, because they had too much quality to be undermined by nerves for long. It was a test of character passed and an even stiffer one awaits on Sunday. The presence of Robson, McGinn and Flood is significant for Aberdeen. All three of them are former Celtic players. They have played in front of nearly 60,000 demanding supporters willing them on inside Parkhead. They weren't fazed when they were answerable to those in green-and-white, and there is no reason for that to change because the background will be red.

Robson played in half-a-dozen Old Firm games under former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan. He faced Barcelona at home in the Champions League (even scoring against them) as well as Manchester United home and away. The 35-year-old looks as though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

The question for Robson is not whether his play might be compromised by anxiety in this final against the club where he made his breakthrough as a senior player, but whether he actually still feels nerves at all?

"Of course I do. The day I stop feeling anxiety is the day I stop playing. It's what gives you the buzz, it's what drives you on. I've been lucky enough to have played in some massive games but, for me, it doesn't matter where you're playing, it could be in front of two or three thousand. I'll still have those same nerves. That's what I like, that's what I enjoy. It prepares you. That's what I pass on to the young boys: 'don't worry about nerves, they're good, they get you ready'. I think when you're younger sometimes you maybe over-exuberate. But that's natural. You learn over the years to calm down a wee bit."

Flood and McGinn also became accustomed to the pressure of satisfying a vast, demanding support week in, week out when they were at Celtic. Other than Russell Anderson - a veteran of the team that reached two cup finals in 2000 but lost them both - Aberdeen have a handful of players who are not yet battle-hardened when it comes to games with this level of scrutiny and pressure.

Peter Pawlett, Jonny Hayes, Adam Rooney and Ryan Jack will have to master their own minds in order to play with clear heads and composure. Robson, Flood, McGinn and Anderson must be the team's pillars. "If you get older players who prepare in the right way, looking after themselves and making sure they are concentrating on what the manager is trying to put across, then the young boys are going to follow on," said Robson.

"The manager [Derek McInnes] leads from the front, we try to follow on and put it across to the young boys. There's been a balance there. If the young boys have any problems, they can easily come to us. They are good kids - they give us old boys a fair bit of banter."

Robson isn't answerable only to a vast faceless army: the numbers have been swollen from numerous members of his own family. "I'll be out of pocket again, I've got loads coming down for the game. It'll be one of those ones: 'I'll square you up for that ticket later!' This cup final will cost me money, I'll tell you that. But it's great that your family and friends can have a great day out like the rest of the fans.

"If I'm being honest, winning the league with Celtic, or playing in the Champions League, or winning a cup with Aberdeen: it all means the same to me. It just feels brilliant. I'm not a world-class player or anything. I've been lucky enough to play in a few big games and enjoy them. But whether you win a league or you win a cup, it's that same fantastic feeling. If we win on Sunday it's just going to mean as much to me as anything else I've achieved."

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