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Sweet dreams are made of Hampden final for Inverness skipper Graeme Shinnie after last season's shoot-out nightmare

THE blinds were firmly drawn, the phone silent.

Graeme Shinnie, replaying that day's game over in his head, switched off the lights in his Inverness flat and tugged the duvet tightly around his neck. There were plenty out there willing to chat and console over a quiet drink, but the Inverness defender couldn't face a soul.

His team had just been vanquished by Hearts in the semi-final of the League Cup at Easter Road, a defeat compounded by the fact it came virtue of a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out.

For Shinnie, it was the lowest point of a career that had already suffered awful depths when a debilitating stomach condition left him wafer-thin and seriously ill in the first half of 2011. But that last-four defeat against Hearts last season brought its own inner demons.

Inverness's current stand-in captain recalled: "I'd never been in a situation like that before. For most of the boys, it was a new experience and to lose it the way we did was hard to take.

"I felt we did enough in the game to win it, but we couldn't see it through. It was their win, fair and square, on penalties.

"But to lose that way just made it worse. It was horrendous after the game, walking into the dressing room and just seeing everybody's faces. Everybody was so down, it was hard to take. The bus home was horrible and, once we were back home, it was miserable. It really was a case of shut the curtains, lock the door and get under the duvet.

"You felt disappointment, frustration, anger - all those things going through your head. I spent a long time running over my own performance in my head, thinking what I could have done better.

"But then again, in football, you just have to move on - games come thick and fast. You have to forget about it as quickly as you can. That's what we did at that point last season."

Suffice to say, Scotland Under-21 full-back Shinnie cannot contemplate a repeat at the same venue, against the same opposition in today's semi-final match-up.

He said: "There is a bit of deja vu in the build-up, but all the boys are looking forward to it. I see it as very much a good thing that we went through what we did last season. We obviously don't want to go through that again. Having been there last season, we know what we have to do - and we just have to go down there and do it."

Shinnie, whose brother Andrew moved to Birmingham City last summer, has been in terrific form for Inverness. The left-back has shown his worth and versatility by operating at right-back, central midfield and in the wide attacking areas of late this campaign.

Form has even invited calls for his inclusion in Gordon Strachan's plans while, at a tender age, he operates as deputy captain to recently-injured Richie Foran. There are severe doubts over Foran's participation tomorrow, but Shinnie, while enthralled by the prospect of leading his club out in the semi-final, would much prefer the captain to return.

Shinnie said: "Richie has been a vital player for us this season and, as much as I love having the armband, he is our skipper - and a massive part of our team. It would be an honour to wear the armband in a League Cup semi-final, but I'd rather see Richie in there with us."

As for the thorny issue of penalties, Shinnie is confident Inverness are well-prepared for another shoot-out - but wants to settle the tie in ordinary time. He stressed: "We're hoping we can finish the game before it comes to that. But if it comes down to that, we need to do better than we did last season. I think we only missed the one, so it was a good standard of penalty. We'll look to win the game outright."

Caley Thistle have never reached a major final, having crashed out twice at the last hurdle in the Scottish Cup in 2003 and 2004, before last year's League Cup exit to Hearts. Shinnie admitted: "Reaching a Hampden final would mean everything to us.

"It would be the first of my career and a massive achievement. And it would be a first for the club as well. Given the budget we have up here, it would be a massive credit to all of the boys and the whole club. Here's hoping we can go and do that."

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