Scottish Cup final: Inverness spirit embodies manager John Hughes

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland at Hampden Park
Inverness CT's James Vincent (left) scored his side's winning goal past a helpless Jamie MacDonald
Inverness CT's James Vincent (left) scored his side's winning goal past a helpless Jamie MacDonald

A banner was draped over the front of the stand housing the Inverness fans at Hampden. It read, 'Do We Dare To Dream', and for a long spell of this Scottish Cup final they might have felt that the answer was no.

Yet there were reserves of spirit, and grittiness and, it has to be acknowledged, good fortune, so that the triumph that had seemed as though it had slipped away from Inverness returned to them.

Emotion spilled from that stand after the final whistle, along with Inverness manager John Hughes' twin daughters - Jessica and Victoria - who clambered over fans to be carried on to the pitch by their father.

Joy was everywhere, although it would have been tinged with a heavy dose of relief.

This was a moment of deserved glory for a club that has clambered its way to the upper echelons of the Scottish game through toil and sweat, but it came during a moment of doubt.

Inverness spirit shone through - Hughes

The first-half display had been full of intent, delivering a goal for Marley Watkins and suggesting that Hughes would guide his side to Inverness's first Scottish Cup.

It was replaced in the second half by a sense of alarm, as unheralded Falkirk regrouped, played two up front, and scored an equaliser that was in keeping with the nature of the game.

Even so, there is an indefinable quality to this Inverness side, something irrepressible.

We saw it in the semi-final against Celtic, when they survived Josh Meekings' handball which should have brought a red card and a penalty, and went on to win the game despite conceding a late equaliser.

It was evident again at Hampden, when they scored after being reduced to 10 men, and while struggling to cope with Falkirk's resurgence.

Hughes could not wholly embrace the sense of achievement immediately after the final whistle, since the second-half performance of his side still irked him. Even so, the attributes that delivered the victory - heart, determination, even unexpected resourcefulness - were worth dwelling upon.

John Hughes is handed the Scottish Cup by his young daughter on the Hampden podium.
John Hughes is handed the Scottish Cup by his young daughter on the Hampden podium.

It was James Vincent, the substitute who was supposed to be playing right-back, who was on hand inside the penalty area to convert the rebound when the Falkirk goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald parried Watkins' tame shot into his path.

Afterwards, Hughes seemed incredulous at that turn of events, just as he did when his two full-backs, Graeme Shinnie and David Raven, combined to score the winning goal late on against Celtic in the semi-final.

Yet that attitude, the refusal to bow to the circumstances, however challenging they may be, and to keep trying, is typical of Hughes and so also of his team.

He is a deep thinker on the game, an idealist and at times a wonderfully expressive character. He bellowed at his players in the second-half, sometimes demanding that they run 10 or 20 yards to the touch line for instructions that were delivered with the sharp force and edge of a rebuke.

They play for him, though, giving everything of themselves so that even when the odds were against them, they still found the means to triumph.

Vincent, Shinnie and Watkins celebrate victory

In Watkins they had the game's most threatening attacker. His pace was a constant worry to the Falkirk defenders, and Hughes understood how effective that threat would be since he set up his side to capitalise from it.

He prepared his players for all scenarios during training last week, including being reduced to 10 men, but ultimately it was emotional qualities rather than logic or planning that brought the victory.

Ross Draper and Greg Tansey were typically robust in central midfield, while Carl Tremarco was having an effective game at left-back before he stumbled on the ball and brought down Falkirk midfielder Blair Alston, leading to his second-half dismissal.

Hughes did not build this side - the only player in the starting line-up that he signed was Edward Ofere - but he has made it more reliably effective.

He is loud, boisterous, full of comical spirit, but also a proud and deeply committed football man. In so many respects, the achievement of his Inverness team is a more accurate reflection of Hughes's personality and ability than any number of interviews could provide.

While Hughes was celebrating with his daughters, his counterpart Peter Houston wandered across the Hampden pitch lifting up any of his players who were sitting slumped on the turf.

Peter Grant (2nd from left) celebrates after levelling for Falkirk
Peter Grant (2nd from left) celebrates after levelling for Falkirk

He gathered them all together at one stage, and spoke reassuring words, but the tearfully distraught faces of David McCracken and MacDonald told the story of Falkirk's game.

McCracken had been commanding throughout, while MacDonald had dealt comfortably with anything he had been asked to do, yet they both made misjudgements that led to the winning goal.

That was a cruel fate for two players who have contributed much to the progress of this Falkirk side during a long campaign.

The same could be said of the team's best two players on the day, Peter Grant and Will Vaulks, but their individual displays, full of power, force, indefatigable spirit and energy were undone in the end.

By switching to a front two at the interval, Falkirk had regained their competitiveness, attacking more freely and upsetting Inverness's poise so much that Hughes kept altering the shape of his side just to try to alter the flow of the game. Houston could only accept the outcome with equanimity.

It wasn't to be Falkirk's day, and it seemed destined to always be Inverness's instead. That was the way of it at Hampden, when two teams, from two different divisions, delivered a competitive and compelling final.

Hughes and his players revelled in the celebrations, while the Falkirk players regretted a moment, however brief, of misfortune.