Lick­ing their lips ahead of an ini­ti­a­tion at Ham­p­den

New Firm duo in­sist nerves won’t be an is­sue in get­ting to grips with sur­rounds

The Herald - Sport - - LEAGUE CUP SEMI-FINALS - KEVIN FERRIE

AT ei­ther end of the ex­pe­ri­ence scale, play­ers are eye­ing Ham­p­den de­buts to­mor­row as the New Firm pre­pare to kick-off the QTS League Cup semi-fi­nal week­end.

For the likes of Dundee United teenager Char­lie Telfer, that is un­der­stand­able. But the fact that af­ter three years at Aberdeen Jonny Hayes is head­ing to the na­tional sta­dium for the first time seems some­what telling.

Ad­mit­tedly, Ham­p­den’s Com­mon­wealth Games-en­forced sab­bat­i­cal from Scot­tish foot­ball was a fac­tor since both played in – and won – ma­jor fi­nals last sea­son that were staged else­where; Telfer with Rangers in the Youth Cup fi­nal at St Mir­ren Park, while Hayes’ Dons are the de­fend­ing League Cup cham­pi­ons, hav­ing won the tro­phy at Celtic Park.

How­ever, th­ese two clubs which were once such Ham­p­den reg­u­lars it is ex­tra­or­di­nary how rarely they have vis­ited in re­cent years and that is some­thing they are look­ing to ad­dress.

Hav­ing left the most suc­cess­ful club in Scot­tish foot­ball his­tory last sum­mer (tor­tured ar­gu­ments about Rangers’ sta­tus apart), it might, un­til re­cently, have seemed that Telfer was re­duc­ing his chances of mak­ing re­peat ap­pear­ances on the sport’s big days. But he be­lieves he has now joined a club and a team that is set up for sus­tained suc­cess.

“Be­fore I signed here, you see the young play­ers like Ryan Gauld, Andy Robert­son and John Sout­tar, and you just felt that if you went to United then you would get the chance,” he ob­served.

He has seized it, not least be­cause of the en­cour­age­ment that has been of­fered.

“The manager gives you the con­fi­dence to go and ex­press your­self,” said Telfer.

“I thought it would take a while to es­tab­lish my­self and try to get in the team, but it’s go­ing miles bet­ter than I ever thought it was go­ing to go.

“It’s just been a case of get­ting my head down and try­ing to show why Jackie McNa­mara brought me here.

“He’s ob­vi­ously had con­fi­dence in me to play me and I just want to try and work hard.

“He’s said be­fore that he’s not go­ing to have a go at you if you make a mis­take, so that ob­vi­ously gives you a bit of con­fi­dence to try and do some­thing cre­ative and help the team.”

Con­se­quently, there is a be­lief that United are ca­pa­ble of go­ing one bet­ter than they did in last sea­son’s Scot­tish Cup.

“Es­pe­cially be­cause of the style of our play, on our day I think most teams won’t be able to han­dle us and I feel that it would be well de­served if we got a tro­phy to show for it,” said Telfer.

Which is not to sug­gest the slight­est lack of re­spect for op­po­nents who ended an as­ton­ish­ing 19-year run with­out sil­ver­ware at Celtic Park last sea­son.

“Aberdeen are do­ing re­ally well at the mo­ment, although they might not have got the re­sult they wanted at the week­end,” added Telfer. “They’ve been bril­liant the last few months, so we know it’s go­ing to be a tough game.

“Hope­fully, we’ll be on our game on Satur­day and we can beat them.”

As to the de­bate about which is the big­ger game in com­pet­i­tive terms this week­end, he of­fered a diplo­matic re­sponse, tak­ing into ac­count where he started his ca­reer.

“Ob­vi­ously it will be the first Old Firm game for a few years but, if both United and Aberdeen play well on Satur­day, then it will be a very en­ter­tain­ing game,” he said.

With no such con­straints, Hayes has made it clear this week that he be­lieves the all-Premier­ship match should be seen as the big­ger spec­ta­cle.

“Dundee United are a very strong side and, to win the cup, we have to beat the best teams. It was the same last year when we won the League Cup and I’m sure it is go­ing to be a crack­ing game,” he said.

For all that they are de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, to­mor­row’s venue adds some­thing new to the oc­ca­sion for the 27-year-old.

“We didn’t get to the lat­ter stages of the cups at Ca­ley This­tle when I played there and last year Ham­p­den wasn’t in use, so I’ve never been any­where near Ham­p­den,” Hayes added.

How­ever, he also knows that to get in­volved in the emo­tion sur­round­ing the venue has the po­ten­tial to be a dis­trac­tion and to that end, the ex­pe­ri­ence of last sea­son’s fi­nal at Celtic Park will be valu­able.

“It wasn’t a big deal last year to the play­ers and the manager made sure of that,” Hayes ex­plained.

“It was a big thing for the club in gen­eral as it had been so long since it had been to a fi­nal but it didn’t af­fect the dress­ing room.”

A LONG WAY FROM IBROX: Telfer left Rangers ac­ri­mo­niously and has pro­gressed well un­der the guid­ance of McNa­mara

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